Life in Laboratory Urbanism: Repression, Suspension and the Politics of Innovation
Other conference contribution, 2020

This paper examines the “labification of everything”, focusing on how this is enacted in urban spaces. Using previous ethnographic work on “laboratory urbanism” (Eriksson & Palmås, 2016) as a point of departure, the argument will first outline three key underlying tendencies that underpin the cultivation of experimental zones in the built environment: The “reinvention of invention” (Thrift, 2006), the rise of “neuroliberal” modes of governance (Whitehead, 2017), and the more long-term shift from managerialism to entrepreneurialism in urban governance (Harvey, 1989). In the second part of the paper, the argument moves on to put this labification in the context of previous accounts of creativity and playfulness in urban spaces. Specifically, the paper will argue that these experimental zones upset commonly held assumptions about tactics, strategy and power, originally introduced by de Certeau (1984): In laboratory urbanist sites, playful tactics are no longer effective routes for circumventing strategic power. The third part of the paper introduces an alternative approach to define the political stakes of life in urban experimental settings. Drawing inspiration from artist Liam Gillick’s treatment of the politics of creativity in contemporary art institutions, the argument suggests that political creativity in experimental zones involves avoiding situations based on “repression” and/or “suspension”. Here, repression implies situations that foster the experimental, but does not imply an actual high-stakes experiment. Conversely, suspension implies a state of permanent excitement among participants, which never resolves into an actual change or innovation. Thus, the paper contributes to STS's treatment of space and (urban) politics.


Karl Palmås

Chalmers, Technology Management and Economics, Science, Technology and Society

4S / EASST annual meeting
Prague, Czech Republic,

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Social Anthropology


Human Geography

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