Dis(re)membering Spaces: Swedish Modernism in Law Courts Controversy
Doctoral thesis, 1999
The dissertation addresses the public controversy, as reflected in newspaper coverage, over the 1936 Law Courts Annex in Göteborg, Sweden. The controversy is conceived as a tension-filled, multi-layered conjuncture of urban rivalry within the nation-state. The politico-differential pair modernism/conservatism and the spatio-differential pair Stockholm/Göteborg are traced out and shown to be formative for subject positions both in the controversy, and in scholarly work during the subsequent six decades.
To disentangle the conjuncture, subjects’ spatial sense-making is contextualized with respect to a politicized built environment, and to practices characterized by polysemy, contestation and resemanticization, through which volatile meanings and identity effects are continuously renegotiated. This understanding is elaborated in relation to a notion of power as concerning asymmetries of spatial reach with regard to individuals’ influence and control over practices.
From this position, the law courts controversy is unfolded through a multi-factor analysis on several spatial scales, from the nation-state to architectural solutions. It is demonstrated that in the Swedish 1930s, no building but the Law Courts Annex was executed in overt modernism on a site of key symbolico-political significance. The established projection of modernism onto Stockholm and conservatism onto Göteborg is deconstructed. The study shows how the law courts project crystallized into a unique conjuncture entangled in questions of: national and local struggles between fractions of the dominant class; governmental efforts to impose new norms and forms of dwelling and discipline; aesthetic purification and élitism; and conjoined interests of real estate capitalists, functionalist planners, and reformist politicians.
The law courts controversy is shown to have been embedded in transpositions of ethics, politics, space and aesthetics. New spaces of commoditized visibility were related to the Law Courts Annex, and a gendered imagery of buildings and female human bodies as homologous were invoked together with notions of sexual and bodily hygiene. The controversy is unfolded as concerned with conditions of identity formation and subjectivity in a space of unseen visibility, and the building is unveiled as a classed and gendered space for the production of humans as mass ornaments with apractic postural models.
In conclusion, established scholarly discourse on the Law Courts Annex and the controversy is unveiled as a third-order simulacrum through which the annex since the late 1930s has been produced and preserved as a counterfeit, as a historical simulacrum of the particular imagery of a discourse disconnected from existing traces of the past.
Law and space
Mass media and architecture