Book chapter, 2019
This chapter reflects on how the “social” comes into being and how it relates toquestions of architecture and urban environments. My aim is not to identify what “the social” is but to introduce and discuss a few aspects that seem important for grasping its full complexity. In a sense, the chapter is a response to recent tendencies in practice aswell as theory, where “recent” at times reaches decades back while these tendencies seemto be particularly strong currently. On the practice side, such concerns include the focus onthe creation of “lively” environments as a response to all kinds of perceived or postulatedills or as means to all kinds of positive social outcomes. On the theoretical side, the comingdiscussion reflects on vastly different approaches that focus on questions of architecture, space, identity, and the ever-elusive “social” in a similar way. That is, I address tendenciesto discuss the social as lively, as social interaction, as copresence, as assemblages, as community activity; as negotiation between subjects, objects, bodies, and space; as situated, embodied, or emplaced. These tendencies extend to discussions and theoriesof how “the social,” “urban life,” or social structures come to be produced. I find much ofthis work interesting, as it has demonstrated its fruitfulness on many levels. But I perceive a risk in letting common lines of thought become too dominant; that is, in allowing the fruitful, complex, and rich descriptions of in situ social processes become the description andunderstanding of social processes. What happens to the idea of “social” and “society” if it, in whichever terms we prefer to define it, is somewhat translatable either to Georg Simmel’s sociability, Guy Debord’s spectacle, or strictly and locally situated in its performativity? Ina sense the questions that will be raised reflect Claire Bishop’s critique of relational art as considering “subjectivity as a whole” and “community as immanent togetherness” (Bishop 2004: 67). I find it troubling when the aforementioned terms—lively, social interaction, copresence, etc.—are too readily combined with community, with the assumption that particular forms of enacted (observable) sociality is good specifically because of the implication that other ways of acting are bad.
lively public space