A history of spaces


A few notes from Julia Hallam‘s essay, ‘Civic Visions: Mapping the ‘City’ Film 1900–1960’:

“A whole history remains to be written of spaces . . . which would at the same time be the history of powers . . . from the great strategies of geopolitics to the little tactics of the habitat. (Foucault 1980: 149)” (Foucault quoted by Julia Hallam, p.37)

“Films made in and about cities offer a particularly rich source of material for investigating projections of civic identity and citizenship and their relationship to the changing urban imaginary of the twentieth century.” (p.37)

“In this paper, the focus is on mapping the preferred location points or nodes across a range of factual films that depict local events, landmark buildings and journeys to, from, and around the city. Public space around landmark buildings is often used to stage civic events, which are watched by crowds of people, people who through their very presence at the events become implicated in the demonstrations of citizenship that we see in the films. If our understandings of place-making activity are linked to particular histories, identities, regimes of memory, and meaning (often defined in terms of the collective or urban imaginary), then the demonstrations of collective participation in these local events can be defined as one aspect of this process. Here, I would like to suggest that what we are watching in these films is part of a discursive construction of power and authority defined by the French post-structuralist political theorist Nicole Loraux as the ‘civic imaginary’. Loraux argues that the leaders of the city of ancient Athens forged a sense of collective identity amongst the city’s inhabitants by promoting an idealised self-image through a range of public discourses (Loraux 1993). In the twentieth century, particularly before the widespread development of television broadcasting in the 1950s, films play a particular role in this process, projecting a sense of place and civic identity amidst the nationalising and internationalising forces of commercial film culture.” (p.39)

Since what has putatively been described as the ‘spatial turn’ in the humanities during the mid 1990s, mapping is a term that has gathered significance. A  growing vanguard of researchers from disciplines that range from geography, urban studies, architecture, and history, to literature, film, media, and cultural studies study the relationship between film, space, and place. What motivates much of the work across this apparently disparate field is an interest in the ways in which the interdisciplinary study of moving images, and the cultures of distribution and consumption that develop in tandem with the production of those images, provides renewed insights into our knowledge of the development of urban modernity and modern subjectivity.” (p.40)

Ref: Julia Hallam Civic Visions: Mapping the ‘City’ Film 1900–1960 Culture, Theory and Critique, 2012, 53(1), 37–58

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