ArcadesPromenades

Posts Tagged ‘Method’

Miserable Method: flâneur & clochard in the study of the social

In reading on February 8, 2012 at 9:14 am

In Susan Buck-Morss’ article on the sandwichman (Buck-Morss 1986) there is this comment on the flaneur:

The flaneur records the merely apparent reality of the market place behind which the social relations of class remained concealed. The empathic relationships he establishes in their place make not only human misery, but “the [class] struggle against misery into an object of consumption.”

Which referes to Benjamin’s arguments in The Author as Producer about the commodification of misery & of the struggle against misery itself:

I spoke of the operation of a certain type of fashionable photography, which makes misery into a consumer good. When I turn to the ‘new objectivity’ as a literary movement, I must go a step further and say that it has made the struggle against misery into a consumer good. In fact, in many cases its political meaning has been exhausted with the transposition of revolutionary reflexes, in so far as they appeared in the bourgeoisie, into objects of distraction and amusement which were integrated without difficulty into the cabaret business of the big cities. The metamorphosis of the political struggle from a drive to make a political commitment into an object of contemplative pleasure, from a means of production into an article of consumption, is characteristic of this literature.

This contemplative relation to misery is of course the mark of academic analysis and is built into the framework of assumptions of all orders of discipline such that the flâneur is already the standard form of the academic.  Methods of study that acknowledge this and are open & honest about this flânerie of study itself are necessary starting points for overcoming this comfortable orientation to misery.  Ethically we must be concerned with our position as flâneurs if we are to start developing means for being more than just perceptive.

Hello! from Hunstanton

In Film, photography, Promenades on June 18, 2011 at 2:47 pm

The above film was shot in June 2011 in Hunstanton, Norfolk. A Microsoft Sensecam was used to shoot the film and it was edited in Windows Live Movie Maker . The camera on view in the film is a Lomo Diana F+

Packaging liminality: the management and commodification of liminal landscapes in tourism

In Arcades, Conferences, Promenades, Publications on April 18, 2011 at 10:40 am

We’ve just had the abstract below accepted for the ATLAS 2011 conference in Valmeira, Latvia.  The theme of the conference is ‘Landscape and Tourism: a dualistic relationship”.  Our plan for this paper is to take the methodology that we’ve been developing on this blog over the last two years and apply it to other tourist spaces, in order to test its value as a new approach.

Documentary photography

In Arcades, photography, Promenades on April 14, 2011 at 3:03 pm

I have been alerted to these two photographers by the sound artist, Reid Dudley-Peirson, who, coincidentally is performing in a new piece called ‘Songs of the sublime’ at the Turner Contemporary gallery in the seaside town of Margate this weekend.

Reid informed me, after reading an early draft of some of our work, that we should supplement our analysis of seaside photography and the Arcades Project with considerations of the work of Eugene Atget and Martin Parr. This may take some time for us to process, but we offer up a couple of images here.

Atget was a contemporary of Walter Benjamin, taking photographs of Paris streets that influenced the surrealists and Dada at the time that Benjamin was working on his study of the Parisian Arcades. Martin Parr is a British documentary photographer, whose study of the seaside ‘The Last Resort’, clearly sheds light on our work on the links between tourism and the everyday within the capitalist constraints of the promenades.

Eugene Atget: avenue des gobelins (1927)

In his ‘little history of photography’, Benjamin makes the case for photography, still in the early stages of its development, to be “moving out of the realm of aesthetic distinctions to social function”. Leslie [2000] locates this movement in the dialectic, claiming that there is always an excess in photography, a residue of the social. In this sense, photography can provide research material, historical evidence that goes far beyond merely that which is represented on the surface of a photographic image.

Leslie goes on to identify three ways in which Benjamin conceptualised photography:

Firstly, as analogical representations of an external reality. Photographs provide a way of capturing natural perception and thus, of making the subjective objective.

Secondly, “the photograph fixes on celluloid a view of reality, held in the consciousness of a class when it imagines itself and the cosmos. Technological art is capable of tendering in ocular form the ideology of the self-representing class” [Leslie 2000: 49]. Benjamin refers to this as ‘optical-unconscious’, a relationship between the unconsciousness of the subject and the a-conscious machine perception of the lens

Finally, photography disrupts the ‘natural’ flow of images and perception and allows for reconfigurations of space and time, new constellations of knowledge.

“Photography…was first adopted within the dominant social class…:manufacturers, factory owners and bankers, statesmen, men of letters and scientists” Gisela Freund, “La Photographie au point de vue sociologique” (manuscript, p.32). Is this accurate? Shouldn’t the sequence be reversed? (Benjamin, AP, Y3, 1)

Images of the liminal

In Arcades, Promenades on July 1, 2010 at 5:08 pm

This is a slideshare version of our paper from the Liminal Landscapes conference, given today in Liverpool.

Found images of Brighton promenade

In Promenades on June 9, 2010 at 9:13 am

A short snippet from our paper for the Liminal Landscapes symposium next month.  This shows how we are using web technology to collect material for a ‘working convolute’ on Brighton.  We are gathering images taken by other people that have been uploaded to the web, as a way of accessing representations and uses of the promenade, in an attempt to develop a methodological approach that builds on Benjamin’s methods in the Arcades Project.

“Becker (1974) provides a methodological way of thinking about this potential social research resource.  This relates to the second conception of photography held by Benjamin. The possibilities for producing new constellations of knowledge by using photography suggests possibilities for the collection and reconfiguration of images of the promenade as a way to access its history. Becker imagines the ‘sociologist photographer’ as collecting a plethora of images of a social situation, almost at random, taking care not to pre-judge what is of value in the resultant images.  A consideration of the photographs then guides a further concentration in the research as the sociologist photographer spends time with “his [sic] contact sheets and work prints” and developing questions about the practices and situations that he observes.  This process of collection and interpretation then opens up further avenues of enquiry and begins to produce social knowledge.  In Benjamin’s terms it constructs new configurations of the past, of a kind only accessible through these technological means.  In this study we update Becker’s work, and by seeking to reduce the impacts of sociological bias in our approach to the collection of images we aim to prevent any imposition of the very false coherences that Benjamin had tried to prevent through his parataxic method.

In practical terms, we have utilised web-technology to trawl through the online photo-hosting site flickr in an automated process.  We have set up a yahoo pipe, a relatively new piece of web 2.0 software which aggregates data from the web in the form of RSS feeds, images, blog posts and visual media.  Crucially, a pipe then provides a visual interface through which you can access the aggregated data.  A pipe can be user-customised to a great extent.  Although, following Becker and Benjamin, we aim to collect data without prejudicing it in advance, we are also conscious of sociological / historical practices and the way in which fields of inquiry are constructed to guide even the most inductive studies.  In this respect we have delimited the ‘feeds’ to the pipe to include only the most popular photo-hosting site and also set up keywords to structure these feeds.  Images uploaded to flickr are ‘tagged’ by users to aid retrieval and to publicise the images to a wider audience.  The processes by which images arrive in the virtual public/private spaces of the internet and are distributed throughout them via social networks, direct our attention to ‘sociogram’ quality of all photography.”

*we’re working out how to reference these images accurately.  All of these pictures have been uploaded on a creative commons license and we’ve given links to each of their sources in our bibliography.

the physical presence of the liminal

In Arcades, Promenades on May 17, 2010 at 2:00 pm

At St Pancras Station there is an instance of the liminal made physical because the there is a division within the station between the internal (sub-urban & national) rail system and the international (eurostar) rail system.  The international is made present at the station and there is a clear sense in which to be in one space is to be in one status (stand in Weber’s sense) and to be in the other space is to be in another status.  As these to status-spaces share the same volume and because the status transformation involved is problematic and socially difficult (the national/international is always a significant division) there is a strict regulation, strict enforcement, of the distinction between the two (principally  marked by ‘passport control’).

One of the means of policing this division is found in what is now the upper level of the station; a glass wall.

the physical presence of the liminal

This wall seems to be the very epitome of transparency and openness but this is merely the appearance as it is of course a fortification.  Moreover, it is a governmentally regulated fortification whose restrictions extend beyond the merely physical.

the sign of the discreet functioning of governmentality

This is all indicative of the need to treat such actually transformative and problematic spaces as hazards requiring tight control and classification.  What is at stake here is the Purity and Danger (Douglas 2002) of liminal spaces.  Liminality involves transformation and socio-cultural movement and all societies seem to require the tightest regulation of such movement; preferring the classificatory status quo to any instability of categories.

the orientation of the boundary marks the play of power

the reflective surface of this boundary is more connotationally significant than we at first assume

the purpose of this division and distinction becomes clear when we consider its fucntion

This manifestation of the limit is atypical in its urgent efforts to disappear from plain sight and give the appearance of not being there but the network of power relations this is the expression of are utterly typical.  The liminal is always policed because the system of power in a society cannot bear to much status (stand) disruption.

here the shared light in the volume masks the divisions and distinctions of the space

the volume masks the division and distinction between the two spaces

here the 'international' space can be seen to be 'overwriting' the 'national' space

In the case of St Pancras liminality is managed and policed by allowing one space (the international) to ‘overwrite’ the other (the national) so that the purity of the two is aggressively maintained.

Collections as methods –Convolute H

In reading on May 6, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Part of our work on this project involves gathering images of promenades and presenting them.  This seemingly uncomplicated activity runs into trouble when confronted with the legacies of decades of ‘authoritative’ social science research.  How will we select these images? How do we find them? How ‘representative’ are they?  What can they tell us about the research process and its inherent qualitative insecurity?

In putting together these collections of photos and quotations we are working within a paradigm of ‘collecting’ and using parataxical methods (see this post) to attempt to produce work that produces dialectical images – constellations of material that allow us to grasp the correspondences between our own time and the objects of history. Eagleton puts this into the context of knowledge production, helping us to understand our own use of these methods:

“A constellatory epistemology sets its face against the Cartesian or Kantian moment of subjectivity, less concerned to ‘posses’ the phenomenon than to liberate it into its own sensuous being and preserve its disparate elements in all their irreducible heterogeneity…what this method then delivers is a kind of poetic or novelistic sociology in which the whole seems to consist of nothing but a dense tessellation of graphic images; and to that extent it represents an aesthetic mode of social enquiry.” (1990: 229-330)

The tessellation of images are not chosen at random by Benjamin within this aesthetic enquiry, they are collected.  There are no limits to the pool from which these images are fished and the collector should seek to be indiscriminate in his search:

“A chronicler who recites events without distinguishing between major and minor ones acts in accordance with the following truth: nothing that has ever happened should be regarded as lost for history.” (Benjamin 1999: 246)

Collectors are people with a ‘tactical instinct’ (ibid:64), a difficult argument to make in the academy where the death of the author has never produced the inevitable death of the researcher, and the vitality of researcher is asserted by their mastery of academic epistemologies.   In order to unpack this idea of instinct we need to work through Benjamin’s instinctive assemblage of materials and observations on collecting, found in convolute H of the Arcades Project.

Collecting for Benjamin is at once an act of separation and of union; selecting objects from a diverse field in order to place them together with objects of a similar kind (H1a, 2).  Objects brought together in this manner form collections. These collections are the fruit of the work of the collector, the individual who is able to ‘pursue and encounter’ objects and to present them in our space, not the space of their origin. Benjamin is clear (H2, 7; H2a, 1) that to present objects in this way is not to divorce them fundamentally from their functional relations, that is, their social existence and their connection to production, but on the contrary to select objects and to arrange them in a way that brings their social being into a constellation with our own.  In effect, the collected object is able to crystallise its social relations and present them to us afresh.  The collector then, “takes up the struggle against dispersion” (H4a, 1), the confusion in which the world presents itself to us, and attempts to piece together a patchwork of objects that, taken together, make order out of chaos.

“We construct here an alarm clock that rouses the kitsch of the previous century to ‘assembly’” (H1a,2)

Benjamin often describes collectors in an almost mystical language, as ‘interpreters of fate’ who can  form a ‘magic encyclopaedia, a world order’.  Equally often, Benjamin offers explanations of how this apparently mystical knowledge might be grounded in material concerns:

“We need only recall what importance a particular collector attaches not only to his object but also to its entire past, whether this concerns the origin and objective character of the thing or the details of its ostensibly external history: previous owners, price of purchase, current value and so on.” (H2,7; H2a,1)

This apparent dichotomy in Benjamin’s conception of the collector can only be resolved dialectically in the practice of assembling a collection.  In creating and maintaining the illusion of an almost theological coherence between seemingly disparate objects and historical periods, the collector must methodically and systematically go about her work, drawing on her expert knowledge within a broader emancipatory project of creating a dream-like constellation of objects and ideas in order to awaken us from the dream-like state of contemporary, phantasmagorical capitalism .  For more on this point, read this post.

For us, attempting to produce convolute-style material and to develop the methods of the Arcades Project, this analysis of collecting affirms rather than contradicts the rigorous methodologies of the contemporary social sciences, but encourages an eclecticism and aesthetic perspective in the presentation of our work.  The research ‘process’ that Benjamin describes here is closest to ethnography, in which the general changes in the perspective of the researcher allow her to continuously refine and extend her analysis.

A Collection on Convolute H

In Arcades on May 5, 2010 at 8:38 am

“What is decisive in collecting is that the object is detached from all its original functions in order to enter into the closest conceivable relation to things of the same kind.  This relation is the dramatic opposite of any utility, and falls into the peculiar category of completeness.  What is this “completeness”?  It is a grand attempt to overcome the wholly irrational character of the object’s mere presence at hand through its integration into a new, expressly devised historical system:  the collection.  And for the true collector, every single thing in this system becomes an encyclopaedia of all knowledge of the epoch, the landscape, the industry, and the owner from which it comes.  It is the deepest enchantment of the collector to enclose the particular item within a magic circle, where, as a last shudder runs through it (the shudder of being acquired), it turns to stone.  Everything remembered, everything thought, everything conscious becomes socle, frame, pedestal, seal of his possessions.  It must not be assumed that the collector, in particular, would find anything strange in the topos hyperouranios – that place beyond the heavens which, for Plato, shelters the unchallenged archetypes of things.  He loses himself, assuredly.  But he has the strength to pull himself up again by nothing more than a straw; and from out of the sea of fog that envelops his senses rises the newly acquired piece, like an island. – Collecting is a form of practical memory, and of all the profane manifestations of “nearness” it is the most binding.  Thus, in a certain sense, the smallest act of political reflection makes for an epoch in the antiques business.  We construct here an alarm clock that rouses the kitsch of the previous century to “assembly”.”

Benjamin The Arcades Project Convolute H [H1a,2]

http://www.roughtheory.org/content/use-value-exchange-value-and-collection/

“The true method of making things present is to represent them in our space (not to represent ourselves in their space).  (The collector does just this, and so does the anecdote.) Thus represented, the thing allows no mediating construction from out of “large contexts”.  The same method applies, in essence to the consideration of the great things from the past – the cathedral of Chartres, the temple of Paestum – when, that is, a favourable prospect presents itself: the method of receiving the things into our space.  We don’t displace our being into theirs; they step into our life.”

Benjamin The Arcades Project Convolute H [H2,3]

“The language-game of reporting can be given such a turn that the report gives the person asking for it a piece of information about the one making the report, and not about its subject-matter. (Measuring in order to test the ruler.)” [cf LW I, 416; PI II, x, p. 190d-191a]

Wittgenstein Last writings on the philosophy of psychology Vol.2: The inner and the outer, MS169 p8e

http://www.452f.com/pdf/numero02/02_452f_misc_perez_indiv.pdf

“Works of art teach that person how their function outlives their creator and how his intentions are left behind. They demonstrate how the reception of the work by its contemporaries becomes a component of the effect which a work of art has upon us today. They further show that this effect does not rest in an encounter with the work of art alone but in an encounter with the history which has allowed the work to come down to our own age. “

Benjamin ‘Eduard Fuchs: Collector and Historian’, trans  Knut Tarnowski, New German Critique, No. 5 (Spring, 1975)

http://www.js-modcult.bham.ac.uk/articles/issue6_johnson.pdf

“Accually, inheritance is the soundest way of acquiring a collection. For a collector’s attitude toward his possessions stems from an owner’s feeling of responsibility toward his property. Thus it is, in the highest sense, the attitude of an heir, and the most distinguished trait of a collection will always be its transmissibility.”

Benjamin, ‘Unpacking My Library’, Illuminations, trans’ Harry Zohn & ed’ Hannah Arendt, Shocken Books NY 2008 p66

Those other arcades…

In Arcades, reading on January 8, 2010 at 2:43 pm

There are a number of websites and blogs out there that we have come across on the last few months, that are also using Walter Benjamin’s ‘Arcades Project’ as a starting point for new work.  In this post we’ve rounded up a few that we like, we recommend that you visit them all and if you know of any more, please let us know in the comments on this blog.

The Arcades Project Project.

This website takes the Arcades Project as its starting point and furnishes Benjamin’s text with hyperlinks and a web-structure that seeks to move on from the idea of the passagen to something more like a labyrinth.  The site consists of new convolute, multimedia texts, internal and external links and essay style pieces on the project and its conceptual framework.   Like Borges’ map, describing the project would require us to re-create it – the best way to get a ‘feel for the game’ of this website is to engage with it and plot your own journey through it. 

The Arcades Project: a 3D documentary.

From the website: “The Arcades Project : A 3D Documentary, is a series of projects initiated by artist Jennie Savage which took place in Cardiff’s Victorian and Edwardian Arcades between October 2008 and October 2009. Cardiff is known as the city of Arcades because it has the highest concentration of Victorian and Edwardian Shopping arcades in the UK. Between 2008-2009 artist Jennie Savage led an exploration into these spaces, inspired by Walter Benjamin’s Arcades project and constructed in the light of the St David’s 2 Shopping Centre.”

The Leeds Arcades Project.

The city of Leeds has a number of covered arcades.  This blog appears to have taken its inspiration from  this observation:  “A great deal has been written about the Paris Arcades and yet one finds them in a much worse state than those in Leeds. Both the condition of repair and the frequency of trade pale besides those in Leeds”.  Over time this blog has morphed into something that promises “All the Walter Benjamins you can possibly imagine.”

The Olympic Arcades Project.

We’re really enjoying finding out more about this project as it evolves online, which is an “open-source, distributed PhD” taking its “inspiration from Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, that Paul Caplan of the Internationale is developing at Birkbeck, University of London”.  This project seems to be attempting the construction of dialectical images of the developments surrounding the 2012 Olympics, making use of mobile technology and image sharing, that will eventually even involve a specially designed iPhone app.