Making Place: Space and Embodiment in the City

Making Place: Space and Embodiment in the City

Making Place: Space and Embodiment in the City

Making Place: Space and Embodiment in the City

Synopsis

Space and place have become central to analysis of culture and history in the humanities and social sciences. Making Place examines how people engage the material and social worlds of the urban environment via the rhythms of everyday life and how bodily responses are implicated in the making and experiencing of place. The contributors introduce the concept of spatial ethnography, a new methodological approach that incorporates both material and abstract perspectives in the study of people and place, and encourages consideration of the various levels--from the personal to the planetary--at which spatial change occurs. The book's case studies come from Costa Rica, Colombia, India, Austria, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Excerpt

Arijit Sen and Lisa Silverman

Space, Place, and the Body

In 1943 British Parliamentarians engaged in heated debate about how to rebuild the House of Commons chamber, which had been destroyed in 1941. Some argued that its rebuilding should have been used as an opportunity for expansion to improve its formerly cramped conditions, reshaping it from a rectangle into a semicircle. Prime Minister Winston Churchill, however, sided with opponents by insisting that the new building should conform to the size and shape of the old. He knew that the chamber would be crowded and filled to capacity during critical votes and debates, and it was important that these activities proceed with members spilling out into the aisles, lending on great occasions “a sense of crowd and urgency.” On slow days the chamber was barely filled, but on others it became a throbbing center of civic debate. It continued to be both a symbolic center of state power as well as a vibrant democratic institution, but in its newly rebuilt form it would also trigger resurgent memories of a place bombed during the war and proudly reconstructed as a symbol of a nation’s resilience. Churchill’s understanding of the situation is best summed up in his now-famous declaration: “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”

Churchill’s astute observations suggest his deeper understanding of the complex relationship between place and how our bodies engage it. His “sense of place” of the House of Commons extended beyond the building’s architectural form and its functional use to include its spatial ambience and the meaning produced when individuals and groups used the building.

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