Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Liveability and Urban Architectures: Mol(ecul)ar Biopower and the 'Becoming Lively' of Sustainable Communities

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Liveability and Urban Architectures: Mol(ecul)ar Biopower and the 'Becoming Lively' of Sustainable Communities

Article excerpt

Abstract. Contemporary analyses of biopolitics and the governance of 'life itself' have concentrated on molecular processes in domains such as medicine and neuroscience. In this paper, I turn an analytical lens on urban architectures, with a focus upon a particular programme of large-scale housebuilding in the UK: the Sustainable Communities agenda. I argue first that Sustainable Communities constitutes a resonant but qualitatively different attempt to plan for and govern life itself, particularly encapsulated by the term 'liveability'. Significantly, according to policy and technical documentation, Sustainable Communities appears to address the future at both molar and molecular levels, and through a focus on obduracy in ordinary, banal, everyday spaces (rather than in exceptional or border architectures). My analysis is, however, interwoven with attention to the 'becoming lively' of urban architectures. Drawing on a large, ethnographic research project, this paper offers three navigational aids to understanding how professionalised deployments of 'liveability' become co-opted into, resisted by, or creatively reinterpreted through, practices of inhabitation by residents of sustainable communities.

Keywords: sustainable urbanism, urban planning, urban geography, geographies of architecture, dissonance, childhood and youth, children's geographies

1 Introduction

Ever since Michel Foucault's critical interrogation of biopower, there has been gathering interest in the exercise of surveillance, control, and design over "life itself' (Foucault, 1978, page 143). Countless studies have considered the implications of the confluence of life, politics and finance from genetic manipulation to neuroscience, and from pharmacology to the "customised fabrication of DNA sequences" (Rose, 2007, page 13). Compelled by a desire to both control and allow for (carefully selected) contingencies, there is growing agreement that neoliberal modes of governmentality are underpinned by increased intervention against possible threats to kinds of life that are deemed 'normal' (Anderson, 2010).

A foundational concept in studies of life itself has been a shift from intervention at the 'molar' to the 'molecular' scale, articulated in Nikolas Rose's (2007) seminal analysis of contemporary biomedical knowledges. For Rose, the molar constitutes the scale of individual (human) bodies and their perceptible components: "limbs, organs, tissues, flows of blood, hormones" (page 11). Rose highlights how, until the late 20th century, this "molar body" (page 11) was visualised and acted upon by an earlier logic of medical intervention, supporting "the state ... in measures for preserving and managing the collective health of the population" (page 24). Rose contrasts such molar knowledges with the rise of a molecular scopic, increasing in intensity from the late 20th century onwards. Whilst Rose (page 33) recognises the "need to be cautious about overstating the novelty of these developments", he nonetheless locates a shift to the molecular scale of genes, DNA, and a range of technologies which visualise such life components. Thus, the molecular now represents a pervasive "style of thought" (page 4) wherein scientific endeavour, policy making, health interventions, and entire commercial industries are entangled. More recently, scholars have shown how the politics of life itself are inveigled variegated anticipatory and preventative logics: from climate change to terrorism to biothreats (Anderson, 2012, page 32; also Amoore, 2006; Braun, 2007).

These advances notwithstanding, there remain important lacunae in contemporary investigations of the politics of life itself. The most significant for this paper relate to professional interventions that have gained less attention than biomedicine, terrorism, biosecurity, food, and contingency planning: interventions like architecture, planning, and urban design. Perhaps these interventions--henceforth termed 'urban architectures'--have not been theorised in biopolitical terms because they seem not to resonate wholly with the tendency towards molecular interventions into life itself. …

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