Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

The Prison in the Arcade: A Carceral Diagram of Consumer Space

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

The Prison in the Arcade: A Carceral Diagram of Consumer Space

Article excerpt

As a result of the need throughout Europe to address spatial problems in metropolises that were still medieval in design--congestion, poor sanitation, and a demand for consumer spaces to satisfy a growing middle class--a surge around the 1830s of a new architectural form served as a response: the first shopping malls, or arcades. These attractive spaces with their impressive and soaring skylights, shops compactly arranged on either side of their corridors like cabins in a train, constituted a full-blown urban architectural phenomenon developed and controlled by private interests, a phenomenon that has lasted in one form or other to this day. Significantly, a provocative relation exists between the design of arcades and that of prisons of the same period built according to Jeremy Bentham's radial surveillance model, the panopticon. What is evident in the eruption of structures so apparently different in purpose is a connection between bourgeois consumer space on the one hand and carceral space on the other, a connection that defines in a profound and essential way the nature of modern urban space and the experience of subjects within it.

In this essay, I examine briefly the ways in which consumer space, and urban space in general in nineteenth-century European metropolises (with an emphasis on Paris), are inscribed with a subtle but powerful carceral ideology derived in part from the design of real prisons. This ideology was centred on a motivation or even visceral need among conservative governing elites with aristocratic pretensions to control urban space, to harness or channel the movements of individuals of all classes in this space, and to deploy strategies or techniques of separation or individualization, which generated a psychological effect as a result of experiencing metropolitan spaces, an effect referred to here as "scarring." Clearly, this ideology did not emerge as a vast monolithic conspiracy plotted by a powerful few against the masses. Nor did it signal an instantaneous overhaul of urban space so that cities like Paris emerged brand new from the Medieval detritus with which they could be binarily opposed. Rather, it develope d less systematically and coherently from material needs caused by the flux of urban change whose solutions were eventually grounded materially in penal and policing reforms that were happening simultaneously, not obviously related to capitalism yet not unaffected by its taylorizing methods. Although arcades were not consciously and solely built according to panoptic models in order to incarcerate subjects, consumer spaces were clearly inscribed in an expanding, disciplining, militaresque urban fabric that primarily sought to police the lower classes (a term embracing the "laboring" and "dangerous" [i.e., criminal] classes). A capitalistic-carceral diagram became evident materially and tactically as a power technology working at the level of modern social mores.

Three important fields of discussion emerge: (1) consumer spaces like arcades, their relationship to prisons, and the importance of vision as a major component in both; (2) the restructuring of urban space by Claude Berthelot de Rambuteau and Baron Georges Eugene Haussmann once the arcades are past their effectiveness, and the continuing but evolving impact of vision in urban discipline; (3) the fear among the upper classes of working-class crowds, manifested as the advent of the politically conservative discipline of crowd psychology, the increased repression of carnivals and fairs, their replacement with commodity-based festivals, and the latter's partial substitute for police discipline.

The terrain of consumer consumption, in addition to the actual activity itself, are important factors in controlling an urban population. Individuals compelled by capitalism's produced need to consume or spend are physically and psychologically drawn to those city sectors or structures that offer superficially free spaces of freedom and individual choice, and this evolution from generated need to physical location is at the heart of the urban seduction of shopping. …

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