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Women and Social Spaces - BMW Guggenheim Lab MumbaiImage: Women and Social Spaces, BMW Guggenheim Lab Mumbai, December 29, 2012 (Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/bmwguggenheimlab)

The editor of EDRA Connections recently asked me to write a book review for their May 2013 issue. Included below, with links and further reading, is the introduction to my review of Why Loiter: Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets by Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan, and Shilpa Ranade. New Delhi: Penguin India, 2011.

This book is a timely fit, not just in the spate of recent protests in the Global South against endemic sexual violence, but also in the ever-expanding literature on critical spatial scholarship of value to the theory and practice of urban design across wider social geographies. Shilpa Phadke (Assistant Professor at the Centre for Media Studies at The Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai), Sameera Khan (journalist and writer) and Shilpa Ranade (architect and cultural theorist) set out on an ambitious task: to challenge the normative assumptions about the way we see and use space; criticize the narrative of safety for women in parochial community structures; establish how loitering might allow women equal access to urban space; and eventually formulate a new feminist agenda involving each of these concerns, but inclusive of all marginal groups. Throughout, we encounter references to the writings of 20th century urban social theorists; read stories of everyday negotiations of access by women of different backgrounds; and finally, come full circle to a greater understanding of the significance of the title question, Why Loiter?

The essence of Phadke, Khan, and Ranade’s argument is that the notion of safety has long been employed by patriarchal institutions in which not only men but also women participate to implicitly monitor the behavior of other women in public space. “Safety,” they say, “is connected not as much to women’s own sense of bodily integrity or to their consent, but rather to ideas of izzat and honor of the family and community” (p.53). In such settings, women are guarded against assumed sexual dangers from less desirable groups, including lower-class men. Due to such a deceptive opposition between class and gender, women are consistently marginalized in larger urban contexts. “Instead of safety,” they add, “what women should then seek is the right to take risks …” (p.60) for it is only by claiming the right to “chosen risk” that they can claim full access to public space.

Continue reading: “EDRA Connections,” EDRA, May 2013, pp. 9-10 (with images of #SafeCityPledge from Blank Noise). EDRA Connections was launched in January this year to serve as an extended forum for conversations and connections between and among EDRA members.

CEPT_Publication
Image: Pedagogical Experiments in Urban Design: Series 1, Social Space / Spatial Practice, Proceedings of Graduate Student Reading Seminar, published by CEPT University Press, 2012.

Last month, I was delighted to receive the author’s copy of a CEPT University monograph on my summer 2011 graduate course entitled, “Social Space / Spatial Practice.” I was equally happy to know that this volume was displayed at the SA50 exposition, celebrating 50 years of School of Architecture in Ahmedabad in December, last year. The publication is the first in a series that aims to critically document ongoing pedagogical experiments in the field of urban design at the university. It consists of five parts: 1) prefatory note; 2) course content; 3) student participation and collective involvement; 4) concluding note and critical reflection; and 5) course bibliography. Check out the announcement in CEPT E-News Magazine Vol. 2 No. 1, January 2013.

At this point, I would like to extend a massive thank you to my students for their intellectual contributions and brilliant participation in the seminar, to Vanita Verma for helping me finalize this document, to Nirmala Khadpekar for her patience, support, and editorial eye, and to Professor PVK Rameshwar, Head of Master’s Program in Urban Design, for being ever so indispensable in the dissemination of new knowledge in the field. “Social Space / Spatial Practice” is a detailed overview of our collective involvement. It speaks to the love we put into giving back to our School. Thank you all.

alphaville
Alphaville Oakville beckons! / Image: Video still from Godard’s Alphaville (1965)

As I close this term and begin packing for the holidays, I contemplate once more the vast array of experiences and involvements that ran parallel to my dissertation writing, and which collectively made the last few months extremely memorable.

Agency, Agenda, and Social Space: My course offering this fall was structured around five interconnected themes: Space, Everyday Life, Agency, Voice, Participation, and Program. Each of these themes was selected and strung together in ways to help clarify and encourage connections between and among the different positions on social and political values of space. The assigned readings were not exhaustive, and given my background, there was bias towards critical cultural and sociological writings, which I viewed as interdisciplinary in scope as well as of special significance to architecture students. During our last session at Mighty Good Coffee, I offered a reflective understanding of space in relation to each of the five themes. The students, on their part, came with extremely insightful one-page handouts that spoke to a specific theme or a combination of themes of interest. I consider myself very fortunate to have had such socially conscious individuals be part of this class. My plan is to continue this engagement beyond the classroom and beyond our respective programs. More on that when I come up for air next year!

Social Space / Spatial Practice Publication: After a long wait, I am pleased to announce that my course documentation will be published by CEPT University Press in the coming year. With the objective of encouraging continued undertakings of similar nature in the Urban Design program at CEPT, my suggestion for the publication title was “Pedagogical Experiments in Urban Design. Episode 1: Social Space, Spatial Practice.” Course documentations, I believe, need to position themselves as contributions to current concerns in theory and practice of architecture and urban design. They must raise questions that outline and inform contemporary design discourse and forms of pedagogy. The suggested title speaks to this ambition. I used “pedagogy” to set the stage for consistent engagements with questions of space and society from within the Urban Design program and to encourage new ways of connecting urban design education to people, places, and practices. I took “episode” to be more than an incidental event in a given academic year (a lecture, seminar, workshop, or studio). Episode carries with it notions of both a part and a whole, in other words, an installment of an experimental series, at once separate from it, constitutive of it, and in dialogue with it. I cannot wait to lay my hands on the printed copy.

EDRA 44 Providence Spring 2013: At the next EDRA meeting, I will be chairing and presenting in a symposium on environmental design research methods. The session entitled, “Enriching Environmental Design Research” will go beyond the traditional tendency to equate design with intuition and research with science, and look at interdisciplinary assumptions, methods, and frameworks that speak to multiple epistemological positions and strategies of shared value to both activities. Specifically, the symposium will cover a spectrum of methodological positions that explore a variety of research designs and discuss their limits and potentials to contribute to new knowledge in our field. On a personal note, I am delighted that my advisor will be reconnecting with her peers through this symposium after a lengthy hiatus (of almost a decade).

Here’s hoping that next year is equally encouraging. Happy Holidays to everyone!

Q2P_Vohra
Image: “Q2P” by Paromita Vohra (right): A film on gender, toilets, and the city to be discussed in class.

I am thrilled to have been awarded an opportunity to teach a graduate seminar in Fall 2012 as part of a newly instituted competitive fellowship at the Taubman College. The course entitled, “Agency, Agenda, and Social Space” speaks both to my ongoing dissertation and my broader intellectual interests in the realm of critical theory and design. Here is the course description. All thoughts are welcome.

Agency, Agenda, and Social Space | Fall 2012

Following Henri Lefebvre’s theory of production of space, many scholars have come to view space as a distinct social and political category, actively produced at the intersection of mental, material, and experiential phenomena. The argument that space has political meaning and that it should be conceived of as a social product has provided a valuable framework for architectural theorists and environmental design researchers interested in examining questions of human agency and social agenda in architecture. At the same time, however, the conception of everyday nature of power in practices of space without the agency of community has become popular.

How might we study the narrative about social space within architecture, whilst also investigating the meaning of agency towards greater clarity? How might we examine material responses to questions of social space involving divergent expectations? Is it possible to reconcile spatial strategies that raise social questions and those that work with them through direct action?

This course will investigate politics of space, agency, and practice and their interrelationships from a range of theoretical perspectives and design juxtapositions. We will work through the writings of late 20th-century social theorists who discuss the relationship between space and society in terms of agency and materiality of everyday life. We will contrast writings and design practices that battle issues of social inclusivity and autonomy with those that encourage critical explorations of space through participation. The syllabus will also include texts on urban practices that focus on space and subjectivities such as women and loitering, youth and skateboarding to help connect specific renderings to a wider context of social theory and spatial scholarship.

Hard Space, Soft Space, and Architectures of Appropriation

My spring-term field trip to Europe culminated in Seattle, at the 43rd Annual Meeting of EDRA researchers. It was wonderful to connect back with friends, colleagues, and precious mentors at EDRA, and equally brilliant to interview one of the members for my dissertation research at the venue. Whilst details of my field work will be forthcoming, here is a snippet of the symposium I led and participated in at EDRA.

The theme of EDRA43 conference was “emergent placemaking.” My session entitled, “Hard Space, Soft Space, and Architectures of Appropriation” discussed the notion of “emergence” in terms of the social makings of an environment through design. It focused attention on architectural and urban design frameworks that allow distinct social groups to take ownership of space and negotiate harder aspects of space. The panel saw hard space as material space: space as defined by physical elements such as walls and boundaries; it discussed soft space in terms of the everyday social coding of space: space made and remade by human activity through everyday social interactions with material space; finally, it imagined appropriation as a dialogic relationship between harder and softer aspects of space: the practice of space, both real and imagined.

Overall, the symposium looked at each of these three components as key interrelated elements of emergent placemaking. Specifically, it sought to position space as an agent in the discourse on emergence, and ask: How is space defined through use patterns of its inhabitants? What kinds of design strategies afford possibilities for spatial appropriation? In what ways does space provide agency to its inhabitants, if any? The aim of this session was to bring theoretical and descriptive work on design and localized use together in a conversation. Continuing the conversation from last year, one of my goals at this meeting was to clarify the social meanings of environmental design with diverse perspectives from design researchers and academics and to seek connections between and among spatial concerns, both old, new, and ongoing.

Presenters:
– K. Franck, Professor, College of Architecture and Design, New Jersey Institute of
Technology
– K. Patel, PhD Candidate, Architecture, University of Michigan
– P. Aeschbacher, Assistant Professor, Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Penn State University (in spirit!)

Image: Fernandes N; Chaudhury, C. Bombay Then | Mumbai Now (2009)

Yesterday, I gave a talk entitled, “Communicating Space: Framing space and urbanism in Bombay” at the South Asia Seminar Series at Emory University in Atlanta. The event was organized by Middle Eastern and South Asia Studies Program, and co-sponsored by the Program in Linguistics. Speaking to a group of scholars, academics and students interested in the many cultures and languages of South Asia, I focused attention on the city of Bombay and illustrated its multiple urbanisms through the lens of space and communication. Specifically, I situated the notion of communication in HL’s concept of “texture” and placed emphasis on both verbal and non-verbal communication as they relate to city’s spatial culture, spatial conditions, and spatial practices. I juxtaposed distinct material narratives on Bombay and discussed the many ways in which the textural relationship between space and communication reframed questions of voice and difference and spoke to multiple Bombays (Bombay, Bambai, and Mumbai including).

The talk was less about following a single line of thought to its logical conclusion, and more about presenting a diverse set of interconnected material on space and communication as a series of questions. Throughout, I employed the notion of texture as a framework to understand the relationship between space and society, but most importantly, to get past the view of space as either a neutral setting in which social processes take place, or some text whose reading might reveal the everyday social life. Intellectual stimulation aside, I was very happy to gain the support of an extremely encouraging and loving community at Emory. Sincere thanks to Ruby and Benny for inviting me to speak at their School.

I’m off for the holidays to the East Coast, but here are some important year-end updates to roundup an incredibly busy term:

Architecture in Print: Fall 2011 marked the successful completion of our inaugural blog project entitled, “Architecture in Print” run by Art, Architecture, and Engineering Library at The University of Michigan. The project takes stock of periodicals and print matter in the “Special Collections Library,” and produces an annotated visual catalogue of materials that have impacted the dissemination of architectural knowledge in significant ways from the 1920s onwards. In Winter term, I’ll continue to work on William Muschenheim Collection focusing on European and American modernism.

Social Space / Spatial Practice: This week, I was finally able to finish my course publication draft and send it off to PVK R at CEPT University for review. The sent draft was a fairly extensive record of our collective involvement from this past summer. Broadly, the publication document seeks to contribute to the discourse on wider social meanings in urban design. Specifically, it is an attempt to outline the various contours of urban (social) design; to focus attention on social and political values of urban design; to deepen design discussions on space—society relationship; and to set a theoretical foundation for ongoing and newer investigations into people, places, and practices.

Emerging Voices Lecture Series: My involvement in P+ARG organized “Emerging Voices” lecture series will continue next semester. As a committee member, I submitted the grant proposal on behalf of the organizing committee, and we now have requisite funds to bring three emerging scholars to Ann Arbor to lead one formal lecture and one informal working session with current doctoral students and faculty members at The Taubman College. Each speaker corresponds to three specialty areas: design studies, history/theory, and urban planning respectively. Stay tuned for added information on speakers and discussion themes!

EDRA 43 Seattle Spring 2012: I will be chairing and presenting in a symposium at EDRA entitled, “Hard Space, Soft Space, and Architectures of Appropriation,” next year. I received an e-mail notification of acceptance just few days ago. Hurrah! This EDRA session will continue the conversation from last year, and involve paper presentations by a panel of three individuals focusing on notions of hard space, soft space, and (spatial) appropriation as key interrelated elements of emergent placemaking. More on session theme, paper abstracts and speaker bios, soon!

That’s all for now, folks! See you all in a few weeks time. Have a restful and rejuvenating holiday break!