Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Urban, National and Transnational/Global Anthropology
Of interest to: Students
Primary Theme: Cities
Secondary Theme: Materiality
Contemporary urban areas are increasingly marked by the numerous aesthetic registers through which we experience them: material landscapes of cities; the colors, textures, and images of urban life; their densities, saturations, and atmospherics; as well as the practices and performances of people within space generate a spectrum of aesthetic registers that lend distinct identities to space.
A wave of literature on the importance of the politics of aesthetics marks the contemporary moment where both subjectivity and sovereignty entangle with aesthetics. As technological worlds increasingly mediate our understanding of space, the aesthetics of screens, billboards, and devices inform biopolitics. A tendency towards global identities transforms downtowns, plazas, parks, and architectures across the world into resonant landscapes highlighting the relationships between aesthetics, multinational capital, and transnational governmentality. The performative dimensions of moving through the city, tracking its transportation routes and corridors, tracing its images and illusions, present critiques of the state and urban income inequalities.
This panel takes seriously the increasing emphasis on aesthetics and aestheticization that infiltrates practices of design, urban development, governance, industrialization, and business in urban areas across the world. It analyzes the modes through which aesthetic registers and aesthetic discourses have come to frame the politics and political battles taking place within urban areas. Building on Rancière's (2013) call to understand the politics of aesthetic regimes, but moving his call beyond the realm of art and artistic practices to situate aesthetics within the dynamics of urban development politics, forms of governance, urban planning, and multinational industries, this panel highlights the dominance of aesthetics in political economic processes.
Moving from Bangkok to Detroit and Bogotá to New Delhi the panelists push at understanding the meaning of aesthetics in anthropology beyond the lens of art worlds and cultural industries, and examine the definitional category of urban aesthetics itself. We analyze materialities such as the single family home, advertising billboards, aerial cable cars, and concrete to think through the politics of urban aesthetics they articulate. The papers will interrogate how aesthetics construct hierarchies between populations, spaces, and nations; think through aesthetic registers such as those of blight and ephemerality and the violence they enact; explore conceptions of security, order, and state-making as mediated through infrastructural and technological aesthetics; and examine the modes through which aesthetics are entangled within forms of racialization and orientalism. Panelists will cross-fertilize aesthetics as image, performance, process, and material product to question the limits of the register. Together we aim to think of directions to push the aesthetic lens within the field of urban anthropology.
Rancière, Jacques. 2013. The Politics of Aesthetics. United Kingdom, Bloomsbury Academic.