Mapping the Unmapped

Thanks to Stefania and Zamilla for their presentations! The required reading for next week is:

AlSayyad, Nezar, and Ananya Roy. “Medieval Modernity: On Citizenship and Urbanism in a Global Era.” Space and Polity 10, no. 1 (April 2006): 1-20.

I will be posting Prof. Bhatt’s “How the other half builds” (1984) and Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives (1890) on My Courses as well. Please familiarize yourself with these two works.


16 thoughts on “Mapping the Unmapped

  1. Mylène Carrière:

    The text “Medieval Modernity: On Citizenship and Urbanism in Global Era” looks at three different types of citizenship, the gated enclaves, the regulated squatter settlement and the camp, through the lens of the medieval modernity. Here medieval, but mainly history, is seen and use as a reservoir of concepts. However, to me, the most interesting part of the text is the three types of citizenship explored, which have different logic of sovereignty and power while all of them overlap and are “state of exception”.

    First, the gated enclave does exceptions with the multiplicity and fragmentation of sovereignties. The social organization is based on exclusion, mainly through urban charters, where the hierarchy define the level of freedom of the citizen and therefore power. This model is seen like a “State within the State”.

    Then, the regulated squatter settlement establishes the state of exception with the multiplicity and complicity of sovereignties. The informality of the government allows the power to be attributed and held together through social relations, therefore different sovereignties. Also, the negotiability of regulations is a good tool to allow this model of citizenship to evolve.

    Last, in the camp, citizenship is suspended since the state of exception allows for flexibility of the sovereign power. Therefore, nobody has a complete right to rule the state and we are left with overlapping zone of sovereignties. This model often occur in a state of emergency where space has “no-law”, the subject is “bare life” (state of “desubjectivitation”) and the state “control and care”.

    In conclusion, those three types of citizenships are interesting to study since they all have different way to practice exclusion through power, some “better” than other.

  2. Tanya Southcott

    In “Medieval Modernity: On Citizenship and Urbanism in a Global Era” AlSayyad and Roy set out to examine urban citizenship through an exploration of 3 ‘contemporary’ spatial formations – the gated enclave, the regulated squatter settlement and the camp. What makes their argument unique, and ultimately compelling, is the methodology they use. Through a comparison of these 3 types of space to examples found in the medieval city, they successfully demonstrate how the modern city functions through a medieval ordering of space, hence, the term medieval modernity.

    Fundamental to their argument is a non-linear approach to historical time; according to AlSayyad and Roy, history is not seen as a ‘linear periodization’ but as a ‘reservoir of concepts’ that can be used to push research in new directions. They link the medieval city with our contemporary city through 3 points of congruence: the location of forms of citizenship in urban enclaves premised on protection, the hostility of these forms of citizenship to the state, and the territorial manifestations of these forms of rule. Through their analysis they challenge our understanding of historical time as progressive, and help prepare us to talk about forms of modernity ‘where the future is worse than the past’.

    There is a duality to their logic that echoes last week’s conversations. The acknowledgement of the simultaneity of publicity and privacy in space in some ways parallels this idea that the medieval lurks in the modern and visa versa. While AlSayyad and Roy use spatial categories in their analysis, they can be also understood as diagrams of power that respond to the increasing fragmentation and division of contemporary society.

  3. Camille Bédard

    In “Medieval Modernity : On Citizenship and Urbanism in a Global Era,” Nezar AlSayyad and Ananya Roy analyze contemporary urbanism through the lens of the medieval city. With the examples of the gated enclave, the regulated squatter settlement and the camp, the authors examine the fragmentation of the landscape of urban citizenship. Despite globalization, territorialisation still operates in modern cities through the dissolution of national citizenship.

    The first case study is the gated enclave, a network of premium infrastructure which is distinct from the urban environment. The gated enclave operates through exclusion : the term ‘privatopia’ used by Alsayyad and Roy illustrates adequately this privilege reserved for the successful. The comparison with the medieval town oligarchies sheds light on the inherent contradictions that constitute gated enclaves. A space of liberty but sovereignty, freedom but protection, gated enclaves temporarily resolve security problems, but simultaneously reinforce paranoia. The second case study is the regulated squatter settlement, or informal housing that characterize the global South. In such space, regulated informality becomes a new type of governmentality. Citing religious regimes as new para-states, AlSayyad and Roy demonstrate that monolithic regimes do not exist. On the contrary, a multiplicity of sovereignties constitute urban life. The third case study is the camp, an extra-territorial space where no laws operate. This space of segmentation and exception is at the core of the very concept of urban citizenship.

    AlSayyad and Roy are successful in their goal of blurring the normative concept of the city. By illuminating the inherent paradoxes of the modern city, they prove that there is no such thing as the city, but rather the cities.

  4. Zamila Karimi

    “Globalization and the compression of space and time have fundamentally changed the standard relationships between peoples and places.”
    The concept of “Medieval Modernity” as a means to understanding contemporary global phenomenon of urbanization and citizenship by Alsayyad and Roy puts forth a new methodology for analysis of the multiple forms of metropolitan modernities in the 21st c.
    They argue that the modern city functions as enclaves, settlements and camps and as such is parallel to the medieval cities zones of divisions.
    The notion of Splintering urbanism and networked infrastructure connects communities but with it brings about immense threat – cyberterror, not bound by national boundaries is fear that harks back to medieval times. “We seem to be reverting to the neo-feudal times….where boundaries of civilization, dignity and hope no longer coincide with the boundaries of nation.” (Ubiquitous Borders, p 142)
    Increasingly, in this environment, issues of safety and security are decentralized and have become the function of private firms, government -military companies and individuals, offering their services to wealthy patrons and multi-national companies and their families around the world. This trend continues and the middle class globally are organizing themselves into enclaves to share the resources. According to Roy, the segregation amongst people around the world increases and the marginalized groups are subject to surveillance – for the poor there is no refuge.

  5. Brittany Marshall

    The reading “Medieval modernity: On Citizenship and Urbanism in the Modern Era”, seeks to rationalize the increasing division and fragmentation of today’s urban cities, by comparing it to a range of comparable situations within the medieval era. With the increasingly urbanizing realities of our world, the authors identify an anxiety for both the “growing south”, quickly developing, as well as for “global cities”, which more and more become a collective survival of the fittest in terms of economic strength and growth. Within the framework of the urban city, the authors identify three main forms of citizenship we have seen in the contemporary era. The first being the gated enclave, which is one regulated and decided upon by those of power and wealth, providing both dualities of freedom and protection for its inhabitants. The second, the regulated squatter settlement, has constant shifting alliances and positions of power. Finally the camp, which has seemingly no permanent law system, which can be put into question how long it can last until someone assumes a role.
    The conclusion becomes that, and in the case for public and private spaces, the three spatial formations of citizenship are not mutually exclusive, but rather can exist within one another. The authors go on to say that there is always “the state of exception”, in that each city will have its unique characteristics and combinations of the typologies. With an ever changing and unpredictable urban landscape, can we really rationalize the pattern urban growth? Over time the shape and look of cities have evolved, with a consistency being the ways social structuring has repeated.

  6. Nicki Reckziegel
    AlSayyad and Roy, in their text “Medieval Modernity: On Citizenship and Urbanism in a Global Era,” use the medieval as a “transhistorical analytical category” to better understand various forms of contemporary urbanism. They employ history as a “reservoir of concepts” in order to “highlight the ebb and flow of urbanisation, the simultaneity of different logics of urbanism and the value of a non-linear approach to historical time.”

    The paper examines three instances of contemporary urbanism: the gated enclave, the squatter settlement and the camp. Through study of urban citizenship in particular, it is seen that such exclusionary spaces have led to a fragmented and splintered urbanism. The medieval analogy illuminates push and pull relationship between freedom and protection (as well as one groups freedom at the expense of another’s), and most importantly, the “multiplicity and fragmentation of sovereignty.” We begin to understand “power not as a monolithic and singular regime of rule, but rather as a fragmented domain of multiple and competing sovereignties.” This flexibility of sovereign power permits a monopoly of freedom, much to the detriment of urban citizens.

    AlSayyad and Roy are successful in their attempts to “trouble the normative concept of the city” and complicate the concepts which are taken for granted, forcing the reader to consider these notions under new light.

  7. The authors introduce an interesting approach with this article, one where they invoke medieval urbanism as a conceptual framework. The concept of medieval modernity, as he explains must not be used as a ‘historical period’ but as a ‘transhistorical analytic category’. They use principles of urban organization from the medieval to reflect on our modern neo-liberal cities. The argument is well constructed and the parallels between modern urbanity and medieval times such as the concept of freedom and its paradoxical relation to the enclave appear reasonable. Yet, I somehow feel uneasy at the reading of this article: the authors basically questions the ‘superiority of our modernity’. The discontentment is partially because yes, I would like to believe humans learn from their past and do not repeat the same errors -the authors warned the readers several times that exposing the principals of cyclical/repetitive history was not their intent. But mainly, because modern times have an inherent difference with the Medieval time which is the ability to think outside of ourselves.

    The ‘self-consciousness’ of Stein which the authors quote has a grand implication on the rationalization of the world, including, the understanding of urban spaces. I would hope that the capacity to anticipate through comprehending the past, would allow us to prevent certain crisis including the fall of an empire as the authors hint at. I must say that the mention of the ‘spectacle of exterminations and the ritualistic excesses’ reminded me of the tirades of hard-core Christians when claiming that doom is near. I could not help but smirk at the lecture of those words. The authors certainly depict a gloomy ending as they mention how some historians predict freedoms of citizenship to be ‘entangled with the unfreedoms of slavery, serfdom, hierarchy and exclusion’.

    That being said, I shouldn’t end on such tragic words. ‘Time is always articulated in space.’; the authors did not lead us far astray after all, although they certainly seek to disturb the prevailing understanding of our built environment. The attempt to introduce the notion of space, in the analysis of historical periods is critical: one cannot view past settlements as states of exceptions without going past the ‘past’.

  8. In AlSayyad and Roy’s essay, the medieval period is not referred to as a historical period, but rather as a transhistorical analytical category back dropping their analysis of the modern in this moment of liberal empire. The authors make a parallel between the urban processes experienced backwards from medieval times to the end of the Roman Empire. That is, the authors’ medieval timeline operates in reverse. They do this as an attempt to question the teleology of human actions. Rather than viewing history as a linear series of cause-and effect occurrences, they see it as a series of moments brought forward by specific urban organizational conditions. AlSayyad and Roy argue that we may use our medieval past to analyses the functions of three specific urban organizations: 1.gated enclaves, 2.regulated squatter settlements, and 3.camps.
    Through the investigation of the medieval gated enclave the reader discovers a correlation between social status and freedom/power within the city. The reader than realizes that this is also applicable in today’s society, and at an international level. Freedom here becomes a monopoly exercised through association; depending with what social class you are associated, you have a greater or lesser amount of freedom.
    The essay than moves to examining squatter settlements; here the authors argue that, as in the middle ages, squatting in contemporary times is a highly regulated practice. Through squatter settlements emerges a delicate negotiation between the urban fabric and the city, such that would-be exceptions become the norm. However, the authors also underline the fact that such squatter settlements would not be possible without the presence of competing sovereignties; there must exist rivaling ideals within the city to produce such incidences.
    Finally, AlSayyad and Roy look at urban camps; they view this type of urban organization as a post-city space; a space expressed as a result of a state of emergency. The authors argue that due to the extreme circumstances the law is suspended by the keeper of the law in an effort to maintain peace and order. (I believe the paradox to be quite intriguing, especially in the case of Guantanamo.) Under camp circumstances, subject/’citizens’ undergo a suspension of their metaphysical status; everyone is reduced to “bare-life.”

  9. Noémie Despland-Lichtert

    Alsayyad and Roy propose a very original analytical method for contemporary urbanism by comparing it to the notion of the medieval town. Medieval period is a very crucial period within cities development and do provide interesting notion still applicable to today’s towns.
    The article uses this “medieval modernity” to look into tree form of citizenships associated with contemporary urbanism: gated enclave, squatter settlements and camps. I found particularly interesting their analyze of urban territories directly linked to notion of citizenships of their inhabitants. In the text, space is analyzed in relations to the different forces and power relationships within it rather than through its form.
    I think the text did meets its goal of examining citizenships associated with contemporary urbanism as well as demonstrating that the city is not homogeneous in both forms and power relations incarnated in it.

  10. -Alexandre Hamel-

    The authors’ take on the different forms of citizenship in our modern global era and their relationship to past medieval paradigms brings into light many current issues of contemporary urbanism. Using the medieval city as a conceptual framework, history becomes theory in an attempt to analyze present day urban citizenship in a world governed by liberal empires. A brief overview of different key moments of the middle ages are discussed and compared to the modern era. Then the notions of the spectacle and spectacular cities are mentioned by the authors to make a point about how the different processes that structured cities in the Middle Ages are now experienced in reverse reinforcing the importance of looking at historical time in a non-linear way.

    The analysis is then turned to three specific types of urban constructs bridging the gap between past and present phenomenon. The medieval gated enclave brings up notions of social status, freedom and power of inhabitants. Through a process of association, each individual becomes part of a social class which claims different degrees of freedom and power as an assessment of social status. Regulated squatter settlements are the next object of discussion stressing the regulatory aspects involved in the process. The act of squatting becomes an intricate form of mediation between the structure of the city and the developing urban fabric where the exceptions are then accepted. At the other end of the spectrum we observe the condition of the camp which becomes the unregulated space where the norm is suspended. A type of post-city state where due to extreme conditions, regulations are waived for the greater good of peace and order.

    The analysis and comparison made by the authors are valid and to the point and I would agree that a non-linear approach to history can bring about cyclical patterns of what has happened, what is happening and what will happen. On the other end, considering that history is a relatively recent occurrence and that in accordance with Stein, we are now endowed with a self-consciousness since the Renaissance, I hope that history will not only repeat itself and that we can learn from our past mistakes.

  11. “In Medieval Modernity: On Citizenship and Urbanism in a Global Era”, the authors introduces a new framework to analyze urbanism from a different perspective. Their approach is namely the “medieval city”, comparing modernity to medieval social phenomenon of similarities and examines their relevance and relationships. They believe by using history as theory, our modern social structure and urbanistic presence are congruent with certain medieval process, intending to better our understanding of their origins and importance.

    They argue that the modern citizenship is fragmented and divided. Through the notions of gated enclaves, regulated squatter settlement, and the camp, the authors link up various medieval phenomenons that are relevant to the modern era which we live in. These three spatial formation force us to re interpret urbanism as the state of exception, where the logic of sovereignty governs the social standards and fragmentation of urbanism.

    The idea of employing historical case studies is not a new topic. This is to say that historical aspects are purposeful materials that can provide us better understanding of the contemporary world. This article promotes the possibilities of studying other historical periods to reference them to the present state of modernity, juxtaposing recurring issues that exist before humanity started paying attention to.

  12. The authors use the medieval analogy to qualify that quality of diversity and fragmentation in modern urbanization. They also argue that we are returning to a medieval localism, with a dissolution of national citizenship, and its fragmentation and localization on a urban scale. That fragmenting of cities into sub-categories are similar to the city of the late middle ages.

    Squatter settlements are a symptom of that phenomenon. Rather than being designated as ‘illegal’, they are described as unregulated activities in a context where similar activities are regulated .The state has the power to determine what is informal and what is not, and to determine which forms of informality (outside legal field, outside traditional market economy) are acceptable or unacceptable, legitimate or illegitimate. But the fact of labeling as informal, as not being part of the rules, is just another way of applying those rules to it. So in a very paradoxical way, “unregulation’ is itself a form of regulation. For example, the only fact of titling a text ‘how the other half lives/ or builds’ makes a very strict distinction between upper/middle class and the ‘other’. It is exclusive, creates distance.

    Bhatt’s text states that informal/ spontaneous/ improvised sector is one of the only ones that actually succeeds in providing appropriate/ low cost shelters. Says slums are a solution rather than a problem. But ’not planning’ does not fall into the scope of work of an architect, it is a non-action rather than an action. What is the role of the architect in that instance? What kind of lessons can we draw out of it? If the real problem here is density, how can architect solve that?

  13. Yousef Farasat

    In “Medieval Modernity: On Citizenship and Urbanism in a Global Era,” Ananya Roy Nezar Al Sayyad use medieval cities as a basis for their analysis of contemporary urbanism. Using three urban typologies: the gated enclave, the squatter settlement and the camp, along with their transhistorical framework, generating questions about the “now” from the perspective of “then”, the authors argue that the “medieval forms of organization and community” lurk at the heart of modern urbanism. By drawing parallels to medieval times, often considered as an anachronistic period of history, the authors question the often-perceived superiority of the modern urbanism.

    Although the direct correlations drawn by the authors, between the medieval and the modern typologies in extremely interesting, I think it may in certain ways underplay the speed and force with which destructive transformations are altering the modern urban setting. One can argue that because of powerful capitalist and neo-liberal forces, the “fragmentation of the urban fabric” depicted by the explosion of the “gated enclaves and exclusionary spaces” and “displacement of the urban poor” is happing at a faster pace and greater force today than at any other period in history; a fragmentation that unlike the medieval period, may actually lead to the destruction of the urban fabric as we know it.

  14. Newsha Ghaeli

    In the article “Medieval Modernity: On Citizenship and Urbanism in a Global Era” the authors examine our modern day society through the lens of the medieval city. They draw parallels between the two city structures: a fragmented urban citizenship divided into the gated enclave, the regulated squatter settlement, and the camp. The authors’ comparison of the “chaos” that was the medieval era and current day is interesting. He goes as far to say – maybe even too far – that we have reached the end of order brought about by the modern world and are entering the return of the “Other” (the medieval), which he calls “the barbaric”. I do not believe that the modern era is coming undone and disagree with the authors on the point that we are returning to a medieval city structure – “neomedieval”, as quoted by Kobrin.

    I’m not sure we can interpret the future of our city structures through the history of the medieval city structure as our world as a whole has completely changed. What globalization has brought about, connecting cities thousands of kilometers apart while disconnecting communities a dozen kilometers apart, is a phenomenon we have never before encountered. “Barbaric” acts of the medieval era rotated around citizens’ basic rights. Unaware of how others lived outside their cities, citizens sought merely what they required to survive. Much of the revolts today against modern-day urban fragmentations can be attributed to the fact that citizens are constantly exposed to this division in citizenship and bare witness to the blatancy of their adversities.

    I do not see the future of our cities as optimistic (livable, lively, and one of social transformation as envisaged by Friedmann and Douglass, 1998), or one of enduring hope involving a quiet revolution of democracy (Campbell, 2003). But I also do not see it as a return to the medieval.

  15. We are at the point where we should understand that the future could be better or it could be worse, “modern forms of national citizenship might be giving way to a fractal and splintered territorialisation of citizenship in medieval enclaves.”

    It turns out Capitalism is just a rebranding of feudalism, just as modernity the rebranded medieval.

    This reading leaves me with a strong sense of loneliness and lack of confidence, and as I have read it nearly twice over now I have come to the realization that although I can appreciate AlSayyad and Roy’s intention to bring into light the stark resemblance between the medieval special order and that of the modern city, I find no strength in creating an argument for what the future might be, what my future might be.

    Surprisingly, as suggested by Alberto Pérez-Gómez, the medieval state of mind did not anticipate or predict for the future. It was only until the Renaissance did an idea of a limitless (progressive) future come into fruition.

    If the medieval is in fact an accurate framework for the modern city, as made evident in this article, might we also not predict or anticipate for a future? And as modernists, continue living in the ‘now’.

  16. Alsayyad and Roy use “Medieval Modernity” as the title of their essay to discuss how the medieval lurks at the heart of the modern, as they “call into question the superiority of our modernity”. However, the extensively elaborated premise of a “transhistorical” argument seems strained (the essay is self-referential, frequently quoting Roy and Al-Sayaa throughout the work),and fail to meet the original goal of exploring modernity.

    This paper is meant to challenge a contemporary notion of modernity. However, the chosen examples of urbanization occur almost exclusively in those countries considered developing: emphasis is given to religious fundamentalism, terrorism, assassinations and violent erasures of cultures. While they claim to challenge the perception of the medieval as anachronistic dark ages, their examples focus on those darkest moments of the contemporary: emphasis on Guantanamo, and references to atrocities committed in times of war (“Remember Abu Ghraib?”) highlight the dark potential of human nature than any other argument the authors may have been making. Agamben mentioned that “whether or not atrocities are committed depends not on law but on the civility and ethical sense of the police who temporarily act as sovereign.” The resounding impact of these extreme examples is to show that man has the capacity to be just as brutal today as at any other point in history.

    A transhistoric approach allows the authors to single in on specific instances in a vast historical catalogue, isolating these moments out of context. The authors do not provide solutions, or predictions based on past events: the comparisons float in a void. As a method of understanding contemporary urbanization the essay falls short. The time-space modalities brought up – “modern nationalism, medieval enclaves and imperial brutality” speak more towards human identity and brutality than urbanisation. The society in which we currently live is inextricably linked to those of the past, and there are quantifiable relationships between the two that can be proven without notions of superiority and historical progress. What this essay truly provides is an unpalatable history of human violence and brutality.

Comments are closed.