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Mar 22, 2013
| ISBN 9780262312653
Mar 22, 2013 | ISBN 9780262312653
The role of aerial photography in the evolution of the concept of social space”and its impact on French urban planning in the mid-twentieth century.
In mid-twentieth century France, the term “social space” (l’espace social)—the idea that spatial form and social life are inextricably linked—emerged in a variety of social science disciplines. Taken up by the French New Left, it also came to inform the practice of urban planning. In The View from Above, Jeanne Haffner traces the evolution of the science of social space from the interwar period to the 1970s, illuminating in particular the role of aerial photography in this new way of conceptualizing socio-spatial relations.
As early as the 1930s, the view from above served for Marcel Griaule and other anthropologists as a means of connecting the social and the spatial. Just a few decades later, the Marxist urban sociologist Henri Lefebvre called the perspective enabled by aerial photography—a technique closely associated with the French colonial state and military—“the space of state control.” Lefebvre and others nevertheless used the notion of social space to recast the problem of massive modernist housing projects (grands ensembles) to encompass the modern suburb (banlieue) itself—a critique that has contemporary resonance in light of the banlieue riots of 2005 and 2007. Haffner shows how such “views” permitted new ways of conceptualizing the old problem of housing to emerge. She also points to broader issues, including the influence of the colonies on the metropole, the application of sociological expertise to the study of the built environment, and the development of a spatially oriented critique of capitalism.
Haffner elegantly elaborates on how the interpretation of the aerial view shifted from encapsulating ‘the humanistic, Enlightenment-inspired promise of global unity through technology’ to symbolizing for Lefebvre and the French New Left colonialism ‘the ‘spectacle’ of capitalist consumerism, and the repressiveness of state-controlled urban planning’ (109). She argues in her nuanced, rich, and elegantly written history that the distinction so often made between ”top-down’ urban planning and its ‘bottom-up’ critique’ simplifies a more complex story—a story that can best be unraveled by an interdisciplinary approach. By offering such an interdisciplinary history, this book complements not only the literature on visual culture, the history of science, and French architectural, urban, and planning history, but also the work on individual thinkers such as Henri Lefebvre, and it will therefore prove valuable reading for scholars in all these fields.—Journal of Modern History—
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