The aesthetic regimes of spatial urban politics

Authors: Katherine Foo*, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Terry Schwarz, Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative; College of Architecture and Environmental Design, Kent State University
Topics: Urban Geography, Social Theory, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: urban geography; politics; aesthetics; creative geographies; Ranciere; Cleveland
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: 8226, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Politics is fundamentally an aesthetic matter because aesthetic judgments delimit types of sensible behavior, the subjects able to act, and the spatio-temporal bounds for that behavior. Therefore aesthetic regimes pose a unique transformative potential to redistribute that which the public(s) recognize(s) as sensible. We draw upon Ranciere’s Aesthetic Regime of Art to argue that aesthetic regimes form the basis of spatial urban politics. Here the arts encounter the basic contradiction of their claimed autonomy from social values, norms, and rules. It tosses aside the hierarchical ranking of different types of arts, and retains the possibility of ‘art’ in the singular, insisting on the equality of represented subjects and the immanence of meaning in things themselves. It is in the realm of the Aesthetic Regime of Art that geographers may explore, test, and challenge the limits of social sensibilities and the boundaries of that which can be made visible in spatial urban politics. We draw upon temporary interventions in Cleveland, OH to illustrate this approach. During these interventions, participants inhabit familiar places in new ways, blurring the distinction between art and real life, and consequently art and politics. They allow participants to embody alternative visions of future urban change. This lens brings geographical inquiry into closer engagement with the humanities, and it also suggests an expanded role for methodological theorization and development in geographical research.

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