Bodies and Structures

Built Environments

Built Environments produce and represent space and place. They have a “double reality,” in Thomas Gieryn’s analysis of buildings, as they are “the consequence and structural cause of social practices.” They are symbolic spaces, which are made meaningful through interpretation in particular historical contexts. Yet they are also ideological spaces that act on human action by constraining “agents' conscious apprehension, interpretation or mobilization” or “[structuring] practices without necessarily requiring actors' knowledgeable involvement" (Gieryn 2002, 41, 37). As Leif Jerram argues, built environments constitute the “obdurate matter” of space. Historical analyses may explore how human agents may work against, for, or within particular built environments, but they must in any event take into account the “authority” of the environment (Jerram 2013, 419; and 415, quoting Miller 1988, 370).

Modules explore the place- and space-making work of Built Environments, which is also, in this formulation, a making of the social itself. The department store is an emporium of modernity, serving as a nodal point of networks of commerce and circulation. Yet it also structures visitors’ bodily movements and produces ways of seeing and self-knowing whose effects reach far beyond the walls of the store itself. Likewise, the built environment of steamships and railway carriages informs how travelers see themselves in relation to others. Mechanisms as straightforward as the class system (first class, second class, etc.) differentiate the traveling public into a spatialized hierarchy socio-economic groups, reflecting and encouraging other attempts to achieve the rational distribution of social classes through transport and urban design on a larger scale (Hanes 2002). The ship and the carriage spatialize the traveler through more subtle means as well, such as the exposure of those whose limited travel-knowledge / cultural capital marks them as strangers in a strange land (Freedman 2011; a contemporary example: the derisive term “o-nobori-san,” which Tokyoites use to denigrate the lack of sophistication that Japanese travelers who are not Tokyo-natives demonstrate when visiting the capital).

Built Environments create the conditions under which people move, understand their own agency, and construct cognitive, emotional, and mental mappings of the worlds that they transit. They make places through conscious design and through contingent sedimentation. Consider, for example, Tokyo’s shitamachi areas, whose geographic location as part of an urban commercial center (Tokyo) and socio-economic character (manufactures and small industry; wage work) led to distinct architecture (relatively affordable wooden buildings, relatively dense). U.S. Army Air Force planners targeted the neighborhoods in the fire-bombing campaigns for these same reasons (concentrated combustibility). The concentration of bodies, death, and suffering (for of course the neighborhoods also suffered more than their fair share in the fires following the 1923 Great Kantō Earthquake) persist in the present as memories of the shitamachi as a place that is both particular in its horrors and representative of the nation’s history as a whole (Sand 2013).

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