As physical beings we inhabit space. We have to even if we are for most of our time playing computer games in a virtual world. But spaces are changing and with them the places we inhabit, make and, more significantly, that are made for us. These places help shape who we are and what we are to become. They enable us play, buy, lounge, watch, eat, drink, work, and even to read or study. As many cultural critics have noted, spaces and places are not what they used to be and neither are they what they seem. Long ago Jean Baudrillard said that the only real place in America was Disneyland because it was the only place in the country not pretending to be something else. Now we all pretend to be something else. In business it is called impression management, branding or public relations.
Henri Lefebvre, Peter Marcuse and David Harvey have argued for a right to the city, for spaces of hope and for practices that may realise these hopes. Places and spaces are often private or privatised; those still considered public and social are rarely either. The manufactured countryside, the enterprise university, the branded city, the themed restaurant or the air conditioned shopping mall are increasingly divorced from those cultural spaces that may be free and democratic and where critical awareness and action may emerge or flourish. David Graber’s Democracy Project draws important lessons from the Occupy movement; but was Occupy actually a movement, and what did it occupy apart from space? We clearly need free spaces and democratic places – real, digital and hybrid – that will help us address and act on those discourses of power and resistance that are shaping our reality. So where are the spaces and places where we can truly find ourselves? And, if they exist, or can be somehow created from what we have, do we actually know what we should do with them?
As part of the ‘Space and Place in the Democracy Project’ conference stream at Discourse Power Resistance 2014 (DPR 2014) we are particularly interested in presentations on current and future scenarios that detail the interaction between digital technologies and the potentials for and threats to fully democratic communities. There are a series of influential agendas in the form of smart cities, big data, the quantified self, and algorithmic culture that intertwined with the neoliberal capitalist project(s) raise concerns for the inclusion and exclusion of individuals and sections of society on the basis of undemocratic principles and practices (see for example). We hope to bring together a series of thought provoking discussions that explore these alignments within the context of space, place and democracy.
If you’re interested in participating it would be great to hear how you could contribute to the conference stream, focusing on digital or non-digital issues. We’re looking for academics, practitioners and activists perspectives. Please email (the emails are embedded in the names) either John Blewitt (Aston University), James Duggan (ESRI, MMU) or Kamila Kaminska (University of Wroclaw).