Organizer and Chair: Mary Hancock, University of California, Santa Barbara
Discussant: Geoffrey White, East-West Center
The panel deals with urban public spaces as sites for and constituted in social and political discourses of modern, multi-ethnic states. Our regional foci include South and Southeast Asia and the Pacific Rim. Collectively, we attend to contested geographies of power and knowledge as they have emerged with the globalization of capital and the increasingly transnational trajectories of collective and individual identities. Our papers are empirically grounded examinations of the discourses and practices that create the maps and subjectivities that embody public life and its democratic possibilities-these include "third spaces," (cafes, bars, newstands and other hangouts, as well as streets and boulevards), state-delimited sites such as national/municipal parks and monuments, the circuits of tourism and leisure produced by convergence of state and market forces, and the home (often the icon of modern "privacy") as constructed in the national imaginary.
Our panel will have a dual problematic. On the one hand, we will consider how and to what ends state and market forces circumscribe and spatialize a realm that is "public"-paying particular attention to the boundaries and systematic exclusions of that public, and thus the limits, unevenness and contradictions of modernity. Following LeFebvre we ask how is the terrorism of everyday life-its quiet violence-enacted and encoded in urban space? On the other hand, we wish to make visible the spatialized operations of what Nancy Fraser calls "sub-altern counterpublics"-such as ethnic minorities and sexual dissidents. How are certain spaces constituted as sites of "regroupment" (consolidation of subaltern identity)? And how do such places/activities disrupt, and thereby critique, state and market discourses on "public"?
Bodies, Regions, Places and the Festival: Comments on the Spatial Forms of
Kyoto's Public Sphere
Bruce R. Caron, University of California, Santa Barbara
The lack of a sufficiently spatialized perspective within current theories of transnational identity formation becomes acute when these identities are assembled and paraded on the city streets of a self-represented national locale, such as Kyoto, Japan. Kyoto advertises itself as the "hometown of Japan's culture" (Nihon no bunka no furusato). It bids for tourist moneys by fronting a locally visible (supposedly unbroken) heritage of Japan's Imperial history. But within this city reside thousands of people who are born there, but who are excluded from its economic/social mainstream. Recently these people, resident "Koreans" and burakumin, gathered together to create a festival of their own cultural heritage. This festival, the Higashi-Kujo Madang, opens up a multi-cultural, counter-public civic space.
The concept of a public sphere or space demands that we understand the processes capable of transforming private spaces into public ones. In order to describe the spatial/social transformations that this Madang performs while it appropriates a Japanese public school yard, I will present a theoretical framework that allows students of urban culture to articulate various qualities of "public" and "private" available for civic spaces. Using notions of front/back and public/private within contexts of visual availability, social intimacy, and performative skilling, I will show how certain "public" events-notably civic festivals-embrace "private" performances. Conversely, I will show how the "public sphere" in Kyoto has been misappropriated by institutions that have only a weak claim to public access and control.
Mass Media Publics and New Transnational Subjectivities in Shanghai:
(Re)cosmopolitanism in a Chinese Metropolis
Mayfair Yang, University of California, Santa Barbara
This paper examines the historical shifts in the operations of mass media and the constitution of media publics and subjectivitiesin Shanghai. Anthony Giddens has written that "modernity increasingly tears space away from place by fostering relations between 'absent' others, locationally distant from any given situation of face-to-face interaction." In the Maoist era, the media (mainly print, radio, film) was deployed to displace traditional family, kinship and community attachments to local places and replace them with a unified and homogeneous space of the new state centered in Beijing. The meaning of being Chinese was inseparable from state subjectivity. With the advent of television, video, cassette tape, and karaoke in the post-Mao era, there is an increase in overseas programming, and in themes dealing with Chinese living in other countries. The media are now not only vehicles for imagining the nation, but also for imagining the larger space beyond the national borders. Since the mass media provide ways for audiences to traverse great distances without physically moving from local sites, therefore the media increasingly enable national subjects to inhabit trans-spatial and trans-temporal imaginaries which dissolve the fixity and boundedness of historical nationhood and state territorial imperatives. Through identification with new 'absent' others (Chinese in Taiwan and Hong Kong, Mainlanders traveling abroad) alternative ways and places of being Chinese emerge, no longer containable within the state imaginary.
The Politics of Public Space for an Urban, Diasporic Chinese Community in
Donald M. Nonini, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
This paper examines the politics of the "public sphere" as this politics is related to the cultural appropriation of space among Chinese in an urban setting in Peninsular Malaysia. Recently there has been much theoretical interest in Habermas' concept of the "bourgeois public sphere," e.g., how is the public sphere constituted, how are publics identified, instituted and maintained? Are there counterpublics? In contrast, this paper holds that the concept of public sphere is historically specific and necessarily political. This implies that the meanings of publicness and public spaces found in Euro-American civic life are not directly transferable to Asia-Pacific nations like Malaysia. This paper then discusses the cultural/political specificities of the uses of public space in Malaysia.
This paper argues that whether specific spaces are "public'' is always to be contested and negotiated between social actors (individuals, groups, institutions) each seeking to inscribe their own claims for "public" use on certain spaces vis-a-vis the claims of other actors. Official distinctions made by state functionaries between "public" and other spaces, therefore, are contested essentializations, since the state is but one such actor.
This paper investigates these propositions by drawing on ethnographic research on negotiations over public space between the members of a minority urban Chinese community and non-Chinese state functionaries. It does this by focusing on the spatial practices and imaginaries defining Chinese religious festivals and political party meetings, studied from 1978 to 1992, in one Malaysian town.
Domestic Space and Public Culture in Urban Madras
Mary Hancock, University of California, Santa Barbara
Homes are often seen as enclaved zones within the "urban swirl" (Hannerz) of modernity: as private zones of "naturally" ordered relations of kinship and sexuality, they are thought of as distinct from spaces/practices delimited by the state and market as public. Yet these same private qualities ensure that homes remain objects of scrutiny by state and market for they are environments where citizens are fashioned, where values appropriate to modernity inculcated and where the consumption that sustains capital accumulation and profitability has its loci. In this paper, I consider the public culture of urban domesticity in India-focusing on the cultural practices by which domestic spaces have been produced and consumed in Madras during this century. I explore three moments at which discourses on "home-making" proliferated. The first-municipal planning of early 20th century-involved the imposition of social order by spatial containment of moral, physiological and demographic "excesses" thought to characterize urban India's population. The second was the consolidation, shortly after independence, of a "home science" educational curriculum. This self-conscious invention of modernity brought the macrostructures of economic development home by transforming domestic spaces into loci of consumption, in accordance with values of rationality, science, and efficiency. The third moment was the emergence-alongside "modern" (often hi-rise) homes-of a heritage industry dedicated to the preservation of some "traditional" homes as exemplary cultural artifacts and geared to the tastes of cosmopolitan, often transnational, Indian elites.