Wednesday, 16 December 2009

the notion of 'public' space

The ongoing debate about photography in 'public' spaces has many parallels with my own work on space in the eighteenth century.


This recent article and Steve Bell's excellent 'If' series last week raise the same issues that have been troubling eighteenth century historians ever since Jurgen Habermas's Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere was translated into English in the late 80s. In fact, streets, squares, town halls, and other seemingly 'public' buildings have in essence always been 'private', controlled by local authorities, private estates and landowners, who determined their uses, who had the right to use them, and when.


I'm looking at loitering as a means of protest at the moment, not just during obvious types of action such as strikes and demonstrations, but also during what de Certeau would term the resistance of 'everyday life'.


Loitering disrupted authorities' control over the streets, but its very disorganisation and non-obvious way of protesting confused sanctioned uses even more than more 'organised' processions or meetings. Its very unpredictability was its weapon. Loitering transgressed the vagrancy laws, and challenged the authorities' attempts to blur the line between criminality, vagrancy, unemployment, tramping, and customary uses of public spaces such as recreation, for children playing, women hanging out washing, etc.