Today sees the opening of an exhibition based on the ESRC-funded research project The urban environment: Mirror and mediator of radicalisation? The exhibition has an excellent website outlining the various strands in the research project: www.urbanpolarisation.org
The project is based at the University of Manchester and Ralf Brand is the principle investigator (with Jon Coaffee as co-investigator and Sara Fregonese as Research Assistant). Overall the aim of the project is to explore the interrelation between the urban environment and socio-political polarisation. Polarisation is assumed to have links with political violence (including radicalisation). You can read more about the project here.
The project is of interest to me precisely because it suggests that the urban environment has a constitutive role to play in socio-political dynamics. Rather than viewing the urban environment from an anthropocentric perspective, the project seeks to examine how material structures play a role in shaping (while also being shaped by) socio-political polarisation (and attendant dynamics of violence). In a recent paper arising out of this project Ralf Brand has referred to the urban environment as a ‘socio-active artefact’ in order to explain the relation between urban environment and socio-political dynamics. This speaks to the interest I have in understanding the manner in which buildings are constitutive of distinctive spaces as well as to the way in which certain forms of political violence attack buildings in order to destroy the spaces they constitute. It is precisely because the urban environment is ‘socio-active’ that it is targeted, if it were inert (as some anthropocentric accounts assume) it would be of little interest. The idea that the building is a ‘socio-active artefact’ is thus very helpful when thinking about the mechanisms underlying urbicide.
For those interested in reading further, Ralf Brand has a paper in Urban Studies outlining some of the ways in which architecture and polarisation are inter-related: “Written and Unwritten Building Conventions in a Contested City”. There will also be a special issue of the Journal of Urban Technology which will include a review of literature concerning urban polarisation.