Blanca Pujals: ‘Bodily Cartographies: Pathologizing the Body and the City’

Below are a series of specially selected excerpts from Bodily Cartographies: Pathologizing the Body and the City by Blanca Pujals. The original, full text was commissioned for and published in Health Struggles, the 7th issue of The Funambulist magazine, September - October 2016.

‘The new science of social statistics and the regulation of social deviancy created during the European Enlightenment intertwine with architectural discourse within the medicalization of architecture and the construction of urban fabric, through structures and systems of risk management. From bio-anthropometrics to ergonomics and from diagrams to borders, bodies and modern city arise systematized to be optimal for the reproduction of hegemonic narratives.

These constructions remain inscribed in our bodies and the contemporary city, and they are continuously rewritten. They establish an artificial threshold defining a new frame of exclusion. Therefore they produce new subjectivities as well as new processes of body territorialization.

Moreover, since the Enlightenment period in Europe, the word city has been inscribed with the description of the appropriate body to inhabit the modern city: the behaviour of this body must be hygienic, respectful and standardized. The city became a sick body that needed to be healed with processes of bleeding (sewers) or surgery (such as Haussmann’s plan in Paris, or Pla Cerdà in Barcelona). At the same time, the body was regarded as a corrupt body and needed to be moralized, segregated and corrected.’

‘During the European Enlightenment and the industrial revolution, the theory of degeneration emerged in the 19th century in relation to the rise of population in urban life and overcrowded cities. In this period of social reconstruction, coinciding with processes of colonization and vast imperialisms, it was necessary to establish new categories of the difference and a frame for the new possibilities of body and territory exploitation. It is not innocent that, it is also in this period that the science of criminology arises as discretionary theory of social degeneration. Criminologists such as Alphonse Bertillon (1853-1914), Cesare Lombroso (1835–1909) or Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911) followed Quetelet’s ideas of statistical study of bodies and behaviors describing the abhuman and the inhuman in relation to the normal. These positivist statistical fictions span previous pseudo scientific approaches as phrenology and physiognomy. Moreover, Francis Galton developed the modern Eugenics as an application of his anthropometric analysis.

Henceforth, innovative series of medical, juridical, economical and architectural practices and discourses that understood the city as ill, dangerous and dreadful, appeared. It should thus be healed, disciplined and aestheticized. These discourses inaugurated a radical historical transformation in the urban fabric. Once defined, normalization consequently appears as a necessity to educate and isolate bodies and behaviors.

With the hygienization project from the new nation states, the healthy and safe body needed to be protected and defined against the other, to distinguish the right to be involved into the nation state. The body data collection segregated the otherness through defining and fixing the normality. Moreover, these artificial drawn lines confine the body in a state of bureaucratic management. The space becomes over-managed by a technocracy with a homogenizing will. The visual, moral and representational spaces are continuously redrawn.

The city is planned as a human-normalized-body extension. Our environment is designed in a perfect ergonomic relationship with our archetype.’

‘The anthropo-bio-metric approaches and devices become tools used to measure and regulate the human body and the environment within the architectural process. The design of the statistical body merges with urban planning.

Consequently, the body inscriptions are speculative cartographies transcribed into the territory and the environment through architecture and metric exclusion. The body measurement tools describe the subject as an object of the process of construction. An object filled of physical and moral connotations and inscribed with the patterns to inhabitation and cohabitation. The abject body and behavior are progressively erased of the space of representation.

These representations of the normal human body conceive minorities within the city and construct identity and memory through contemporary urban space. They unveil the relationships between cultural history of urban politics, post­industrial immigration, postcolonial cities and the contemporary city as a category of political and cultural experience. The process of abstraction is not only a technique but also an epistemological framework in which the act of seeing the world reinvents itself on a scientific basis. In the process of humanizing the human, the normalized body, behaviors and environment became taxonomized and dispersed into numbers and categories, functionalities and pathologies.

Maybe, these bodily cartographies are evidence and actors of the construction of an ontological condition. They are related to new forms of colonization and reformulations of order meaning as well as they are connected to the production of a new subject and new politics.’

‘The social sciences based on statistics are still operative in our contemporary society. They permeated into the form of the cities, the big data market, speculated futures, and also into our social relationships. In this process of splitting up behaviors and bodies into data, they are incorporated as nodes in the circuit of production and consumption. Moreover, these forms of abstraction have generated a speculative knowledge of the future where the old fatalism of pre-modern societies, that subjugates actions to destiny, is supplanted by modern cause-effect determinism. This allows implanting future fictions in the present, supported by statistical confirmation.

These procedures become tools for the construction of future fictions of fear and desire through abstractions acting as a form of demand for privatization, protection and segregation.

Architecture becomes then a speculative technology for desirable futures construction and ergonomic urban models for the typological archetype. Furthermore, it produces and reproduces invisible and visible borders on bodies, cities and territories.

Space is not harmless, it is instead politicized in all directions and architecture is a fundamental part in the composition of historical narratives. As Donna Haraway writes, ‘it matters which stories tell stories, which concepts think concepts. Mathematically, visually, and narratively, it matters which figures figure figures, which systems systematize systems’ (Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin, 2015).’

Blanca Pujals is a researcher at the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths University of London.Her work encompasses film, architecture, curatorial projects, as well as lecturing and writing.


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