2017, Nov 8: SEMINAR 4: CUS Research Postgraduates on "Mediation: Cities, Narratives, Time"

Lai-Tze Fan edited this page Nov 11, 2017 · 3 revisions

Cultural Studies -- Research Postgraduate Seminar #4

"Mediation: Cities, Narratives, Time," Lingnan University

LF = Professor Lai-Tze Fan

Seminar Discussion


Kristine's Presentation

  • divided readings: Manovich and De Certeau
  • tried to connect back to de Certeau, but will talk about them separately
  • focused on de Certeau more

De Certeau Background

  • covers some of his earlier publications and what kind of scholar he is

  • "practice of writing history serves to ease anxiety over death"-memorial framework that makes us feel like we'll live forever

    • we write stories bc we want to live and bc we know we're going to die
  • history, story, narrative to structure the present when she talks about texturology of the city and the opposition of database/narrative in Manovich

  • immediate relation between the kind of city DC talks about and the kind of city that's more familiar to Kristine (the rules don't exist)

    • very different way of conceiving of the city, Manila without urban planning
  • urban planning is unfamiliar to her

  • very ordinary experiences that are theorized in relation to meaning making and social reproduction

  • a science of singularity--relation of everyday pursuits to everyday circumstances

  • Hannah Arendt activities: labour (either produces nothing or something that is consumable), work (produces an enduring product; material world), and action (influencing others' subjectivities)

    • products of work reproduce social practices
  • labour or everyday practices linked to the everyday sphere

    • relationship between the subjective and the collective versus WORK--the work of the citizen as a subject, not subjectivity
  • DC subverts hierarchical relation among these; it's the everyday practices that matter in the constitution of public spaces and what the city inhabits

  • theory of the city that priviledges neither physical structures or predominant logics of such structures in the planned "concept-city"

  • privileges individualized rhetorics of walking, the individual walker

  • flaneur also resists the space by taking their time

    • the walker is radical in the sense that if you think of everyday transportation, walking is a secondary mode of transport
    • environment of the city (rhetoric of excess) especially what she feels in Hong Kong island; walking is less of a pleasure
    • excesses of a city makes walking a secondary choice
    • a pedestrian/walker is a radical (maybe) subject occupying space similar to flaneur that is resistant to dominant logics
  • mediatized city: always mediated, like through Google Maps

  • generally, this chapter is an exploration of what agency we can surface or retrieve or enact in the context of built design space that exerts power and discipline on the inhabitants in the city

  • chapter begins with this super high NYC building that represents its power; solar eye, view of the god that offer scopic drive, to know the city through illusion of totalizing view (privileged view)

    • illusion that "you know the city" and control over the city; metaphor for controlling view like the Panopticon
      • assumes that the city can be known through the textures of its powers
      • what makes a city is not the builings but the people and crowds that fill it up (a field of power and narratives)
      • LF: but you don't ever know the city unless you are within
    • narrative + city: cities are marketed as tourism city (NYC as big apple, Chicago as Windy City)
  • describes the infrastructure of bus culture in HK versus Manila

  • strategies of discipline in the city are tied to narratives of the city

    • LF: so interesting!
    • HK wouldn't be seen as this economically amazing place if it couldn't enforce this kind of disciplinary work
  • cities read as well as write the city through their enunciations and their navigation of the city

    • one only needs to think about the decisions that pedestrians make when they walk through the city
    • everyday ways of navigating are ways of reading the city, their negotiations with one another
    • LF: and writing the city!
    • reading the city could also be about memory, which places have particular significances
  • the official name of places versus the cultural names: Manila's "Gay Park," for instance

    • reading the park as a site for cruising
  • in so privileging perspective of walking crowd in the social signification, DC offers more complex way of examining cultural practices

  • also foregrounds multiplicities of making sense of the city

  • "rhetoric" is not just what we say but also the purpose of what we say; the most effective means of communication

    • rhetoric of walking = people have different ways and purpose of walking in the city and these may be at odds with official narratives
    • might create space for agency or resistance
  • "So what?": significance of plural ways of making sense of the city

    • thought about mediatized city through the war on drugs
    • our ways of thinking about the city are technologically mediated
    • besides little movements in our sphere of activity, few people go around the city and don't really walk
    • so we as inhabitants of city experience city at a distance; vs. pedestrian who knows the city intimately
  • embeddedness and embodiedness of walking is significant to Kristine's research bc it's so easy to Other Others when you don't intimately experience them in the space of the city

    • em & em in relation to walking: progress and discipline obscures narratives of a lot of people who live in the city
    • progress can mean getting rid of garbage humans, gentrification, etc.


  • linearity calls a host of associations: linearity is about the most efficient way to walk from A to B
  • linearity is about progress and efficiency of time
  • like Googling how to go from HKU to Lingnan with a time estimation; linearity of time and travel, the modern narrative of travel
  • the binary introduced between database and narrative seems to boil down to linearity bc narrative implies linear progression (a, b, c) but database (although also organizational) is not linear, doesn't have to be anyway
  • this binary is not very productive bc some assumptions (narrative is linear) are wrong
    • in medias ras narratives are not necessarily linear, for instance
    • narrative also doesn't have to be coherent (according to narratology, how stories can be constructed)
    • David Markson's novels don't have usual narratives (story emerges from conglomeration)
  • difference between story and narrative: must a story be told in the form of a narrative or are there other ways to tell a story?


  • Wai Wai: to make things people can understand, linear relationship with words that form a narrative

  • Kristine: narrative as fundamental operation of the same mind

    • dreams are just a series of disparate images, but you wake up and find a way to connect them; a narrative can emerge out of these different parts
    • narrativizing work is done by the reader instead of the writer
    • LF: Q. what do you think of the pedestrian as a WRITER in addition to being a reader, in the same way that the traditional reader also has the power of being a writer?
  • Kelvin: walkers need to disobey; can't follow all crossing lights and wait for them

    • DC is interested in concept, design, the ones who write, narrative, resist, etc.
    • K's wondering about if this is a clear-cut boundary: are we just readers or writers? Are we also writers in that we are actually following certain prescribed rules, or how we choose to not follow?
    • if the city's designed for efficiency, not following certain signs a delivery person is disciplined by other disciplines: labour discipline to get work done
    • LF: Kristine talks about this kind of work
    • Global South city experience makes a lot of sense: DC's talking about a super efficient city that is enabled by Industrialization; it's not always the case for a lot of cities
    • LF: the idea of discipline does match the use of space: not crossing at a red light in small town Germany, for example
  • Kelvin: importance of walking as countering of urban designers and control; it's trajectories of how different scholars (like Lefebvre) to counter certain structural ideas of space

    • progressive as it thinks about manageable cities
    • Paris turning into a modern city, for instance, tearing down narrow space
    • changing our understanding from rural to city (enabled by modernization and industrialization, where we have more control)
    • police, CCTV, all enabled by technology
  • Lili: flaneurs are male figures and part of the bourgeoisie; disengaged so he can say to others that he has time to sit in a cafe and also a consumer, wanting others to buy their book

    • but the worker is part of the city, participating as part of the city
    • one thing is missing from DC: he's making one totalized power who builds the urban and the others who practice the city and can challenge the power and can create their own practice of power
    • missing: different access power; the worker is not one general and monolithic figure
    • among workers there are different kinds of power: migrants can't work in the centre of HK, can only go on Sundays and only to the park
    • access to the city

LF's questions for Kristine

  • Q. labour and work differentiated through Industrial Revolution

  • Q. Manovich and post-industrial culture: work and action


  • Q. how do you read that which is invisible? Which narratives and which experiences count in the texturology--or is the point that they all count?

    • where does the digital archive play in with this?
  • Q. relationship between format and content; and the abstraction of materiality (see: Alan Liu 2004)

Kelvin's Presentation

Connection to earlier discussion

  • questions of power: what does Hong Kong look like?
  • for project with Rolien, they asked questions of big data where in Istanbul and Indonesia, there is a system where you keep taking cities of the city to be participatory and discuss "how we can improve"
  • the ones who have access are the ones who are already wealthy and who have a certain idea of neighbourhoods that are clean
  • photos of migrants on Instagram as a representation of the unseen; the unofficial narrative versus the counternarrative
  • new form of urban governance that works through subjects' reaffirmation of what the urban looks like
  • ex. flood control system in Jakarta that is so inefficient
    • more useful to ask people to take pictures of flooding
    • narratives of how cities should be vs. how people participate in writing the same discourse
    • and new technologies of people who participate


  • describing a very particular kind of historical condition where certain kinds of understanding of time emerge
  • enabling of this time comes with the rationalization of time, the labour process and disciplines and productions that are all connected
  • all suggested through film: challenge of linear time vs. rationalized time
  • film not always as a form of resistance
  • Kelvin's experience of time is very different from them, and theirs is different from how it had been before mediated time
  • these technologies through watches and so forth creating homogeneous time that is synced
    • demolished local time and connected to global time
    • LF: the town versus the nation
    • Benedict Anderson and national construction, relationship of imagining together as a nation and a community; you're sharing the same time
  • all of this is mediated, enabled by the same technologies
  • Vertov: "I'm going to capture every corner of Russia"
    • a particular eye that is captured by the camera, everyday life of the Soviet Union
    • this is nation building by showing rural Russia
    • mobility was highly difficult
  • cinema experiences that kind of experience and he was building an identity that we are all part of the Soviet Union
  • precise time of capturing time in seconds; progressive time as no reverse, moving ahead and every second is identical
  • but with film and photograph, not necessarily homogeneous, can capture unique moments (contingency)
    • you can bring something back from before into the present
    • LF: if you want to protect something, you scan it: get rid of the material in your task of capturing history
  • quotes using semiotics theory from indexicality (paw print or smoke to refer to an original cat or fire )
    • suggestion of progress or industrialization
    • the other way of reading: they know what a train looks like so they can make the connection with a train in film
    • LF: metaphor of desktop
  • the element of shock: related to space, there is an anxiety
    • homogeneous time is boring bc everyone is the same, but everyone is social and they are contingent
    • but too much creates anxiety that is related to urban theories

LF's questions for Kelvin

  • Q: if technologies is how people write, consider the limitations of selecting from what exists, or the politics of digital divide
  • Q: the use of film as a privileged technology versus the cell phone camera as being able to capture everyone's experience

Further Discussion

  • Iting: question of prostitution that is supposed to be invisible, you're not allowed to exist and neither are the pedestrians

  • Wai Wai: problem of scholars who ask about so what but don't take account for the people who have no access; they don't think, they just perform

  • LF: this is what Lili means with regards to the flaneur's ability to sit there and perceive, sitting in cafés, etc.

  • LF: the invisibility of people who are neither in power or have the power to utter: "we would love for you to be there, please don't remind us that you're there": liminality

  • Kristine: social practices in specific localities; not supposed to transpose DC to different localities

    • essay is extremely abstract; not ethnographic or sociological, but the surfacing of the complexity of the narrative
    • the state can produce discourses of the city, but the actual meaning of the city is actually in the practices of the city
    • author ascribing authorship to reader is not a Romantic notion of authorship
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