Sentiments and the City

Camilla Schjerning of the University of Copenhagen and Mara Ferreri of QMUL’s School of Geography are both giving talks as part of the Centre for the History of the Emotions’ lunch-time seminars’ series on Wednesday November 23, from 1-2pm in Room 3.16 in Arts Two. Please contact Adam Wilkinson at the Centre if you’d like to attend. The theme of the seminar is Sentiments and the City.

Mara’s talk is called Emotional economies of vacant spaces reuse: performing ‘reactivation’. She writes:

Since the financial crisis of 2008-09, vacant commercial premises on the high street have become haunted by the spectre of the global recession. In the UK it’s been recently estimated that 1 in 7 high street shops lies vacant, approaching 30% in many town centres in the north and the Midlands. To dispel this ghost, an array of nation-wide ‘art in empty shops’ schemes and projects have called upon artists and cultural practitioners to ‘creatively’ occupy empty sites and perform urban vibrancy, a sort of relational window-dressing to project the promise of a return to economic growth.  In the promotion of such ‘pop-up’ and ‘interim’ projects, empty shops are described as anxious places that generate emotional landscapes of uncertainty and fear. In the words of a practitioner: “there’s the simple fact: an empty space attracts negative perceptions and negative behaviour.  And if that is occupied, you remove that blight.” Vacancy is seen as a contagious affect, potentially spreading to the ‘healthy’ social and economic fabric of the city unless it’s curbed in its infancy. Practices of temporary empty shop reuse are expected to intervene in this charged landscape through the production of ‘positive’ emotional and affectual urban experiences.

In London, the symptoms of the crisis of the retail sector have been less visible than elsewhere, yet ‘pop-up’ and short-term reuses have been proliferating, thanks to a variety of established and recently-formed artistic and social networks and organisations. Through in-depth and longitudinal conversations with practitioners and participants, I have attempted to explore the embodied dimensions of empty space occupation, as well as their conflictive subjective positions. Emotional accounts of these projects expose the ways in which the expectation of urban vibrancy is internalised and embodied by cultural practitioners into their everyday interpersonal relations with passers-by and shoppers. Practitioners’ personalised expression of emotions are important not as representations of some ‘authentic’ inner subjective reality, but because in the moments of vocalisation lies the possibility for a critical discussion of these practices and their position within complex urban dynamics of spatial production.

Camilla’s talk is called Behind thin walls: emotions and privacy in the early modern city. She writes:

In the autumn of 1771 an ordinary seaman on guard in Nyboder, an area in the city inhabited by the naval community, is ordered to go to a house nearby and ‘steer to order’ two quarreling seamen’s wives. While he is standing with them in their shared kitchen, attempting to calm tempers, though apparently to no avail, as suddenly one of the women lifts up her dress and exposes her behind to the other, saying ‘this is an old woman, too’! This is neither the first time that the seaman or his colleagues have been sent to the house to mediate between the two neighbours, arguing one day about the front door, the next about the disciplining of children.

This small snippet is taken from one among many – albeit one of the more colourful of its kind – conflicts, which had at its centre matters of private space and privacy and is to be found in the court materials of late eighteenth century Copenhagen. Here, a large part of the inhabitants lived their life behind thin walls in a world where privacy was a rare luxury. This meant that private space and its boundaries were wrought with strong feelings – feelings that point towards the existence of different notions of privacy within different communities in the city. Furthermore, the conflicts offer a window into the geography of conflict and how this intersected with the social and gendered topography of the city to shape notions of privacy in the early modern Copenhagen.