Urban Planning Reading List

The Tyranny of Structureless

Jo Freeman, 1972 – published in The Second Wave

Read the full essay online

Contrary to what we would like to believe, there is no such thing as a structureless group. Any group of people of whatever nature that comes together for any length of time for any purpose will inevitably structure itself in some fashion. The structure may be flexible; it may vary over time; it may evenly or unevenly distribute tasks, power and resources over the members of the group. But it will be formed regardless of the abilities, personalities, or intentions of the people involved. The very fact that we are individuals, with different talents, predispositions, and backgrounds makes this inevitable. Only if we refused to relate or interact on any basis whatsoever could we approximate structurelessness — and that is not the nature of a human group.

This means that to strive for a structureless group is as useful, and as deceptive, as to aim at an “objective” news story, “value-free” social science, or a “free” economy. A “laissez faire” group is about as realistic as a “laissez faire” society; the idea becomes a smokescreen for the strong or the lucky to establish unquestioned hegemony over others. This hegemony can be so easily established because the idea of “structurelessness” does not prevent the formation of informal structures, only formal ones. Similarly “laissez faire” philosophy did not prevent the economically powerful from establishing control over wages, prices, and distribution of goods; it only prevented the government from doing so. Thus structurelessness becomes a way of masking power, and within the women’s movement is usually most strongly advocated by those who are the most powerful (whether they are conscious of their power or not). As long as the structure of the group is informal, the rules of how decisions are made are known only to a few and awareness of power is limited to those who know the rules. Those who do not know the rules and are not chosen for initiation must remain in confusion, or suffer from paranoid delusions that something is happening of which they are not quite aware.

https://www.jofreeman.com/joreen/tyranny.htm

The Power Broker

Robert Caro, 1974

From Wikipedia:

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York is a 1974 biography of Robert Moses by Robert Caro. The book focuses on the creation and use of power in local and state politics, as witnessed through Moses’ use of unelected positions to design and implement dozens of highways and bridges, sometimes at great cost to the communities he nominally served. It has been repeatedly named one of the best biographies of the 20th century, and has been highly influential on city planners and politicians throughout the United States. The book won a Pulitzer Prize in 1974.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Power_Broker


Do artifacts have politics?

Langdon Winner, 1980 – Published in Daedalus

In 1980 Winner proposed that technologies embody social relations, i.e. power. To the question he poses “Do Artifacts Have Politics?”, Winner identifies two ways in which artifacts can have politics. The first, involving technical arrangements and social order, concerns how the invention, design, or arrangement of artifacts or the larger system becomes a mechanism for settling the affairs of a community. This way “transcends the simple categories of ‘intended’ and ‘unintended’ altogether”, representing “instances in which the very process of technical development is so thoroughly biased in a particular direction that it regularly produces results heralded as wonderful breakthroughs by some social interests and crushing setbacks by others” (Winner, p. 25-6, 1999). It implies that the process of technological development is critical in determining the politics of an artifact; hence the importance of incorporating all stakeholders in it. (Determining who the stakeholders are and how to incorporate them are other questions entirely.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Langdon_Winner

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Technology and Ideology: The Case of the Telegraph

James Carey, 1988 – Published in Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society

Carey’s focal points in his book Communication As Culture, and more specifically Chapter 8 entitled “Technology and Ideology: The Case of the Telegraph”, revolved around the telegraph and its understood role in future developments in communication. The underlining argument in his essay perceives the notion that the telegraph ‘…permitted for the first time the effective separation of communication from transportation…’. That is, it had become possible for the message to travel faster than people, horses or trains could deliver them’, ‘…the telegraph not only allowed messages to be separated from the physical movement of objects; it also allowed communication to control physical processes actively…’. However, he also remarks that whilst the telegraph was a watershed in communication, it only built on previous frameworks and infrastructure such as foot paths, ‘…[it] twisted and altered but did not displace patterns of connection formed by natural geography'(p. 204). He further elaborates on the notion with an analogy of the infrastructure of telegraph wires following the physical and natural patterns of geography.

The telegraph facilitated the growth of monopoly capitalism and imperialism, and to a wider extent the de-personalisation of business relations. Before the telegraph most business decisions were made ‘face to face’, compared with the faster, less personal service provided with its introduction. Indeed, the relationship between merchant to merchant was overnight transformed into one of buyer/seller, and one based on corporate hierarchy, i.e. management. As Chandler remarks, ‘…the visible hand of management replaced the invisible hand of the market forces where and when new technology…permitted high volume and speed of materials…’

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_W._Carey

Read the full essay online

The Telegraph in Black and White

Paul Gilmore, 2002 – Published in ELH

The opening lines of Stephen Foster’s “O Susanna” (1848) are familiar to nearly every American: “I come from Alabama / Wid my banjo on my knee / I’m g’wan to Lousiana / My true love for to see.” The second verse, though, is less well known: “I jumped aboard the telegraph / And trabbeled down the ribber, / De ‘lectric fluid magnified, / And killed five hundred nigger.” As in most minstrel songs, this verse employs dialect in a racist caricature of blacks as ignorant. 1 More striking, however, is its fantasy of mass racial death. While the punchline of much minstrel humor, especially in earlier minstrel songs, involved violence to black bodies, the violence in “O Susanna” is rather anomalous in Foster’s oeuvre. Foster’s songs (and most songs of the more middle-brow minstrelsy of the late 1840s and early 1850s) tended to rely not on slapstick humor, but on images of sentimentalized homesick or lovesick blacks. A few of Foster’s earlier comic songs, of which “O Susanna” is the best-known example, participate in the minstrel tradition of monstrous black (especially female) bodies—the title character of “Angelina Baker” (1850) “am so tall / She nebber sees de graound”; in “Away Down Souf” (1848), “My lub she hab a very large mouf, / One corner in de norf, tudder corner in de souf.” But even among these earlier minstrel pieces, the violence in the second verse of “O Susanna” is startling. Instead of rendering black bodies grotesquely monstrous or sexual or tripping up black characters in farcical comedy, the second verse of “O Susanna” imagines the mass extermination of five hundred black bodies in one flash of electrical magnification. 2

This essay takes this violent image from “O Susanna” as a starting point for reconstructing a technological racial logic which, I will argue, underlies and necessitates this violence. I flesh out the links between technology and race hinted at in Foster’s song by focusing on how the telegraph, the body, and race came together in a variety of cultural forms—Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, magazine descriptions of the telegraph, racial science, abolitionist rhetoric on progress and technology, and Walt Whitman’s poetry. By circulating through a number of texts from the 1840s and 1850s, I will argue that [End Page 805] telegraphic discourse of the antebellum period repeatedly returned to a racialized understanding of civilization, as most extensively illustrated in American racial science, to describe technology’s role in the march of progress. While earlier advances in transportation and communication, such as canals and the postal service, had been celebrated, like the telegraph, for annihilating space and time, the telegraph alone made communication independent of embodied messengers. Because electricity was understood as both a physical and spiritual force, the telegraph was read both as separating thought from the body and thus making the body archaic, and as rematerializing thought in the form of electricity, thereby raising the possibility of a new kind of body. Recovering how race appeared in descriptions of the telegraph in literary texts, mass culture, and middle-brow scientific discussions, I describe how the telegraph’s technological reconfiguration of the mind/body dualism gave rise to a number of competing but interrelated, racially-inflected readings.

https://muse.jhu.edu/article/11572

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The City Repair Project’s Placemaking Guidebook

The City Repair Project – 2003

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Public places are the geographical glue that binds a community together. These spaces are
friendly, secure, distinctive and well-integrated into the community fabric; they are places for democracy, sociability, gathering, collective memory, communication, connection and local economic vitality. Enriching people’s experience of public life and providing a platform for activities where people have a sense of community ownership, great places evoke a sense of identity and provide a focal point for cultural exchange and transformation.

http://docshare04.docshare.tips/files/5331/53315133.pdf

Culture+ technology: A primer

Jennifer Daryl Slack and J. MacGregor Wise, 2005

From mobile phones to surveillance cameras, from fracking to genetically modified food, we live in an age of intense debate about technology’s place in our culture. Culture and Technology is an essential guide to that debate and its fascinating history. It is a primer for beginners and an invaluable resource for those deeply committed to understanding the new digital culture. The award-winning first edition (2005) has been comprehensively updated to incorporate new technologies and contemporary theories about them. Slack and Wise untangle and expose cultural assumptions that underlie our thinking about technology, stories so deeply held we often don’t recognize their influence. The book considers the perceived inevitability of technological progress, the role of control and convenience, and the very sense of what technology is. It considers resistance to dominant stories by Luddites, the Unabomber, and the alternative technology movement. Most important, it builds an alternative, cultural studies approach for engaging technological culture, one that considers politics, economics, space, time, identity, and change. After all, what we think and what we do make a difference.

https://www.peterlang.com/view/9781454195849/xhtml/copyright.xhtml

Preview on Google Books


Rethinking Repair

Steven Jackson, 2014 – published in Media Technologies: Essays on Communication, Materiality, and Society

Read the full essay online

What world does contemporary information technology inhabit? Is it the imaginary nineteenth-century world of progress and advance, novelty and invention, open frontiers and endless development? Or the twenty-first century world of risk and uncertainty, growth and decay, and fragmentation, dissolution, and breakdown?
This chapter is an exercise in broken world thinking. It asks what happens when we take erosion, breakdown, and decay, rather than novelty, growth, and progress, as our starting points in thinking through the nature, use, and effects of information technology and new media. Broken world thinking is both normative and ontological, in the sense that it makes
claims about the nature of technology and its relationship to broader social worlds, some of which may differ from deep-rooted cultural assumptions. But it is also empirical and methodological, an argument and provocation toward doing new and different kinds of research, and new and different kinds of politics, in media and technology studies today.

https://sjackson.infosci.cornell.edu/RethinkingRepairPROOFS(reduced)Aug2013.pdf

Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action

Elinor Ostrom, 2015

Read the full book online

This study looks at the problem of collectively managing shared resources. Because of the book’s unassuming nature and rather formal scholarly tone, it’s easy to pass it over as just another academic work. But together with such books as Herman Daly and John Cobb’s For the Common Good, Paul Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce and Vandana Shiva’s work on restoring the commons, I consider it one of the more far-sighted and genuinely significant works to emerge in recent years on environmental resource management.

https://scott.london/reviews/ostrom.html

(Re)building Technology Zine

Detroit Community Technology Project, 2015

Read online

Teaching Community Technology Handbook

Detroit Community Technology Project, 2015

Read online

Maintenance and Care

Shannon Mattern, 2018 – published in Places Journal

Read essay online

Indigenous vs Capitalist Values

Roberto Mendoza, 2020

Read the full essay online

Published by Noah Skocilich

Born 13 June 1977 in Eureka, CA and traveling ever since.

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