Following up from my pervious blog post I’m thinking more about this idea of community and its value. I have been reading into the conditions of ‘Network Sociality’ presented by Spanish Sociologist Manuel Castell to understand ways to consider the question of identity in a community. The term Network Sociality can be understood in contrast to ‘community’. Community involves a sense of belonging, embeddedness and identity, based on a common history or narrative. In contrast, network sociality does not represent belonging but disintegration. In network sociality, social relations are not built on common histories or mutual shared experiences, but on the exchange of information and data. The rise of a network sociality has come with the rapid evolution of technology and social web in our information age. It is especially apparent in a city like London.
Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas talks about the ‘Generic City’, where identity is stripped and everything becomes the same. Koolhas poses the question: What are the disadvantages of identity, and conversely, what are the advantage of blankness. He talks about the extent identity comes from context, history or ‘the real’ and that somehow, we imagine that anything contemporary made by us now does not contribute to that. History deposits itself in architecture and ‘character’, however we exhaust it to the point that it depletes any previous substance. With such an rapid increase in human growth in these cities, he implies that as our histories become less and less shared it becomes led significant to the point that it becomes quite insulting. He makes a good example talking about Paris, and how it is becoming ‘hyper-Parisian’ like a ‘polished caricature’. He compares to the exception of London where its identity is becoming its lack of clear identity. Less London, more open, less static.
I’m comparing and applying this to Northern Irelands capital city Belfast. Belfast has seen a huge urban regeneration project, in an attempt to ‘rebrand’ the city in an effort to guise over recent histories of sectarian conflict in the divided city. Northern Ireland is a place where there is a very strong sense of community with the very word representing where identity is defined in binary terms as ‘either/or’ Protestant or Catholic, dictating widespread endogamy, residential school segregation. I guess what questioning can in a city that has an existing two competing ‘brands’ really ever be rebranded? In the last several years has seen a huge increase in the tourist industry in Northern Ireland, with a popular attraction being the ‘Peace Wall’ tour, which see’s a walking tour around the political war murals in Belfast. The ‘what-has-been’ is fetishized and commercialised rather than represented as a lived and living site of experience. The tour is condensed into one or the other ‘two communities’, reinforcing the polarity of opposites as a spectacle. Koalas describes how ‘the stronger the identity, the more it imprisons, the more it resists expansion, interpretation, renewal, contradiction’. The generic city is liberated from the straitjacket of identity. This would mean a collapse of community and the what has been in Northern Ireland for the onset of de-socialisation. If we do move towards a Network Sociality, Imagine in hundreds of years to come, with ruminants of these histories still having a physical presence, the entire past gets condensed into a single complex.
A generic memory.
[Koolhaas, R. (n.d.). Generic city]
[Wittel, A, 2001. Toward a Network Sociality]