Canterbury Tiles: an epic in colour patches

So I have been reading the ‘evidence documents‘ to which Canterbury County Council refer in making local planning policy. I never realised how enthralling it could be. As I study these cultural artefacts I begin to gain insight into the ‘other’. Not the geographical or marginalised other, or historical other. As Allen Abrahamson pointed to at a conference on Monday, the hey-day of people being interested en-masse in other people that live in other realities is near over, and hence the role of ‘legitimising’ these other realities is no longer heeded: e.g. popular conception of anthropologies role is over.

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One reply is that we need better ‘market’ ourselves, we need to make our work more accessible etc.. unfortunately even though I support such efforts I don’t see these as particularly lacking in anthropology at this particular time. Engaging with public discourses is evidentially always important as many contemporary anthropologists do so today. Additionally I do not hold the implications of such a stance (a) a lack of belief in people today in comparison to those yesterday and so we need to dumb it all down, and (b) an assumption that explaining things in clear terms somehow means people are more likely to appreciate or engage with them, an assumption which itself is based on two incorrect assumptions (i) that people are rational and (ii) that action follows knowledge.


Where to find the old skool other

The other I found in Canterbury’s planning documents was not simply a geographical, social, historical or future other, but a mysterious other. The other with which we grapple today. Some call it ‘system’ other posit it as the combined sublimation of actor-networks. These are some of the more popular names, ones whose analytic basis I don’t personally agree with at present. I can describe the feeling I have when I spot what I mean. When your standing in the street and you look at all the buildings, the carved out pavement from stone, the sinews of a large tree planted close by, the vast array of intricately constituted foods housed in shops along your path, every nut and screw, curve and shape, smell, and taste etc.. and its all buzzing and swaying. That’s not quite what I am talking about but I spot it when I engage in this feeling.

What I am talking about – I think –  is governance. In looking at the wonderful patchwork categorisation of Canterbury in these artefacts I find myself peering down on where I use to live, where I am going to live as if its on that map, as if the map is telling me how it is. Each area has a wee profile, under ‘culture’ I find Churchs and Romans. I am disappointed, this map doesn’t tell me about the Canterbury I know, but an ‘other’ Canterbury constructed in case I ask a question about why a building is built there, or a green space ring-fenced. When I ask I am shown this evidence that ‘intricate’ models of Canterbury have been generated and all actions planned, that is why the environment is shaped so. Of course there is a section reserved for where the ‘mappers’ will ‘consult’ me.

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I will be consulted if I find out before something happens, I am a resident, and I find out who and how to formally contact them, and request that I be consulted. Then I may send them an email, or sometimes turn-up to a council meeting to say a few words if I manage to timetable them in, and conform to the manner of delivery. Or I can ask someone to do it for me, who I had to tick a box for at a certain time and place a year or so ago, and that is only if they agree with me. I am getting sidetracked with a Kafkaesque flavour.

The question is who is this ‘other’ Canterbury. How is it a part of the Canterbury to come? Is it an artificial reality to which we will force the landscape, or a vision against which we will shape it? Is it an excuse, a legitimation or smart planning etc etc.. Where do all these lines and divisions drawn on the map come, how are they decided, what shapes their semiotics? How will it relate to my Canterbury? That is my task as an anthropologist to investigate what these layers of reality (or virtuality – though I don’t usually make a distinction) are and hence how they cross-cut with each other – and the multiplicity of other layers that is everything else-  to generate a reality from what is otherwise an amorphous juggernaut of conjugated nuclear forces.

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In doing so I hope to learn something about how best the fashionable concepts I am using at present in my research; ‘human well-being’ – ‘sustainable landscapes’ – biodiverse mosaics’ – ‘participatory governance’ can be understood and used while regarding different peoples priorities, values, and crucially – people’s potential. I will be focussing on this potential as identifiable in people’s innovation in everyday life and work  -otherwise I fear we fall back on mass governance for mass safety, where human development is sanctioned within the ‘maps’ parameters at best, flattened more often – rather than nurtured.