GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Doha beyond the conflict. A new Urban Exoerience
Paper Proposal Text :
Doha is close to become a paradigm of the post-political city. Sometimes even it seems not to be a city, a place where the city becomes nothing, just mobile units going from one place to another, from outside to inside, where all kinds of relations, filters and layers have been overcome. This is not a post-democratic society because it has never been under a democratic regime, but a post-political in the sense that the political has no place in the configuration of the new city and the present society.

Using Chantal Mouffe definition, I propose to distinguish between “the political” and “politics.” By “the political” I refer to the dimension of antagonism that is inherent in all human society, antagonism that, can take many different forms and can emerge in diverse social relations. “Politics,” on the other side, refers to the ensemble of practices, discourses and institutions, which seek to establish a certain order and to organize human co-existence in conditions which are always potentially conflictual, because they are affected by the dimension of “the political.”

Nowadays, in the so-called Post-Political era, the hegemony of neoliberalism has filled in the emptiness of the political discourse. Nevertheless, in reality this supposed lack of theory has exerted a global hegemonic influence, more universal than ever. In Žižek words, “what has happened in the latest stage of post-1968 ‘postmodern’ capitalism is that economy itself (the logic of the market and competition) has been elevated to the rank of the hegemonic ideology.”

The critical studies of David Harvey and Neil Smith have largely showed how the hegemony of Neoliberalism have transformed the contemporary urban scenarios into a sort of competition based on the production of marketable symbolism. Uniqueness and originality are the qualities that have made contemporary architecture so special and so tradable. However, the great contradiction of the global cities' league is that the more unique architecture is being built, the less original it becomes. The ubiquity of iconic architecture has turned distinction into generic. Many examples can be found in emerging Middle East cities where impudent designs are taking on the image of far existing identities to imitate their supposed success. The image, the icon, the gesture—what can easily gather symbolic capital—prevails over anything else. The new developments on the outskirts of Doha are close to becoming the empire of fiction, where representations out of the capitalist urban imaginary are being reproduced without any critical edge. Malls, skyscrapers and isolated compounds based on a car-dependent lifestyle are the new landscapes being built in Doha. The urban experience is reduced to a train journey in which you can see the landscape through the window and stop in different realities that have no physical connection to one another. Any territorial depth has been erased, any friction with the exterior is avoided.

In the context of the reductionism that the privatization of the city and the negation of conflict impose on urban experience, gated communities emerge as the ultimate level of the construction of an urban simulacrum. In between the walls of these residential and business condominiums, an idealized life seems to be possible to the point that they can be commercialized as a Real Estate brand. Conflict is kept outside the system. A discrimination physically translated into the urban environment by defining the boundaries of what a community is where its limits lie. Fences and gates are recurrent architectural elements used in the construction of the new urban built environment.

According to Jacques Rancière, the political “the political arises when the given order of things is questioned; when those whose voice is only recognized as noise by the police order claim the right to speak”. In this context, politics or, more precisely, the political has been excluded from both theory and praxis of Urbanism. In the same way, conceptually pure shapes in architecture are pretending to build a city beyond antagonism. This evasion of the political not only implies an impoverishment of cohabitation in the city, it is also fraught with the dangers of exclusion. How can we create a space in which pluralist society is possible? How can we integrate the creation of political and social collective identities into urban realities?

Using the recent boom of Middle-East cities as a background, and Doha as a case study, the paper will try to critically reveal how some new urban developments have lead to a shift in architectural paradigm, and have determined their political and social implications. Furthermore, using Chantal Mouffe’s distinction between “politics” and “the political”, it will propose ways to integrate the creation of political and social collective identities into urban realities through Architecture and Urban Design.