The Urban Fabric, Repair and the ‘Good Enough' City

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 11:15 AM
Room: 424
Oral Presentation
Robin SMITH , School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom
Tom HALL , School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom
This paper considers the work that repair might do in mending and smoothing over material and social transgressions in the city. Small acts of maintenance and care can seem inconsequential in the face of the global risks that menace the modern city and the brutal conditions, exclusions and exploitation that some of those cities are home to. Yet a humanist sociology might be sympathetic towards piecemeal and everyday activities which aim to put right, one step at a time, things gone wrong – deviant occurrences, ugly moments when life in the city breaks down or does not play out as we might want it to. Ken Plummer’s recent call for a sociology of hopetakes this line, insisting on the need for ‘a down-to-earth pragmatism of empathy, justice, kindness and care’ and inviting sociologists to ‘think small in a big way’.

Something similar – thinking small, in a big way – can be found in the writings of human geographer Thrift, though differently inflected. Thrift directs attention to mundane activities of urban care and maintenance – street cleaning, roadside repair, emergency call-out – and invites us to take these unremarkable, everyday activities as a template or spur for thinking about the social and political life cities. Similarly down-to-earth or at least anti-utopian, he suggests that thinking about repair might be a way in which to think about the good city, or a good enough city. Our paper contends that arguments about urban repair do not extend so very easily from the physical – palpable, material, mute – fabric of the city to the social and political. Broken windows are a poor model, in some ways, for what it is to have broken down and need repair as a person. Sociology has been here before, yet Thrift’s thesis neglects this history.