Summary of September 18th’s class

Our class discussion on Tuesday focused mainly on the concepts proclaimed by James Scott. Scott claimed that in order to move towards the creation of modern states, cities had to be made legible or readable in a rational way. In one way this rationality was determined by an outsider being able to come into a city and simply using the universal code of city planning to maneuver around the unfamiliar space without any trouble. Everything was to be simplified, for example how to get to each location within a city and what specific objective each location has, whether trade, administration buildings or commerce. This also led to the emergence of modern capitalism that favored from the higher functioning administrative branch, efficiency of communication and trade as well as a new land market.

One question that stemmed from this discussion was whether the medieval city compared to the concept of the modern city was an irrational and unplanned creation. There was some consensus that there was in fact some planning with the way the city was set up with its fortresses and confusion to the outsider that would protect it from aggressive outside forces. However as the modern state developed and strong rulers emerged, the fear of rebellion was one reason this idea of making a city legible emerged. It worked in favor of a military function because the military could easily enter any city, due to rational city planning placing everything in its distinct location, and quell rebellions.

Along with the discussion of the creation of modern states, we also discussed another concept introduced by James Scott, which was High Modernism. High Modernism refers to a rational, sweeping engineering to order society and progress the human condition. This concept was shared across ideologies; however we agreed that it had a very authoritarian value to it as it was an imposition of science on everything and only a few certain elite could rule. In order to pursue these high modernistic goals, there are there conditions that need to be met. These three conditions are: having a person in power who wants to make these changes, unrestrained use of power of the modern state and a weakened civil society that cannot resist these powers.

Haussmann’s Paris and Peter the Great’s capital of Saint-Petersburg was two examples of legibility that were discussed in class. It was agreed that Haussmann’s Paris fit this description because of the complete redesign of the street to create sectors, one of these being the creation of a centralized market in which all food supply would come and all retailers would purchase their food from there. It became an example of a much rationalized system which was the dominant characteristic of a modern state. The reasons behind Haussmann’s reconstruction of Paris emulate one of the three conditions that make it possible to pursue high modernist goals, which were having a person in charge who wants to make these changes. Napoleon III who had an image problem was in power at this time thus Haussmann worked to create a monumental capital to improve Napoleon III image by using the monumental capital to symbolize the power of the ruler.

We also discussed the emergence of Absolutism from the 16th-18th century which replaced feudalism by flattening out the system of hierarchy that gave immense power to lords and the church. Thus the king became the absolute ruler, subordinating the role of lords and the church. Absolutist states were the basis of the first modern states due to increase of power of the state in terms of bureaucracy and tax collection. Another feature of absolutism was the power and will of the ruler to implement the vision of their states. An example that connected absolutism and High Modernism was Peter the Great’s creation of Saint-Petersburg as the new capital of his empire. Peter the Great wanted to bring Russia into the era of Modern states, basically by using the ideas of the Enlightenment to completely organize and re-invent a city among the lines of a strict science and rational based ideas of city planning. This was a very linear and grid based design that was a total metaphor or symbol of the rational and extensive power of the figure Peter the Great. He fulfilled the characteristics of High Modernism by using unrestrained power to completely build a city inside out, with a vision of order and elegance which was obtained by building everything out of stone and creating green spaces.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *