Resisting Precariousness, Reclaiming Community: Contemporary Art, ‘Unitary Urbanism’ and Urban Futures


This paper will examine instances of contemporary art that have responded to the social urgencies of capitalist-urbanism, which force urban communities into precarious positions such as, exclusionary development, gentrification, housing struggles and the displacement of vulnerable groups. Such works have demonstrated art’s potential to be a tool for assisting communities in acquiring agency over urban futures; they represent the macro-level discourse of city development being taken from private, economic interest and handed over to struggling urban publics. The aim of this paper, however, is not simply to examine this practice, but to argue that we may repurpose the Situationist's theory of ‘unitary urbanism’ in order to highlight its key thematics. Arguably, the debates of ‘public art’, ‘new genre public art’, ‘street art’ and ‘site-specific art’, have failed to establish a specialised framework for examining contemporary art’s responses to the precarious positions communities are subjected to by the displacing, expropriating forces of capitalist-urbanism. Unitary urbanism, however, the Situationist’s distinctive critique of official urbanism, could arguably function as a qualified, provisional framework. The Situationists were a predominantly European organisation of artists and social activists, who had aimed to critique advanced capitalism and transform the city – two integrated objectives, as they had recognised the capitalist-urbanism nexus. In opposition to urbanism’s existing position as a spatial extension of capitalism’s inherent problematics, unitary urbanism had proposed principles (participation, unity, use-value and détournement), which could assist communities in reclaiming the future of the city from a ground-level perspective.

Author Information
Amy Melia, Liverpool John Moores University, United Kingdom

Paper Information
Conference: ECAH2019
Stream: Arts - Social, Political and Community Agendas in the Arts

This paper is part of the ECAH2019 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon