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This dissertation dwells on an experimental approach to the emergence of alternative innovations, interrogated through their spatiotemporal and material conditions. Proceeding from the more recent spate of contributions that grant recognition to innovation processes as a common feature of any practice, this research seeks to expand the understanding of innovation beyond canonical interpretations of the subject matter. This opens up a bewildering matrix of potentialities to tackle the emergence of alternatives, often to be recovered from the very dynamics of mainstream innovations that branch out beyond their original purpose. Moreover, the contingent character of mainstream and alternative innovations connotes processes of varying dynamics and rhythmic qualities, which appear to escape the sole grip of linear or cyclical interpretations. Instructed by this preliminary set of assumptions, this investigation belongs to an amphibious domain of enquiry, one that takes shape at the interface between presumably grounded and more fluid readings of innovation processes. Aligned to the amphibious conceptual imaginary, there is also the thematic repertoire and empirical ambit of case studies explored within the dissertation. As such, the evoked conceptual liminality dictated the particular focus on amphibious practices, as the referents of material and affective dispositions, as well as of narratives of belonging scored across land-water interfaces.
The main case studies presented in chapters IV and V were the result of an exploratory phase, with its point of departure in a pilot study conducted on the emergence of floating urbanization solutions in the Netherlands. The surveyed modalities of inhabiting land-water interfaces led me to wonder on the existence of alternative conditions of possibility to what otherwise appeared and were also tagged as very innovative attempts to reimagine urban dwelling. This struck me as a thorny task: where do you start in qualifying something as innovative or not? It took another survey of historical practices and some lengthy reflection sessions to realize that beyond the shifts and turns it has supposedly informed, innovation is much more performative than I initially thought. Thus, I started conducting ethnographic fieldwork by focusing on a pretty unusual case – floating churches, in Volgograd, Russia, more rural than urban, and definitely not the kind of instance you would run across in the mainstream innovation literature. The second case selection followed more or less the same oddly-informed pattern, this time – an on-land harbour, the brainchild of an experimental self-sufficient community recently established in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Speaking from the field of Cultural Geography such an endeavour appears to be an opportune exercise, particularly for better understanding the underlying conditions of the current innovation ethos and the ways it (potentially) shapes future trajectories. The investigation draws on three main research questions, which address the meanings (1), workings (2) and expectations (3) connected to various innovation imaginaries, as follows:
In what ways do different amphibious practices acknowledge the spatiotemporal and material conditions of innovation?
How do those conditions enable the emergence of alternative innovations?
To what extent are emergent alternatives influencing incumbent political repertoires as part of the current innovation ethos?
To answer these research questions, the dissertation brings into dialogue multiple disciplinary filiations and, as a secondary and more subtle objective, it reflects upon a new set of spatial (and temporal) imaginaries that would add up to the emergent spatial grammars currently animating geographical thought. Within the broader ambit of unpacking the workings of innovation processes, the theoretical and empirical exploration weaves contributions to the burgeoning strands of work on topological thinking, geographies of religion and secularism, archival practices and knowledge mobilities, urban progressive movements, and particularly, to the ongoing debates on new materialism. Consequently, the methodological sway of this study covers a spectrum ranging from grand theory to ethnographic accounts of micro-societal shifts.
The dissertation is structured into seven chapters and its red thread could be envisioned as describing a loop between chapters II and VI, accordingly entitled The Magic Mirror I and The Magic Mirror II. The second chapter provides a critical overview of grand innovation narratives and their diverse filiations across Western thought, to outline the conceptual imaginary that drives this investigation. The thematic focus of The Magic Mirror I concerns the normative distinction between innovation and imitation, which arguably deters an ampler understanding of innovation processes. Chapter III, The surface and the abyss, expands on this preliminary vision by resorting to an extensive genealogical exercise. Through a critical deployment of the surface/depth metaphor, it explores the catalytic potential of topological thinking to establish points of articulation between apparently opposed notions and canons of thought. Starting from a genealogy of mathematical developments and philosophical mediations toward the end point of geography, it addresses the interplay between the formal (axiomatic) and conceptual (problematic) dimensions of topology in suggesting some potentially alternative ways of re-imagining the role of topological thinking for spatial theory and human geography, and connecting these to the empirical exploration presented in chapter IV.
Chapter IV explores the concept of creative reuse as an alternative modality to interrogate the materiality of things and their documentary sway beyond the immediate affordances dictated by circumstances of disposal or dissolution. Drawing on an ethnographic study of the Volga and Don riverscapes, it evokes the case of the floating churches built to support the revival of faith practices in the Volgograd oblast after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In attending to their impact in warping various temporal and geographical proximities, it suggests that their workings rely on topologies of fixed points and shifting spatialities, animated by forms of religious ritual and related creative manifestations. Through recourse to questions of materiality, mobility and affect it argues that creative reuse interventions provide productive ways of exposing and altering the residual surplus on which both things and processes of place-making rest upon.
Chapter V examines the role of creative reuse as an alternative imaginary specifically concerned with the residual surplus that results along dominant processes of accumulation and value production. In moving beyond circumstances of disposal or dissolution, it argues that creative reuse interventions provide inventive ways to exploit the productive latencies scored across incumbent sociotechnical arrangements. Building upon an ethnographic study of De Ceuvel’s on-land harbour, an experimental self-sufficient community recently established in Amsterdam, it shows how things that were otherwise redundant/disposed/forgotten can stimulate new material and affective dispositions that call into question established practices around sustainable, creative and inclusive city-making. Based on the findings, it goes on to suggest that creative reuse interventions enable new conditions of possibility for the enactment of alternative urban futures.
Chapter VI, The Magic Mirror II, closes the loop by connecting the findings to the introductory discussion from The Magic Mirror I, and elaborating further upon a more generous imaginary to tackle the workings of innovations, as well as the emergence of related alternatives. Thus, from the genealogical interrogation of topology to the unconventional interventions discussed in the empirical sections, creative reuse emerges as the vehicle of surprising returns. These enable a more generous reading that transcends the immediate affordances of mere imitation or circumstances of disposal – one that pivots on the key role of variation through mimesis or the potent afterlives of things and affects in animating alternative forms of innovation. The reference to alternatives should be understood both in relation to the dominant narrative of creative destruction, as well as to how various imaginaries – whether digested as secular, religious or otherwise – become entangled and mirror each other in intriguing ways. Consequently, even when proceeding from the fairly basic distinction that things envisioned as fixed end up afloat and travelling around, as much as things expected to float and travel around become stranded, the idea of surprising returns opens a broad spectrum of meanings and potentialities. As such, the resulting instances expose realities that are much more turbulent than commonly asserted.
Chapter VII answers the main research questions and also grants recognition to creative reuse imaginaries as the inescapable complement to dominant processes of accumulation and value production. As such, the material and affective dispositions cultivated through the emergence of alternatives, within and between various practices, signal the dislocation work occasioned by processes of variation through mimesis. These emergent imaginaries rely on a logic of aspiration and differentiation, which allows them to interfere with, and shape each other, or even morph into new narratives of belonging and creative action. And this is usually achieved through a rather twisted symbiosis, one of peculiar association. The latter pertains to the loose/labile character of creative reuse imaginaries explored in the empirical chapters, which enables them to contract and expand under various readings. Somewhat paradoxically, their dynamics seems to mirror that of mainstream innovations through the performative re-enactment of conditions for success. However, they excel through the disposition for multiple entanglements that often defy the normative distinctions between formal and informal domains. This gives rise to broad fields of resonance in recasting all sorts of anamorphic reflections across the resulting amphibious domains of contingency. In other words, the more imaginaries they interfere with or even subsume, the higher chances become for innovative spin-offs. For a more synthetic overview of the findings, the last section of the chapter packs a final reflection in the form of some tentative corollaries inspired by this exploratory journey.
|Qualification||Doctor of Philosophy|
|Award date||1 Feb 2017|
|Place of Publication||Wageningen|
|Publication status||Published - 2017|
- cultural landscape
- urban sites
- urban development
- waste land
- rural areas