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ENABLING SPACES: Shifts / Drifts/ Paradoxes in Contemporary Public Space.

Living Politics in the City 2

Call for Participation in a Symposium organised by the GRIEF Laboratory of research (ENSA Bretagne, Rennes, France), University of Rennes 2, The Centre for Design Innovation at Swinburne University (Melbourne, Australia) and RMIT Centre for Urban Research (Melbourne)

This symposium builds on the conversations started at the symposium ‘Leaving Traces: Living Politics in the City’ held in Rennes in November 2018.


Space can be performed, made, manifested, enacted, marked, inhabited, occupied. It is taken and re-taken, territorialised and de-territorialised and re-territorialised, it is endlessly becoming. All these processes enable space to be more than geographical location, thus gaining symbolic dimensions and thus able to communicate.


The private and public spheres entangle a different enactment of space: the private sphere is more perceived as a natural realm for self-nesting, while the public one is understood in terms of (neutral) sharing. But public space is far from being neutral nor is its sharing equitable. Metaphors like ‘stage’ and ‘arena’, often used in relation to public space, are symptomatic of this.


In addition to these explicit or implicit tensions, and sometimes in direct relation to them, the public sphere involves permeability between publicity and privacy: the assumed privacy of domestic spaces, the semi-privacy of ritual spaces, the semi-publicness of commercial spaces and the publicness of streets, squares and parks. But all these different degrees rest on distinctions and conventions that are becoming increasingly blurred. Public spaces may be privately owned, front of house becomes back of house, television makes a public spectacle of idealised domestic space and social media reveals unintended aspects of private identities or facilitates façades for alternative public ones. Moreover, those deprived of space – people experiencing homelessness, migrants, refugees live their intimacy in public, constantly scrutinized, controlled and denied privacy.


How can the enablement of space be read or reinterpreted in this context? Which politics become possible and how are they foreclosed or facilitated by new and hybrid forms of public space? If democracy supposedly rests on distinctions between private and public, what is its role today as these categories become increasingly blurred? What has it meant to be political in public space and in what ways does contemporary public space enable forms of political action?

In addressing these issues, we seek to stress the potential for exploring the connections and contradictions, tensions and paradoxes in contemporary public space which may or may not have parallels with past examples.


Specific questions include, but are not limited to the following:

  • What new forms of identity and agency can take place through the private occupation of public space (whether temporary or permanent), and in whose interests? Do acts of appropriation by one party necessarily mean displacement of others, and which others?

  • Beyond formal laws of ownership, what are the informal rules that define or create contemporary public space?

  • What are the layers of individual or collective relationships at play in public space? This may or may not include interactions between physicality and virtuality.

  • What are the relationships between legal definitions, public policy positions and cultural values about public space?


We invite scholars, practitioners and activists with an interest in urban public space, from historical, political, cultural, creative and social perspectives to engage with these questions and the possibilities they raise. We seek papers that focus on a range of manifestations that reach beyond the material domain of architectural and urban space to embrace intersecting political, social and economic realms.


You are kindly invited to send your abstract (maximum 400 words) and your short bio (1000 words) to Carmen Popescu ( and Flavia Marcello ( by 24th March, 2019.

Notification of acceptance: 15th April 2019.

Revised abstracts: 27th May 2019.


The symposium will be held on July 15-16, 2019, and is organised by the Centre for Design Innovation at Swinburne University and the GRIEF Laboratory research at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Bretagne in collaboration with the University of Rennes 2 in Rennes, France, and RMIT’s Centre for Urban Research in Melbourne, Australia.


The symposium is free and will have no paid keynotes. Instead, it will provide a limited number of travel and conference scholarships to maximise participation for applicants without institutional support.

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