Doctor of Philosophy
Theory and Criticism
Gardiner, Michael E.
In this dissertation, I examine questions concerning space, perception, everyday creativity, and the social ordering of the senses, and go on to describe a class of creative urban practices that I name the arts of the street. These include, but are not necessarily limited to, street performance (busking), street art in the usual sense (graffiti, murals, postering, etc.), punk, hip hop culture, and skateboarding (street skating). As disparate as they seem, all of these practices share certain key characteristics: they are forms of everyday creativity that claim space according to their own intentions, in opposition to the dominant socio-political order. They act as forms of resistance that suggest other ways of understanding, experiencing, and (re)producing the shared spaces of everyday life. Although concerned with concrete everyday practices and forms of knowledge, this work is nonetheless primarily a theoretical investigation. As such, I construct a basis for my claims by putting the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty in conversation with Henri Lefebvre’s critical analyses of space and everyday life in the context of late-stage capitalism. Additionally, I engage with a wide range of anthropological, sociological, and philosophical literature to argue that these diverse arts, which are directly tied to the concept of ‘the street’—itself a transitory and undetermined space of possibility—offer opportunities to enact other spaces of encounter and exchange, and that they exemplify a fundamental creative capacity that exceeds the managerial logic of capitalism. I show that these everyday arts represent the minor practice of bricolage, of the amateur, and of a collective sense of creativity that is fundamental to our perceptual experience but that never assumes formal properties, never acquires an identity. The arts of the street draw upon the common human abilities of curiosity, experimentation, and ordinary speech, and can draw our attention to a pre-reflexive corporeal presence that binds us to the world and each other. They thus demonstrate that it is possible to perceive, conceive, and live (in) urban space in different, possibly more equitable, ways.
Summary for Lay Audience
In this dissertation, I examine theoretical questions concerning social space, sense perception, everyday creativity, and how the senses are conceived of according to changing social and historical conditions. I look to a range of philosophical, anthropological, sociological and other literature to show that there is a certain collective sense of being that generally escapes our conscious attention in our everyday lives, but that we can still have access to. I go on to describe a class of creative urban practices that I name the arts of the street. These include, but are not necessarily limited to, street performance (busking), street art in the usual sense (graffiti, murals, postering, stencilling, etc.), punk, hip hop culture, and skateboarding (street skating). As different as they may seem from each other, they share certain essential characteristics: they all engage with public space in ways that it was not designed for. They are all, thus, forms of creative resistance: they demonstrate other ways of conceiving of, and using, shared urban space. Moreover, they express a collective sense of being that is tied to common human abilities and dispositions: curiosity, experimentation, and ordinary speech. In this way, the arts of the street draw our attention to a pre-reflexive (or pre-conscious) bodily self-awareness that binds us to the world and to each other. The arts of the street thus demonstrate that it is possible to perceive, conceive, and live (in) urban space in different, possibly more equitable, ways.
Wees, Nicholas, "The Arts of the Street: Sense Perception, Creativity and Resistance in Everyday Urban Life" (2022). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 8689.
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