Circulation Unbound: Technologies of territory and the birth of the urban

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Presented at Warwick Graduate Conference in Political Geography: Politics, Spaces, Imaginations, 28-29 November 2013

This paper speculates on the historical emergence of the urban through the work of Spanish Engineer Ildefonso Cerdá (1815-1876) in order to describe the constitution of a new spatio-political order. Building on previous work, it will characterise the urban as a biopolitical apparatus whose mode of control revolved around the various technologies and channels of circulation, reducing the city to a machinic, expansive continuum composed of spaces of life’s enhancement (production) and those of life’s preservation (reproduction). However, by articulating a history of circulation previous to its entry into the city, as a key principle in the construction of territory, this paper will reconsider Cerdá’s idealism of circulation in order to advance an understanding of urbanization beyond that of its biopolitical capture of life. While Cerdá presents circulation as the origin of every design decision he made—the basis on which the urban unleashes a biopolitical space of administration—such an emphasis is unable to shed light on the territorial nature that the urban simultaneously demonstrates. Thus, the purpose of this paper will be to see circulation not only as a principle of design but rather as the signature of a territorial spatial order making its entrance for the first time in the space of the European city—it is the signature, in other words, of the reorganisation of political power in space.

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