Ubiquitous Law and the Urbanization of the Body

Julian Opie, Walking in the rain, Seoul. 2015
Julian Opie, Walking in the rain, Seoul. 2015

As presented in Thinking Spatial Practices within and against Law at the Birkbeck Institute for Social Research

I’d like to open with a conjecture, which is that the urban is a uniquely modern spatiality, one that is historically, politically and spatially distinct from what we can call ‘the city’. The urban, I would like to suggest, materialized as an anonymous, parallel project of restructuring the space of the emergent liberal Nation-State. In this sense, more than simply a reflection of this new state form or the product of the capitalist relations it fostered, the urban should instead be seen as a primary instrument of both; at once means and ends: The urban, I argue, is a spatio-political order. In its distinction from the city—a figure which, for millennia, marked the center of human social and political life—lie many subsequent differences between the two. One of the most crucial and far reaching characteristics of the urban is that its logic of organizing space is achieved in part by managing what moves throughout it. Thus its spaces can span across multiple scales, reorganizing the planet at the same time as it modulates the bodies that dwell and circulate within it. With such a telescopic logic coordinating activities, orders, controls, circulations, bodies, technologies and materials across all scales, the urban, we could say, has no scale.

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