The View from Above

The View from Above: The Science of Social Space

Jeanne Haffner
foreword by Peter Galison
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hhk62
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  • Book Info
    The View from Above
    Book Description:

    In mid-twentieth century France, the term "social space" ( l'espace social) -- the idea that spatial form and social life are inextricably linked -- emerged in a variety of social science disciplines. Taken up by the French New Left, it also came to inform the practice of urban planning. In The View from Above, Jeanne Haffner traces the evolution of the science of social space from the interwar period to the 1970s, illuminating in particular the role of aerial photography in this new way of conceptualizing socio-spatial relations. As early as the 1930s, the view from above served for Marcel Griaule and other anthropologists as a means of connecting the social and the spatial. Just a few decades later, the Marxist urban sociologist Henri Lefebvre called the perspective enabled by aerial photography -- a technique closely associated with the French colonial state and military -- "the space of state control." Lefebvre and others nevertheless used the notion of social space to recast the problem of massive modernist housing projects (grands ensembles) to encompass the modern suburb (banlieue) itself -- a critique that has contemporary resonance in light of the banlieue riots of 2005 and 2007. Haffner shows how such "views" permitted new ways of conceptualizing the old problem of housing to emerge. She also points to broader issues, including the influence of the colonies on the metropole, the application of sociological expertise to the study of the built environment, and the development of a spatially oriented critique of capitalism.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-31264-6
    Subjects: Art & Art History, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. IX-XII)
    Peter Galison

    “Just look,” goes the refrain. Galileo, we learn in school, told the princes to look through the telescope, and they stubbornly refused; Robert Koch fought for years to get his generation to look at the bacilli through the microscope, until microbe hunting became the royal road for a generation of medical work. But whether through sketching or photographing, and whether through radio telescopes or functional magnetic resonance imaging, there is no “just looking.” The centuries-long battle over scientific observation in and outside science has shown that time and again. Since the 1960s if not earlier, philosophers of science have insisted...

  4. PREFACE
    (pp. XIII-XV)
  5. INTRODUCTION: THE SCIENCE OF SOCIAL SPACE
    (pp. 1-5)

    InThe Aerial Discovery of the World,¹ an interdisciplinary work on aerial photography published in 1948, the French Africanist ethnographer Marcel Griaule began his contribution with an air-minded metaphor. He imagined a parachuter descending from the sky to the ground. From a high altitude, Griaule wrote, looking down at a vertical angle, the land below initially appeared to be “inhuman.” Through the clouds, the earth resembled a map, laid out, flat, and scattered with geometrical lines. But as this skydiver approached the earth, the topographical form of the terrain suddenly appeared as the outline of human civilization. Not only had...

  6. 1 FROM ENTHUSIASM TO EXPERTISE: AERIAL VISION FROM BEFORE THE AIRPLANE TO THE AFTERMATH OF WORLD WAR I
    (pp. 7-17)

    Techniques for capturing the Earth on a photographic plate from above had been part of the pioneering work of nineteenth-century photographers such as Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon). Their early successes inspired a first generation of enthusiasts to adopt such techniques for use in scientific research. In a handbook published in 1890, the photographer Arthur Batut suggested that this method of observation would lead to major discoveries in a range of fields.¹ However, a tradition into which the techniques fitted more readily was military reconnaissance. As the historian Albert Garcia Espruche has insightfully noted, “it is difficult to separate the history of...

  7. 2 THE POLITICS OF SPATIAL FORM: AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY IN SOCIAL-SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH, ARCHITECTURE, AND URBAN PLANNING IN THE 1920S AND THE 1930S
    (pp. 19-53)

    The northernmost area of Vietnam in the 1930s, then known as the Tonkin Delta, was relatively isolated from the major urban centers of Haiphong and Hanoi. The rice fields that stretched along its densely populated landscape were cultivated by impoverished villagers. A French colonial protectorate, the Tonkin Delta was neither exploited for its natural resources nor settled by French emigrants. Instead, the region was created by the French state solely for administrative purposes, especially tax collection. As a result, villagers had very little contact with the Western world.

    It was precisely this remoteness that made the Tonkin Delta so attractive...

  8. 3 THE OPPORTUNITY OF WAR
    (pp. 55-79)

    “You think you know your country,” wrote Chombart in a 1941 article for his students at the elite École des cadres d’Uriage,¹ a pedagogical institution created by the Vichy regime for the purpose of instilling future leaders of France with the values of the National Revolution, as captured in the 1941 slogan “Work, Family, Country.” “But in fact, you tend to see the same everywhere. . . . These excursions [into the French countryside] are intended to help you to see France with entirely new eyes and . . . to rid ourselves of preconceived ideas.”² The article was accompanied...

  9. 4 MODELING THE SOCIAL AND THE SPATIAL: “SOCIAL SPACE” IN POSTWAR FRENCH SOCIAL-SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH
    (pp. 81-108)

    In the aftermath of World War II, Chombart, now based at the Musée de l’homme and the Centre d’études sociologiques (CES) in Paris, began to embody the coming together of the aerial and ground-level perspectives. A perfect example was the 1952 studyParis et l’agglomération parisienne: L’Étude de l’espace social dans une grande cité, in which Chombart and his research team demonstrated that Paris was divided both geographically and socially, bourgeois residents living mostly in the West and working-class individuals largely in the East.¹ What was novel was not so much this conclusion as the methodological basis used to support...

  10. 5 FROM DISTANCED OBSERVATION TO ACTIVE PARTICIPATION: SOCIAL SPACE AND PARTICIPATORY PLANNING IN 1960S FRANCE
    (pp. 109-136)

    In the 1960s, the hopes for interdisciplinary collaboration that only a few years earlier had been fostered by aerial photography and by the idea of “social space” came to an end. Rather than facilitating communication between sociologists such as Chombart, architects such as Auzelle, and planners such as Bardet and Burger, aerial photography did the opposite. Against the backdrop of the Algerian War, the first satellite views of Earth, and Charles de Gaulle’s large-scale housing program, Lefebvre and other leftist thinkers began to combine social-scientific methodology and politics in new ways. The view of the whole (vue d’ensemble) offered by...

  11. CONCLUSION: THE NEED FOR A VUE D’ENSEMBLE
    (pp. 137-142)

    Lefebvre’s work on the social dimensions of urban space remains the canon in numerous social-scientific fields, from urban planning, urban studies, architecture, sociology, anthropology, and geography to literary theory. Conferences at top universities have been devoted entirely to his work, and numerous books have concentrated on his writings and his biography. The enormous renewed interest in his work today can be attributed largely to the translation ofLa Production de l’espaceinto English in 1991; more recent translations of his most important works on the state and spatial organization will surely inspire new analyses.¹

    Yet, as this book has shown,...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 143-172)
  13. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 173-198)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 199-204)