Edge, common space and the spatial contract
From an innermost feeling to a passionate political declaration, we “draw the line” at that particular moment or place determining what we deem acceptable. We seem to carry, in other words, some strict-if-figurative marks in our minds: cognitive lines that determine what we do or do not accept; lines that come to greatly shape our collective way of being. There is always a line (whether in time or in space) that signals when and where is really enough for each of us.
For a brief historical moment, in the soothing numbness of post-WWII welfare capitalism, those lines vanished out of sight. In that brief moment, those of us privileged enough to exist in the Global West largely fell for the illusion that there might, after all, be enough to go around for most of us. The illusion that personal prosperity didn’t necessarily have to come at the expense of a dire livelihood for others―not, at least, those in our immediate vicinity.
Our current historical moment is doing away with these naiveties. In a world swiftly broken into a myriad compartments, illuminating such invisible ― or very visible ― lines, cognitive or tangible, has now emerged, I would think, as one of the most important political tasks of our time. From the chilling blasts from the past, such as metallic fences separating children from their parents all the way to oh-so-contemporary, perniciously reverberating digital walls of our individual echo chambers, we have been ushered into an era when lines are drawn in neck-breaking speed, ramshacking livelihoods and reshaping the very essence of what it means to be human along the way.
This is why it is vital to both highlight these processes, and to dispel two commonly encountered myths surrounding them. One, the myth that our world is threatened by naturally occurring “emergencies” that call for tolerating, if not outright justifying, drawing these lines. And two, the myth that said lines are drawn without any formidable resistance: that the fragmentation and compartmentalisation of people’s lives the world over isn’t met and countered by other attempts, driven by opposed and alternative visions for our present and for our future.
Strange and crucial times call for doing things a little bit differently. With this in mind, what follows in the next few pages is not quite like your conventional book review or intervention. The idea came briefly after the publication of Ed Casey’s The World on Edge (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017) and Stavros Stavrides’ Common Space: the City as Commons (London: Zed Books, 2016). Kindly responding to an invitation to review each other’s work, Ed and Stavros have provided us with a fantastic glimpse into each other’s writing―and the force driving their own.
As you will see, the parallels are striking: here are two thinkers physically separated by thousands of miles, arriving from different scholarly traditions, and still grappling questions that allow a direct, unhindered dialogue. It is not a coincidence, I would argue, that this convergence comes at the present historical moment. A moment when more and more of us wake up to the realisation that the drawing of lines around us is catastrophic, that complacency is not an option, that we must draw the line precisely at the urgent need to undraw these lethal lines.