10 March 2015
“If the intensified political deployment of the “knowledge of the creation and mobilisation and affect” in the ever-smaller micro-spaces of everyday life already posed a problem for (the possibility of) a deliberative politics of democratic checks and balances, then the intense densifications of hybrid space only further exacerbate this problem. In my “Navigating Variable Urban Densities”column for the Open! platform,14 upon which this essay expands, I emphasised the need to consider the “densification” of hybrid space in relation to the deployment of affect.
The concept Hybrid Space was originally coined by the architects Frans Vogelaar and Elisabeth Sikiaridi (1999) * and designates a single, unified concept of space that is characterised by the simultaneous presence (co-presence) of different, heterogeneous and, at times, contradictory (operational) spatial logics. The concept proceeds from the assumption that different spatial logics are superimposed in any “lived” space. Physical structures, whether they are natural or constructed, are superimposed with processual flows that operate according to a different and mostly incommensurable spatial logic. Such flows can be flows of communication, trade, goods and service provision, transportation, data flows, even face-to-face exchanges and public gatherings of various kinds. While the concept of hybrid space is thus not necessarily defined by the superimposition of technological infrastructures onto the “natural” or built environment, the spatial density and heterogeneity is greatly increased by electronic media, especially by the increasing presence of electronic signals, carrier waves, wireless communication and data networks in lived environments.
Vogelaar and Sikiaridi cite the visionary work of media theorist Vilém Flusser as an important source of inspiration for their concept. Flusser’s essay “The City as Wave- Trough in the Image-Flood” (1988) “reconfigures” the city as a system of attractive forces of ever-varying density, constituted by the webs of interhuman relations flowing through strands that act as information channels through which ideas, feelings, intentions and knowledge flow. Flusser maintains that the density of the webs of interhuman relationships differ from place to place within the network, and get knotted in what we could describe as “human subjects”15 – the greater the density, the more concrete the relations. The density of the webs of interhuman relations differs not only from place to place (spatially), but also from moment to moment (temporal), which is highlighted by the ever-changing connectivity options on wireless networks as we move through the city, for instance. And, even if we stand still, signals may drop away at any moment …
Flusser observes that the dense points in the networks form what he calls “wave-troughs in the field”, densified connective patterns that draw large numbers of humans and devices together in the web of interhuman (and inter-machine) relations. These dense points exert an “attractive” force on the surrounding field drawing in an increasing number of interhuman and machine relations from the periphery. And, he concludes: “These wave troughs shall be called ’cities’.” (ibid.)
The fascinating aspect of Flusser’s conception of the city as a network of information channels and flows is that its constitutive processes are described as entirely “blind”. Forces operate on a field, attract and draw in from the periphery, densify, almost as if they are in danger of imploding onto itself like a black hole. These terms seem indeed closer to a physics or cosmology discourse, rather than an analysis of urban and human geography. However, it is exactly this quality which makes his conception ideally suited to think through and conceptualise the dense flows of affect and information signals in the massive public protests of the “movement(s) of the squares”.”
“Hybrid space (as a concept) emphatically rejects any form of spatial dichotomy, especially with regards to electronic and networked (wireless) communication technologies. It rejects on equal grounds the sci-fi pop image of “virtual realities” (of the Matrix type), the early cyber-utopian reveries of an “independent cyberspace”,16 but also the spatial dichotomy famously proposed by Manuel Castells in The Rise of the Network Society (1996) and reiterated in his Communication Power (2009). Castells contrasts the embodied space of lived experience for the vast majority of the world’s population, the “space of place”, with a disembodied placeless space of information flows, the “space of flows”. Power – be it political, economic (financial), or cultural – is increasingly organised in this placeless space of flows, according to Castells, which leads to structural schizophrenia in society, creating divides that urgently need to be bridged.
However, what the work of sociologist Saskia Sassen from the early 1990s onwards has clearly shown is that this so-called “placeless” space of flows is very clearly located. It requires a dense overlapping infrastructure of technological, knowledge, information processing and political capabilities to project itself around the globe. These overlapping infrastructures are typically found in what she termed “Global Cities” and thus offers a specific location for this networked regime. Her analysis also revealed that this regime creates massive centralisations of economic and political power that should and, indeed, can be resisted (occupied) locally (Sassen 1991). Invoking spatial dichotomies obscures these basic “matters of concern” and suggests an unjustified sanitary image of the new regimes of networked power relations, presenting them as increasingly unchallengeable.
Hybrid space offers exactly the opposite of a sanitary image: Volatility, discontinuity, and ever-varying densities of superimposed, incommensurable and colliding spatial logics – without recourse to an “outside” space – are constitutive characteristics of its conception. This concept does not offer assurances and signals (carrier waves) may fade at any moment; interference is a constant factor in these densified hybrid spaces, while control remains ambivalent, disruption can come from any side, complexity abounds in the unseen – evidenced by the beauty and fascination of wireless spectrum allocation graphs, which also show that 99% of the wireless spectrum is restricted from public access.
Even the most remote locations today are no longer free of the presence of electronic signals; short wave radio, satellite transmissions, local networks (for instance, near polar research stations), geo-positioning satellites, and other signal carrier waves hybridise even the most sparse environments on the planet. The enormous proliferation of mobile and wireless technologies in public space exponentially increases the density of (hybrid) urban spaces in particular. This trend continues to grow with, for example, the current introduction of 4G wireless networks and beyond, produce an ongoing densification of the web of potential relationships between human subjects and technological objects. This process dramatically expands the range of potential interactions between previously unrelated actors, which generates a new complexity and unpredictability of social relations.
The connective pattern at work in the “movement(s) of the squares” built on the densification, the volatility and the attractive forces with their unpredictable feedback patterns in hybrid space – partly deliberately and partly nonconsciously. The process of affective mobilisation via online communication channels charged the bodies of the spectators with an intensity for which this online, disembodied, screen-based environment offered no possibility for release. This discrepancy between the affectively charged body and the anaemic, digital network environment was a crucial factor in driving literally thousands upon thousands of citizens beyond the screen, seeking to connect in the streets and squares, turning them instantly from disinterested spectators into active participants and protestors. Anger or frustration over the various “issues-at-stake” undoubtedly created a favourable predisposition towards this heightening of affective intensity. However, as we have seen, the issues varied from locale to locale, often bringing actors together who did not share a similar agenda (political, ideological, religious or otherwise) even within the same locale. Meanwhile, the connective pattern is nearly identical in all cases.
Once on the street or square, the hybrid densification increased exponentially, not only because of the presence of technological networks, but especially because of physical proximity. The protestors thus established a “double presence” (both embodied and mediated) that dramatically increased the range of possible association between what were previously mainly unrelated social actors. It is important to keep in mind that affect is radically synaesthetic. It fully involves all of the senses.
In these extremely dense gatherings, all of the sensory registers are triggered and contribute to the catalytic process of affective intensification: the visual signs, the banners, the sound of voices, the drone of human-mike assemblies (“mike check! mike check!” – the protagonist invoking the repetitions by the crowd of the short phrases spoken by whoever has been addressing that same crowd, producing a particularly powerful form of affective resonance), but also the smells, the hormonal exchanges, the excited gaze, the gesturing, the touch – the air, (tear-)gas, moistness, cold, heat, movement, people running, the rush of adrenaline triggered by impending danger (police officers charging), physical confrontations, rocks, bullets, gas canisters whirling past, bloody wounds … And, across all of these registers of sensation, we have the massive presence of mobile media in the physical space, which is busy recording and transmitting – sometimes in real-time – the incessant hum of mobile phones.
The increased densifications and double presence in hybrid space create new conditions for affective feedback and hyper-connectivity: The street, the square and urban public spaces are no longer simply spaces for the embodied encounter with the “unknown other”; they have been transformed into media platforms themselves, feeding back into the transnational and translocal media network, both synchronously (in real time via live text, image and sound feeds), and asynchronously (via audio and video uploads and reports). This creates dense points in the urban sphere in near-real time that exert tremendous attractive forces on their periphery, drawing in more and more interhuman relations into its field.”
Kluitenberg, Eric. Affect Space. open!. 2016. Web. 10 March 2015.