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Urban Suffering Studies Center



The Suffering city

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Giorgio Ferraresi


Giorgio Ferraresi

The suffering city
The immeasurable decline of the urban environment: the Scream by Munch and the destruction of territory and civilization.
Paths for re-birth.

Social traces and territorial area: urbanization, no more cities

Here we would like to expand our view from the suffering of human beings who live in an urban situation to the "suffering" of the "urban and territorial area" that they inhabit.
In itself a simple and almost obvious gesture proposed for those who experience, interpret, build resistence and an alternative to hardship and pain in the social traces of the city: read, understand the state of affairs, the environment, the structure, the place where they appear or that conditions them or that shapes them even. Then reassemble "civitas" and "urbs", the anthropological dimension and that of the structure and culture of the communities, with the complication of the territory of living.

But this passage through the awareness of the state of affairs turns out to be more radically significant if it leads us to see the dramatic condition of the urban system in late modernity, existing in the same period of time that we live in: an extraordinary power in dissolution, a pervasive dominance, widely sprawled in the area of a community model that expresses the victory of urbanization but at the same time carries within it the gene of the death of urbanization of "bulimia".
Everything is "the city" and therefore nothing is a city anymore. The identity of the historical city, the nature, the consistency, the complexity of urban life dissolves and just "gets lost" in the phenomena of "infinite urbanization" that incorporates, invades and distorts anything different other than itself, open spaces and preceeding historical communities, places with differences, biodiversity and cultural differences: a phenomena that is not translated therefore, into a re-definition of a territorial complexity stratified in time, but that destroys it and produces the depletion and deconstruction of the environment/territory.

A process of deterioration and a model of urbanization of modernity

It is a massive process of homologation and degradation, the fundamental convergence and origin of the environmental crisis, of the unsustainability of "development ", the central question of our present and future; and that is combined here, as previously stated, with degradation and anthropological suffering, and so not taking on a purely naturalistic ideation of the environment, but a "territorialistic" point of view that considers our
environment a complex territory, body and mind, culture and nature, economy and society .....( )
Not only the description of a setting with forms of communities of the urban system and its unsustainability; but the identification in these forms of "a genetic code of the winning modernity" in its more general sense. That is the appropriation during the process of modernization of the last three centuries, of a model of structuring space for the habitat of humanity: the model of "industrial urbanization" and its "Post-Fordism" transformation of urban diffusion in contemporaneity. ( )

A structure (and its evolutions) that was formed in the course of the industrial transformation of Europe and the west (starting from the late 1700s in England) to become "the model" for the sole idea of global development with which the world still has to come to terms with, even in the present structural crisis which hasn't stop its degraded expansion: just in these last few years the percentage of the urbanized population in the world has surpassed the threshold of 50% and continues to grow relentlessly just as the degradation that accompanies it.

The "ratio" of the model: the dictatorship of instrumental rationality

Of this process and model we can briefly explore the form of rationality that it is associated with, so as to construct an awareness that allows us to escape from it.
This urban/industrial civilization (in the different phases of transformation mentioned) is dominated by a powerful "instumental rationality" founded on its scientific and technological bases ( ) and finalized in the competitive production of "things", that is goods and in the accumulation of profit (the capitalistic base of the system that goes beyond this very same capitalism, in a shared concept of "progress" even with antagonistic forms, in the heart of the wealth/labor conflict). ( )
Here we can recognize a real, undisputed, general "dictatorship" of instrumental rationality
that produces wealth (and poverty) with its productivist, commercial, competitive logic, in respect to which the "needs" and the relative production of services, accomodation, welfare systems for the "reproduction" of the manufacturers/consumers, are redefined. A functional use of space, and its partitioning and owner appropriation is specified for these productive/reproductive scopes. ( )

In fact to return to the discussion of the form and structure of the territory (city and open spaces), it is evident that this commanding model, its "ratio", essentially reduces the territory to a platform for production and exchange in this universe of merchandise for related purposes; a downgrading to a mere "ground" that has no "value" other than that (substantially real estate) of the allocation of communities and infrastructures built for these purposes. ( )

The price of a univocal cause: the Scream by Munch

This instrumental and functionalist unidimensionality of the territorial model for the urbanization of modernity contains, as already stated, the radical contradiction of the model itself and the indication of its unsustainability, of a structural weakness inspite of its capacity for expansion (or just because of this).
But beyond and above all, this "lobotomy of the mind" makes any other form of rationality, any other culture regarding relationships between men and the environment, that adheres to "lifeworlds" and the social subjects and forms that express them, pay an extremely high price; basically it ejects, subordinates and oppresses "the other half" of the human mind, communicative rationality, care seen as a relational procedure, the "internità" of the observer and the actor to the world/environment, the circularity of the look and action "in" the territory, the recognition of differences and the interaction with them.....
In reality that model, linear, fast, violent, competitive, that smooths out obstacles and invades space, validates territory, refuses the distinctive character of cultures from different places, reduces to silence anything local: in short this dominant model described above produces the spine-chilling destruction of vital worlds and their culture. And that is the basic foundation of urban suffering now extending over the entire occupied territory.
A widespread, often silent destruction that we didn't know how to listen to, but so deep and fearful as to evoke "the Scream of Munch".
That desperate rappresentation of anxiety in the art of expressionism (that our culture considered a prophecy of the mass killings of the wars during the 1900s and the beginning of the new millenium, the Shoà, the ethnic massacres in civilised Europe, in the Middle East, in Africa, in South America....) perhaps interprets an even more deeper history of devastation in the state of the city and the territory of our modernity, that Munch already experienced at the end of the 1800s and that still continues today. A history that in some ways, can be considered mother of the others.

The genocide of the rural world In the heart of urbanization

Once again this condition can be well translated and represented by focusing on territorial evidence that is not given enough consideration but that is the heart of this profound destruction, a part of the whole but anything but marginal, structural and radical instead: "the genocide of the rural world" and of the primary activity that has generated territory and the very same city in the millennia and that the urbanization of modernity has swept away in two/three hundred years.
An activity (primary in meaning and overall, foundational, generative) that during the lengthy time necessary for the construction of the territory has domesticated and reproduced nature, it has supplied nourishment for the life of mankind, produced materials and energy, governed the environmental cycles, that is it has supported living beings. And that, in the marginalization and destruction of its historical role, well represents the subordination and suffering of the lifeworlds and the oppression of their cause.
And precisely agriculture, rurality more generally, has been the object of the greatest deportation of people in history (from the country to the city) and of the most vast and capillary plundering of its territory and systematic destruction of its culture: a paradigm of the genocide caused by the power of urban development that destroys though, the very same city.

For a "Pars construens"

Here we could close the first route for building awareness of the origin of urban suffering, this implies an interpretation of the territorial area and the structure and nature of the process of urbanization and of its profound crisis, the root of the suffering and distruction of the city and territory.
But it is not legitimate to recognize and present a dramatic condition while avoiding the introduction of a trace of resistance and alternative route (as stated in the beginning).
We are not expecting to develop this route here, for the sake of the brevity of this contribution: one can however introduce a trace, an opening of the "construens" discussion. That sees anyhow and already brought into play in this piece of writing, the material for some other project issue. Precisely, the elements identified here of the crisis of the urban drama in progress indicate the way by upsetting plans.

At least some statements can be expressed: the forms of rationality denied by this decadent modernity, the lifeworlds and their causes, the oppressed themes of territorial value and of the fertility in differences, the disavowed historical role of the primary activity of the generation of rural territory and the refounding of urban development, are once again brought into play and comply with experiences and social planning, they are put foreward with force in the face of deaf public policies.
But they also find theoretical foundation, they produce culture and nourish lifestyles not of a niche or pure resistence anymore (even if they are still dominated by the prevailing background sound of the crisis of this system). ( )
On this basis once again, one can think of (and experiment with the first traces of) a setting of alliances between person/city and person/ territory: that compensates the degree of urban development, its public space for relationships not merely commercial exchange, the "milieu", the core of dwelling; that frees the fertility of the earth and its capacity for governing the cycles of life,

Later on, we can resume this talk that is not only interpretative but also projects plans, dealing with social traces and the territorial area.
Also in this seat, if possible, we will be explaining a route, active and talking to the world around us.




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Center for urban suffering

The study centre wishes to study the phenomenon of urban suffering, in other words the suffering that is specific to the great metropolises. Urban Suffering is a category that describes the meeting of individual suffering with the social fabric that they inhabit. The description, the understanding and the transformation of the psychological and social dynamics that develop from the meeting of ...

Who we are

The Urban Suffering Studies Center - SOUQ - arises from Milan, a place of complexity and economic and social contradictions belonged to global world.Tightly linked to Casa della Carità Foundation, which provides assistance and care to unserved populations in Milan (such as immigrants legal and illegal, homeless, vulnerable minorities), the Urban Suffering Studies Center puts attention on ...


Centro studi Souq Management commitee: Laura Arduini, Virginio Colmegna (presidente), Silvia Landra, Simona Sambati, Benedetto Saraceno ; Scientific commitee: Mario Agostinelli, Angelo Barbato, Maurizio Bonati, Adolfo Ceretti, Giacomo Costa, Ota de Leonardis,  Giulio Ernesti, Sergio Escobar, Luca Formenton, Francesco Maisto, Ambrogio Manenti, Claudia Mazzucato, Daniela ...
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ISSN 2282-5754 Souquaderni [online] by SOUQ - Centro Studi sulla Sofferenza Urbana - CF: 97316770151
Last update: 20/04/2019

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