The guaranteed city. The ruin of urban criticism?

Marc Breviglieri (2018)

In Resende J., Martins A., Breviglieri M. and C. Delaunay (eds.), Challenges of Communication in a Context of Crisis: Troubles, Misunderstandings and Discords, Cambridge Scholar Publishers, p. 206-249.

Excerpt. I will first of all outline a very general plan, from which it will gradually be possible to focus more on a reflection around the guaranteed city. First of all, we need to place the discussion in the context of anxiety which is peculiar to our civilisation, which broadly constitutes the first explanation for an almost unlimited request for guarantees. These guarantees, particularly when it comes to building and urbanisation, give rise to an unprecedented use of accreditation and evaluation (Vitale, 2009; Bourdin, 2010; Thévenot, 1986; 1994; 1997; 2009a)1. This anxiety imprisons ‘human acts’ [‘agir humain’] (Jonas, 1990) in their worry, and makes their authority dependent upon the credit accorded to other means which are likely to create trust. Such means are varied and meant to represent a number of neutral authorities independent of all display of arbitrary, oppressive power which could determine the direction of projects to build in or change the city. They include observatories which produce independent scientific reports, agencies responsible for quality assurance and certification, civil engineering companies, places where consultation occurs, making democratic oversight of projects and participation in them possible, or even campaign groups and sometimes trade union members suggesting alternative measures. The ways in which legitimate authority over an urban project is consolidated thus include the consultation of specialists, the application of evolving regulations which impose technical requirements (regulations which are more often produced by organisations representing a range of interests than by the state), or by organisations dealing with accrediting and certifying the quality of the project. It is by working with such bodies that a legitimate authority can gain credibility and be taken seriously by everyone involved. Integrating such measures (most of which are legal requirements) into the development of an urban project leads to the proliferation and dense interconnection of performance and quality indicators (safety, energy saving, budgeting, awareness of inhabitants’ needs and so on). Monitoring, benchmarking and targeting using databases made reliable through statistical and econometric tools are all made use of. On the one hand such indicators are fed into a large network of people involved in building or developing a space, potentially converging with instruments which oversee public activity on a national scale. On the other, they are integrated into a veritable marketisation of certified consumables, a point we will return to. It is in part under the influence of this double dynamic that large cities are coming to be more and more alike, whilst at the same time becoming comparable.

About the book. This book questions the political tools and the basis upon which the values of an informed and objective communication rest, and that nowadays encompass most of the ordinary situations encountered in institutions. What is the fate of the involuntary drifts of communication, such as disturbances, misunderstandings and troubles, in the use of decision-making tools, participatory mechanisms, and the establishment of contractual procedures or informed consent practices? How do they open a discordant and potentially critical gap in the protocols and assessment and categorization measures that govern these institutions? How can the virtues of these drifts, whether in the exercise of sociological research or of scientific discovery be revalued? Crisis situations seem implicitly or explicitly to involve communicative issues. The efforts of normative framing of communication and of information formatting are then numerous. However, as this book shows, one can question not only the effectiveness of these efforts, but also how the actors receive them and how they transform the actual modalities of their communication processes.

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