7-1 | Table of Con­tents | DOI 10.17742/IMAGE.VOS.7-2.1 | Case­ma­jorStraw­PDF

Nathalie Case­ma­jor | INRS - Urban­i­sa­tion Cul­ture Société
Will Straw | McGill University

Urban Cultures and Visual Scenescapes

This issue of Imag­i­na­tions stages a set of encoun­ters between the notion of “scene” as employed in stud­ies of the arrange­ments of cul­tur­al life and a vari­ety of the­o­ret­i­cal devel­op­ments deal­ing cen­tral­ly with the sta­tus of the visu­al. Few of the cur­rent writ­ings on cul­tur­al scenes have engaged with work in visu­al stud­ies or, indeed, addressed the visu­al prop­er­ties of scenes. This lack of inter­est is sur­pris­ing giv­en the visu­al dimen­sion at the heart of the ety­mol­o­gy of scene. How­ev­er, our aim here is not to assert the pri­ma­cy of visu­al­i­ty in scenes, as if, hav­ing lost some of its orig­i­nal asso­ci­a­tions, the scene must re-estab­lish its visu­al­i­ty in the name of an ety­mo­log­i­cal fun­da­men­tal­ism. Nev­er­the­less, an engage­ment of scene the­o­ry with visu­al stud­ies is par­tic­u­lar­ly per­ti­nent giv­en the ascen­dant atten­tion to both scene and visu­al­i­ty in con­tem­po­rary cul­tur­al studies.

The con­cept of scene has a com­plex his­to­ry with­in treat­ments of urban cul­ture. Used casu­al­ly for decades to describe any loose­ly orga­nized aggre­gate of cul­tur­al activ­i­ties, the con­cept has received more for­mal devel­op­ment in recent years in such fields as pop­u­lar music stud­ies (Shank; Straw), con­tem­po­rary art crit­i­cism (Gie­len), and the soci­ol­o­gy of urban ameni­ties (Sil­ver et al.). Indeed, we can iden­ti­fy the ascen­dan­cy, in recent years, of a con­cept called “scene think­ing” (Woo, et al.). This devel­op­ment has been rough­ly syn­chro­nous with the move­ment of visu­al­i­ty toward the cen­tre of cul­tur­al analy­sis. Begin­ning in the late 1980s, visu­al­i­ty was giv­en renewed con­cep­tu­al treat­ment in art his­to­ry (Fos­ter), then adopt­ed more wide­ly with­in new­ly named fields such as visu­al stud­ies (Mir­zo­eff, “Invis­i­ble Empire”) and cul­tur­al geog­ra­phy (Tolia-Kel­ly and Rose). From a set of inter­dis­ci­pli­nary van­tage points, visu­al stud­ies have ana­lyzed see­ing and being seen as social facts, enmeshed in pow­er rela­tions and cul­tur­al­ly spe­cif­ic visu­al orders.

The pos­si­ble con­ver­gences of scene the­o­ry and visu­al stud­ies may already be glimpsed in a great deal of recent schol­ar­ship on the cul­ture of cities. Scenes are increas­ing­ly under­stood not mere­ly as the orga­ni­za­tion­al forms that gath­er around styles of cul­tur­al expres­sion but also as bound up with the sen­so­ry tex­tures of urban life. These tex­tures are not only visu­al, of course, but, in the inter­sen­so­r­i­al economies of urban life, cul­tur­al forms such as music and food come to occu­py the realm of the visu­al, tak­ing their place with­in the sce­nescapes of con­tem­po­rary cities. Explor­ing the visu­al dimen­sions of scenes also allows us to sit­u­ate the analy­sis of music and oth­er cul­tur­al forms in rela­tion to what has been diag­nosed as a “visu­al turn” (Dalle Vac­che) with­in cul­tur­al analy­sis. These turns have brought with them a host of aes­thet­ic, social, and polit­i­cal ques­tions that can only ben­e­fit the analy­sis of cul­tur­al forms. By for­mu­lat­ing new ways to artic­u­late the notions of visu­al­i­ty and scene, this spe­cial issue aims to con­tribute to a broad­er analy­sis of cul­ture and social­i­ty in the urban pub­lic sphere.

Urban Visuality
1.1 Visuality and the Visual Turn

The term visu­al­i­ty has been the object of renewed devel­op­ment and sys­tem­ati­za­tion since the late 1980s. While its use extends as far back as the 19th cen­tu­ry and beyond, it was brought to the fore by the col­lec­tive book Vision and Visu­al­i­ty edit­ed by Hal Fos­ter in 1988. With back­grounds in his­to­ry, art his­to­ry, art crit­i­cism, and psy­cho­analy­sis, the con­trib­u­tors to this vol­ume advanced the notion of visu­al­i­ty as cen­tral to an analy­sis of see­ing and being seen as socio-cul­tur­al con­structs. They pro­posed to exam­ine “how we see, how we are able, allowed, or made to see, and how we see this see­ing or the unseen there­in” (Fos­ter ix). From this per­spec­tive, visu­al­i­ty is con­sid­ered not as the sum of all images but as a broad­er set of visu­al forms and prac­tices, con­tex­tu­al­ized in his­tor­i­cal and cul­tur­al con­fig­u­ra­tions, entan­gled in pow­er rela­tions, and co-con­sti­tu­tive of social orders. Indeed, Sumathi Ramaswamy con­ceives of the visu­al realm as “world-mak­ing and world-dis­clos­ing, rather than mere­ly world-mir­ror­ing” (12). Tran­scend­ing the notion of image as rep­re­sen­ta­tion, the study of visu­al­i­ty moves past the aes­thet­ic inves­ti­ga­tion of art­works to encom­pass a wider array of visu­al process­es, forms, and dis­pos­i­tives, includ­ing per­cep­tion, vision, the gaze, image-mak­ing tech­nolo­gies, and their impacts on visu­al environments—an inter­re­lat­ed set of dimen­sions com­bined into a com­plex “ren­di­tion of phys­i­cal and psy­chic space” (Mir­zo­eff, The Right to Look 2-3).

The grow­ing inter­est for the visu­al field was ampli­fied in the ear­ly 1990s in the “icon­ic turn” pro­posed by the Ger­man art his­to­ri­an and philoso­pher Got­tfried Boehm (What is an image?) and the “pic­to­r­i­al turn” pro­mot­ed by his Amer­i­can coun­ter­part W.J.T. Mitchell (The Recon­fig­ured Eye). These two frame­works entered into a pro­duc­tive dia­logue: Boehm devel­oped a “sci­ence of images,” focus­ing both on visu­al per­cep­tion and the hermeneu­tics of pic­tures (Towards a Hermeneu­tics), while Mitchell’s “image sci­ence” pro­vid­ed a cri­tique of visu­al cul­ture and media aes­thet­ics through the analy­sis of “liv­ing images” (What Do Pic­tures Want?). This debate large­ly unfold­ed with­in the para­me­ters of phe­nom­e­nol­o­gy (visu­al­i­ty as expe­ri­ences of view­ing), semi­otics (visu­al signs), and hermeneu­tics (mean­ing-mak­ing process­es). It strived to decon­struct logo­cen­trism, chal­leng­ing the clas­si­cal cri­tiques of sight as super­fi­cial and decep­tive. How­ev­er, rather than oppos­ing the lin­guis­tic turn or impos­ing the visu­al realm as a dom­i­nant trope, the most fruit­ful con­tri­bu­tions recon­fig­ured the artic­u­la­tion between the dis­cur­sive and the vis­i­ble. Through the inter­con­nect­ed cat­e­gories of visu­al sur­face and dis­cur­sive depth, these two dimen­sions are con­sid­ered in “a mutu­al­ly con­sti­tu­tive (hor­i­zon­tal)” rela­tion­ship (Bart­man­s­ki and Alexan­der 4).

As the land­scape of cul­tur­al analy­sis was quick­ly trans­formed in the 1990s with the infla­tion of var­i­ous turns and areas of stud­ies, the field of visu­al stud­ies formed across dis­ci­pli­nary tra­di­tions (Bach­mann-Medick). This renewed atten­tion to visu­al phe­nom­e­na was cross-fer­til­ized with insights from cul­tur­al stud­ies (notably the scruti­ny of con­tem­po­rary and pop­u­lar cul­ture), media stud­ies (at a time when dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies were trans­form­ing media envi­ron­ments), per­for­mance and gen­der stud­ies (with crit­i­cal insights on staged action and the body), and post­colo­nial the­o­ries (open­ing up to anti-hege­mon­ic and non-West­ern tra­di­tions). The inter­sec­tion of the visu­al turn with a mate­r­i­al turn[1] also inspired propo­si­tions from the field of cul­tur­al soci­ol­o­gy to rethink iconol­o­gy through the lens of mate­ri­al­i­ty (Bart­man­s­ki and Alexan­der). In the field of cul­tur­al geog­ra­phy, the con­junc­tion of the visu­al turn and the spa­tial turn prompt­ed new visu­al explo­rations of space and bod­ies (Tolia-Kel­ly and Rose). Visu­al research meth­ods have also grown in pop­u­lar­i­ty since the 1990s, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the fields of visu­al soci­ol­o­gy and visu­al anthro­pol­o­gy, pro­vid­ing new tools for data col­lec­tion, pro­cess­ing, analy­sis, and com­mu­ni­ca­tion (Mar­go­lis and Pauwels).[2] The notion of vis­i­bil­i­ty, which has also attract­ed con­sid­er­able atten­tion in recent decades, exceeds the visu­al field to encom­pass the broad social phe­nom­e­na of pub­lic­i­ty.[3] Embraced in soci­ol­o­gy, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, and polit­i­cal sci­ence, this inter­est in vis­i­bil­i­ty fos­tered inves­ti­ga­tions into the dynam­ics of pow­er and exclu­sion in the pub­lic sphere (Hon­neth), mon­i­tor­ing and sur­veil­lance by means of watch­ing (Eric­son and Hag­ger­ty), the for­ma­tion of sym­bol­ic cap­i­tal in celebri­ty cul­ture (Heinich), and the con­di­tions of dis­cov­er­abil­i­ty of con­tent on the Web (Koed Madsen).

Over­all, the surge of inter­est in the visu­al realm has raised new epis­te­mo­log­i­cal ques­tions for cul­tur­al analy­sis, but rather than con­verg­ing towards a homo­ge­neous frame­work, it has result­ed in mul­ti­ple research pro­grammes pre­dom­i­nant­ly crys­tal­lized around the notions of visu­al­i­ty, pic­to­ri­al­i­ty, and iconic­i­ty. Of the var­i­ous notions that emerged from the visu­al turn, that of visu­al­i­ty like­ly offers the more com­pre­hen­sive ana­lyt­i­cal scope, since its con­tours exceed the nar­row­er cat­e­gories of the icon and the pic­ture. The exten­sive range of phe­nom­e­na grasped under the scope of visu­al­i­ty opens a path along which to map out the for­ma­tion of sys­tems of pow­er gov­ern­ing social imag­i­na­tions and “vision-ori­ent­ed sub­jec­tiv­i­ties” (Ramaswamy 1). Despite their dif­fer­ences, all three frame­works of visu­al­i­ty, pic­to­ri­al­i­ty, and iconic­i­ty con­tributed to carve out a his­tor­i­cal and crit­i­cal per­spec­tive on pow­er dynam­ics and ide­ol­o­gy.[4] The for­ma­tion of visu­al con­di­tions has espe­cial­ly been analysed through the cat­e­gories of visu­al regimes, “scop­ic regimes” (Metz; Jay, “Scop­ic Regimes”), and “visu­al orders” (Boehm, “Pic­to­r­i­al Ver­sus Icon­ic Turn”). These cat­e­gories aim to elu­ci­date the co-con­sti­tu­tion of visu­al facts, macro sociopo­lit­i­cal dynam­ics, and sub­jec­ti­va­tion process­es. They also con­tex­tu­al­ize these for­ma­tions in cul­tur­al set­tings, unveil­ing a cul­tur­al diver­si­ty of visu­al regimes. Enmeshed in the his­to­ry of moder­ni­ty, indus­tri­al­i­sa­tion, impe­ri­al­ism, and tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion, the his­tor­i­cal and cul­tur­al for­ma­tion of visu­al regimes con­tributed to shape con­tem­po­rary urban cultures.

1.2. Sight in the City

The con­tri­bu­tions in this issue address the dynam­ics of cul­tur­al city life from a per­spec­tive con­cerned with urban visu­al­i­ty. Their con­cep­tu­al frame­works are root­ed in var­i­ous per­spec­tives, described in this sec­tion along three main dimen­sions: cities as opti­cal envi­ron­ments, the visu­al con­di­tions of social inter­ac­tion, and the dynam­ics of glob­al pop­u­lar culture.

1.2.1 The Urban Space as Optical Environment: Perception and Modern Subjectivities

A first per­spec­tive explores the opti­cal fea­tures of urban envi­ron­ments in the his­tor­i­cal con­text of mod­erni­sa­tion and the trans­for­ma­tion of struc­tures of per­cep­tion. Present-day dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies with their pletho­ra of new instru­ments of vision—cameras, cell phones, online map­ping ser­vices, and vir­tu­al real­i­ty experiments—highlight the ocu­lar­ce­ntrism of mod­ern soci­eties, plac­ing “vision as the mas­ter sense of the mod­ern era” (Jay, “Scop­ic Regimes” 3) and adding yet anoth­er lay­er of com­plex­i­ty in the ocu­lar per­cep­tion of city life. The chang­ing con­di­tions in the visu­al expe­ri­ence of urban space are his­tor­i­cal­ly tied to the broad­er dynam­ics that shape the for­ma­tion of mod­ern epis­te­molo­gies and sub­jec­tiv­i­ties. Art his­to­ri­ans have exten­sive­ly doc­u­ment­ed these inter­laced dynam­ics, insist­ing that “his­tor­i­cal trans­for­ma­tions in ideas about vision were insep­a­ra­ble from a larg­er reshap­ing of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty that con­cerned not opti­cal expe­ri­ences but process­es of mod­ern­iza­tion and ratio­nal­iza­tion” (Crary, “Sus­pen­sion of Per­cep­tion” 3).

Since the ear­ly-mod­ern era, the pic­to­r­i­al rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the city has been a priv­i­leged field for exper­i­ment­ing with new mod­els of vision. Dur­ing the Ital­ian Renais­sance, urban land­scape paint­ing engaged with per­spec­tive through the opti­cal mech­a­nism of the cam­era obscu­ra, the­ma­tized by Leon Bat­tista Alberti’s metaphor of the win­dow on the world. Fol­low­ing Erwin Panof­sky, the lit­er­a­ture gen­er­al­ly describes a dom­i­nant Carte­sian mod­el of knowl­edge that posi­tions a tran­scen­den­tal, incor­po­re­al, and sov­er­eign sub­ject at the cen­ter of pic­to­r­i­al and sci­en­tif­ic modes of obser­va­tion. Accord­ing to Jonathan Crary, the ratio­nal mod­el of objec­tive vision was chal­lenged by inves­ti­ga­tions into the phys­i­o­log­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal con­di­tions of visu­al expe­ri­ence in the 19th cen­tu­ry, giv­ing rise to new phys­i­o­log­i­cal and epis­te­mo­log­i­cal mod­els based on “the cor­po­re­al sub­jec­tiv­i­ty of the observ­er” (“Tech­niques of the Observ­er” 4). Rather than imply­ing a his­tor­i­cal suc­ces­sion of uni­fied visu­al regimes, a nuanced analy­sis of this his­tor­i­cal process sup­pos­es the coex­is­tence of a plu­ral­i­ty of con­test­ed regimes (Jay, “Down­cast Eyes”; Brighenti).

As indus­tri­al­i­sa­tion and urban growth reshaped city life, visu­al per­cep­tion became entan­gled in new log­ics of cap­i­tal­ism, mass cul­ture, and sen­so­ry stim­u­la­tions. These trans­for­ma­tions inspired sev­er­al works in the Frank­furt School cir­cle, includ­ing analy­ses by Siegfried Kra­cauer and Wal­ter Ben­jamin of the sen­so­ry expe­ri­ence of the metrop­o­lis with its crowds, com­mod­i­ty dis­plays, and archi­tec­tur­al orna­ments.[5] The com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of urban expe­ri­ence and the con­di­tion of “the sub­ject-in-sight” (Fos­ter xiii) quick­ly evolved in the last decades of the 21st cen­tu­ry with the com­bined advance­ments of com­put­er sci­ence, neu­ro­sciences, and cog­ni­tive psy­chol­o­gy, lead­ing to ground-break­ing inno­va­tions in machine vision and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. The inter­weav­ing of urban and dig­i­tal envi­ron­ments sets new con­di­tions for see­ing and gov­ern­ing the city, redefin­ing the rela­tion­ship between visu­al obser­va­tion, knowl­edge, and gov­er­nance. For instance, the increas­ing use of facial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­o­gy in retail stores brings cus­tomer pro­fil­ing to new intru­sive lev­els. Dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies pro­vide mod­els of vision that reshuf­fle the lines of objec­tive and sub­jec­tive vision, sig­nif­i­cant­ly influ­enc­ing pow­er rela­tions, cul­tur­al visu­al prac­tices, and con­tem­po­rary sub­jec­tiv­i­ties in the urban space.

1.2.2 Visual Interaction, Urban Sociality, and Oversight

A sec­ond frame­work explores the role of visu­al inter­ac­tion in urban social­i­ty. It focus­es on the social char­ac­ter of the visu­al sense, not only as a modal­i­ty of indi­vid­ual and group inter­ac­tion but also in rela­tion to col­lec­tive affects—what Chris­t­ian Metz defines as “the desire to see (= scop­ic dri­ve, scopophil­ia, voyeurism)” (15)—as well as pow­er relations.

Social inter­ac­tion in every­day city life large­ly relies on the visu­al per­cep­tion of social belong­ing and cul­tur­al dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion. As sev­er­al con­trib­u­tors in this issue point out, cloth­ing, jew­el­ry, hair­styles, and tat­toos func­tion as visu­al signs that can indi­cate affil­i­a­tion to a social class, reli­gious group, or sub­cul­tur­al move­ment. They also project the vis­i­ble fea­tures of sym­bol­ic sta­tus, con­tribut­ing to social dis­tinc­tion and assert­ing hier­ar­chies between groups and indi­vid­u­als. Cul­tur­al dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion man­i­fests itself not only in the choice of wear­able vis­i­ble signs, but also in dif­fer­ent cul­tures of the gaze: David Fris­by and Mike Feath­er­stone note that “cul­tur­al vari­a­tions in modes of see­ing oth­ers, hear­ing oth­ers and smelling oth­ers have begun to receive more atten­tion in recent decades” (9).

At the indi­vid­ual lev­el, the gaze is a pow­er­ful modal­i­ty of inter­ac­tion that sets rela­tions of dis­tance and prox­im­i­ty. Georg Simmel’s ear­ly soci­ol­o­gy of the sense sug­gest­ed that eye con­tact and rec­i­p­ro­cal glances cre­ate moments of inti­ma­cy and mutu­al recog­ni­tion. In Erv­ing Goffman’s work, the visu­al dimen­sion of ordi­nary face-to-face inter­ac­tion oper­ates as an ele­ment of social stag­ing. He char­ac­terised the rel­a­tive posi­tion of actors and spec­ta­tors (wit­ness­es and bystanders on the street) through the fig­ures of insid­ers and out­siders. These social types can be fur­ther extend­ed to analyse the visu­al expe­ri­ences of tourists vs. locals (Urry), or steady onlook­ers (post­ed at ter­races, win­dows, bal­conies) vs. view­ers in motion (fla­neurs, car and bike riders).

Pow­er rela­tions between the view­er and the object of vision often shape visu­al inter­ac­tion in the city. The expe­ri­ence of gen­dered and racial­ized gazes exem­pli­fies the social strat­i­fi­ca­tion of visu­al expe­ri­ence in urban spaces. These expe­ri­ences reveal the dis­sym­me­try in prac­tices of gaz­ing between groups of dif­fer­ent class­es, gen­ders, and races. Fem­i­nist stud­ies and African Amer­i­can stud­ies have exposed the ways in which the gaze in street inter­ac­tions can instan­ti­ate prac­tices of dom­i­na­tion and sur­veil­lance. In this con­text, the right to look is not rec­i­p­ro­cal: on the one hand, the dom­i­nant gaze objec­ti­fies sub­or­di­nate bod­ies (female bod­ies in par­tic­u­lar), while on the oth­er hand, sub­or­di­nate groups are refrained from look­ing back. In her work on “black looks,” bell hooks showed that in seg­re­gat­ed Amer­i­ca black peo­ple could be vio­lent­ly pun­ished for observ­ing white peo­ple, pro­duc­ing “an over­whelm­ing long­ing to look, a rebel­lious desire, an oppo­si­tion­al gaze” (116).

Mil­i­tary, colo­nial, and dis­ci­pli­nary activ­i­ties more gen­er­al­ly pro­pelled the devel­op­ment of visu­al tech­niques, includ­ing the visu­al­i­sa­tion of bat­tle­fields (from paper maps to satel­lite pho­tog­ra­phy and drone video streams), the sur­veil­lance of slave ships (Browne) and colo­nial plan­ta­tions (Mir­zo­eff, “The Right to Look”), and the racist stop-and-frisk urban polic­ing method tar­get­ing vis­i­ble minori­ties in pub­lic spaces. Michel Foucault’s clas­si­cal mod­el of the panop­ti­con inspired many works on urban CCTV net­works, although it has been chal­lenged by a pletho­ra of new mod­els:[6] for exam­ple, the syn­op­tic gaze (the many watch the few; Math­iesen), post-panop­tic visu­al­i­ty (glob­al sur­veil­lance from mul­ti­ple loca­tions; Bog­a­rd), and the oligop­tic (par­tial and frag­men­tary view on the city con­struct­ed by Google Earth; Latour).

1.2.3 Urban Popular Culture, Mediatisation, and Global Flows

A final frame­work artic­u­lates urban visu­al­i­ty with the trans­for­ma­tions of pop­u­lar cul­ture, medi­ati­sa­tion, and cul­tur­al glob­al­i­sa­tion. It address­es the cen­tral posi­tion of cities in glob­al visu­al economies. Indeed cities (par­tic­u­lar­ly metrop­o­les) are priv­i­leged sites for the pro­duc­tion, dis­tri­b­u­tion, and con­sump­tion of cul­tur­al expe­ri­ences. Their icon­ic archi­tec­ture, mass events, and media pro­duc­tion facil­i­ties sup­ply an influ­en­tial imagery that shapes col­lec­tive imag­i­na­tions. Influ­enced by migra­tion and touris­tic flows, urban cul­tures are par­tic­u­lar­ly sat­u­rat­ed with cos­mopoli­tan val­ues and cul­tur­al hybridi­s­a­tion. They oper­ate as lab­o­ra­to­ries of exper­i­men­ta­tion in new forms of enter­tain­ment, artis­tic cre­ation, and lifestyle, influ­enced by glob­al trends and broad­cast­ed on world­wide net­works. Long­stand­ing rela­tion­ships between visu­al­i­ty and local iden­ti­ty are increas­ing­ly chal­lenged by the transna­tion­al process­es of deter­ri­to­ri­al­iza­tion and reter­ri­to­ri­al­iza­tion (Sassen). These process­es have had an impact on the struc­tures of feel­ings that define local­i­ty, what Arjun Appadu­rai has called “a phe­nom­e­no­log­i­cal prop­er­ty of social life … that is pro­duced by par­tic­u­lar forms of inten­tion­al activ­i­ty and that yields par­tic­u­lar sorts of mate­r­i­al effects” (182). Giv­en the accu­mu­la­tion of wealth and polit­i­cal pow­er in met­ro­pol­i­tan areas, along with ris­ing inequal­i­ties and spa­tial seg­re­ga­tion, sev­er­al con­tri­bu­tions in this issue read cities as the cra­dle of visu­al reper­toires of coun­ter­cul­tures (such as graf­fi­ti murals) and social contestation.

The visu­al­i­ty of pop­u­lar cul­ture oscil­lates between hyper­vis­i­bil­i­ty and infrav­is­i­bil­i­ty. Forms of urban spec­ta­cle mul­ti­plied under the influ­ence of indus­tri­al­i­sa­tion and tech­ni­cal inno­va­tion. Adding to the tra­di­tion­al activ­i­ties of cul­tur­al leisure and enter­tain­ment (the­atri­cal and musi­cal per­for­mances, cir­cus­es, fairs), the mech­a­ni­sa­tion of opti­cal sys­tems and process­es of tech­niques of image repro­duc­tion intro­duced a new vari­ety of immer­sive spec­ta­cles in the city. Dio­ra­mas, stere­o­scopes, and, lat­er, movie the­aters devel­oped through­out the 19th cen­tu­ry, where­as the advance­ment of indus­tri­al print­ing allowed for a wide dis­sem­i­na­tion of pho­tographs on post­cards, leaflets, posters, and mag­a­zines. This boom­ing image indus­try, bol­stered in the mid­dle of the 20th cen­tu­ry by the arrival of tele­vi­sion, gen­er­at­ed new doc­u­men­tary accounts and fic­tion­al nar­ra­tives of urban social life. In the post-indus­tri­al era of cre­ative economies (Graeme), when fash­ion, inter­ac­tive design, and video gam­ing gain an increas­ing influ­ence on visu­al cre­ation, cities reassert their cen­tral­i­ty as image-pro­duc­tion sites. Com­pet­ing with one anoth­er for tourism devel­op­ment, glob­al metrop­o­les invest on brand images pro­mot­ing fes­tive events, bustling nightlife, and fine dining.

This pletho­ra of urban spec­ta­cles, includ­ing screens and video map­ping, con­tribute to what French design schol­ar Alain Mons calls a “gen­er­alised aes­theti­ciza­tion” of urban space (19). What char­ac­teris­es this post­mod­ern aes­thet­ics, accord­ing to Chris­tine Buci-Glucksmann’s work in The Mad­ness of Vision (2013), is an ocu­lar mad­ness rem­i­nis­cent of baroque spec­ta­cle. This visu­al super­abun­dance is rein­forced by the syn­chro­nous medi­ati­sa­tion of urban expe­ri­ences on image-shar­ing plat­forms such as Face­book, Insta­gram, Snapchat, and Flickr. Yet if the omnipres­ence of spec­ta­cle in city streets and the over­abun­dance of medi­a­tised images is a key fea­ture of urban visu­al­i­ty, a whole set of cul­tur­al prac­tices belong to the infrav­is­i­ble realm. Out of sight, away from the cen­tral sites of pub­lic vis­i­bil­i­ty, alter­na­tive or under­rep­re­sent­ed cul­tures also con­tribute to the social fab­ric and visu­al cre­ativ­i­ty of urban life. Among these are cul­tur­al minori­ties who find in pri­vate house par­ties a col­lec­tive space to express the cul­tur­al diver­si­ty that many per­for­mance venues and music clubs are lack­ing. One can also think of gay scenes that moral repro­ba­tion long ago pushed under­ground. Oth­er cas­es con­cern rave cul­tures that keep par­ties loca­tions secret until the last minute to delay police raids, or artis­tic and polit­i­cal move­ments seek­ing exclu­sive spaces of gath­er­ing, vol­un­tar­i­ly restrain­ing the vis­i­bil­i­ty of their activ­i­ties and lim­it­ing access to these spaces to a small net­work of ini­ti­at­ed per­sons. The con­tri­bu­tions in this issue engage with these com­plex dynam­ics by inves­ti­gat­ing how the notion of scene can encap­su­late the visu­al­i­ty and (in)visibility of social worlds and urban cul­tur­al phenomena.

 2. Scenes and the Visuality of Social Worlds
2.1 Scene as Theatre of Sociability

Through­out its his­to­ry, the term scene has mean­dered in loose fash­ion across seman­tic and con­cep­tu­al fields. The term’s mobil­i­ty is helped by its flex­i­bil­i­ty in Eng­lish and Latin lan­guages, where it may des­ig­nate both the fix­i­ty of a bor­dered space of vision (as in attempts by police to “secure a crime scene”) and the flux of urban life (as in ref­er­ences to Mex­i­co City’s “thriv­ing art scene”[7]). While the dif­fer­ent equiv­a­lents for scene in non-Eng­lish Latin lan­guages (such as the French scène, the Span­ish esce­na and the Por­tuguese cena) share a clus­ter of asso­ci­a­tions, the term may also lose par­tic­u­lar mean­ings as it moves across lin­guis­tic bound­aries. For exam­ple, the French use of scène to des­ig­nate a the­atri­cal stage has dropped away from the Eng­lish mean­ings of the term. Nonethe­less, in both lan­guages, the term may des­ig­nate a bound­ed sequence of actions in nar­ra­tive or the­atri­cal forms such as the nov­el or play (as in ref­er­ences to a “final scene”).

In the his­to­ry of Eng­lish lan­guage usages of scene, we find a divid­ed his­to­ry. Along one tra­jec­to­ry of usage, scene main­tains its the­atri­cal roots. From the 17th cen­tu­ry onward, the Oxford Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary notes, scene is used to describe var­i­ous kinds of social appear­ance, as when peo­ple speak of authors or politi­cians enter­ing the scene, or of their roman­tic or pro­fes­sion­al lives being changed by the entrance of a rival onto the scene. Part of this his­to­ry involves see­ing the spaces of every­day social life in dra­mat­ic terms, as stages on which var­i­ous phe­nom­e­na (typ­i­cal­ly peo­ple) become vis­i­ble. A the­atri­cal sense of scene also per­sists in ref­er­ence to some­one “mak­ing a scene”—that is, express­ing them­selves in an exces­sive­ly per­for­ma­tive fashion.

A the­atri­cal geneal­o­gy of scene winds its way through key works of Eng­lish-lan­guage social the­o­ry and, in par­tic­u­lar, the works of Erv­ing Goff­man and Ken­neth Burke. Burke’s work is a cen­tral focus of Steven Schoen’s essay in this issue. Goffman’s use of scene usu­al­ly fol­lows con­ven­tion­al uses of the term; he is inter­est­ed in those moments in which upset peo­ple “make a scene” in moments of infrac­tion,[8]  as well as in scenes as sim­ple units of action with­in films. How­ev­er, one also finds, scat­tered through­out his work, a more dis­tinc­tive sense of scene as an arrange­ment of ele­ments (peo­ple, actions, things, places) in which a cer­tain social or moral con­di­tion is expressed: in Inter­ac­tion Rit­u­als, for exam­ple, Goff­man refers to a “judg­men­tal scene” (21), a “scene of mutu­al con­sid­er­ate­ness” (24), “scenes of action” (192), a “scene of fate­ful­ness” (200), and so on. If scene is not the key term in Goffman’s dra­matur­gy of social behav­iour, he will nev­er­the­less invoke it with some reg­u­lar­i­ty as a way of grant­i­ng coher­ent pur­pose to moments of social interaction.

What ties togeth­er the var­i­ous the­atri­cal sens­es of scene is the notion of social life enter­ing and occu­py­ing a space of pub­lic vis­i­bil­i­ty. When prac­tices of consumption—such as eat­ing in restau­rants or lis­ten­ing to live music—participate in the broad­er spec­ta­cle of urban effer­ves­cence, we may say that they are con­tribut­ing to a sense of scene. That scene is not sim­ply visu­al, of course; in par­tic­u­lar, it is marked by the aur­al buzz of con­ver­sa­tion and the hap­tic bus­tle of min­gling bod­ies. Nev­er­the­less, fol­low­ing Alan Blum (“Scenes”), we might say that scenes enact the trans­for­ma­tion of social inti­ma­cy into pub­lic spec­ta­cle, some­thing to be observed, and that this trans­for­ma­tion is a key oper­a­tion of urban­i­ty. A sense of scene takes shape when innu­mer­able acts of socia­ble inter­ac­tion res­onate with each oth­er to endow a par­tic­u­lar space (a block, a street, a neigh­bour­hood) with a sur­plus of affec­tive ener­gies. In the ver­sions of scene described here, indi­vid­ual cul­tur­al objects (such as styles of food or gen­res of music) are lit­tle more than pre­texts for the the­atre of socia­bil­i­ty from which a scene derives its energies.

2.2 Scene as Social Formation

In the sec­ond sense of scene to be dis­cussed here, links to the the­atri­cal roots of the term fade. The term scene becomes one more term in a social mor­phol­o­gy, a way of nam­ing par­tic­u­lar units or orga­ni­za­tion­al forms of social life. A scene, in this oth­er sense, is the aggre­gate of places, peo­ple, things, and actions that sus­tain the life of par­tic­u­lar social phe­nom­e­na. These social phe­nom­e­na (such as musi­cal gen­res or recre­ation­al activ­i­ties) become the very core of a scene, the foci of atten­tion and devo­tion around which scenes assem­ble them­selves and by which they are named and iden­ti­fied (as in ref­er­ences to “a Vicks­burg, Mis­sis­sip­pi chess scene,”[9] or “glob­al black met­al music scenes”). The key ques­tions are no longer those of how cer­tain phe­nom­e­na enter the space of col­lec­tive vision, but of the ways in which a het­ero­ge­neous set of ele­ments (peo­ple, sites, objects, styles, etc.) coheres around par­tic­u­lar cul­tur­al “objects” (styles, prac­tices, gen­res, etc.).

This sense of scene, as an assem­blage of ele­ments around a par­tic­u­lar set of objects or prac­tices, has become promi­nent in recent years in aca­d­e­m­ic stud­ies of musi­cal cul­ture.[10]  Jour­nal­ists and schol­ars had recourse to the notion of scene when oth­er labels for cul­tur­al unities—such as sub­cul­ture, com­mu­ni­ty, or world—came to be seen as pre­sum­ing over­ly rigid bound­aries or essen­tial­iz­ing ver­sions of group iden­ti­ty.[11] The point of this turn to scene is not to dis­solve the stur­dy struc­tur­al dimen­sions of these oth­er terms with­in a loose sense of indef­i­nite social flux, but rather to find ways of think­ing about the orga­ni­za­tion of cul­tur­al worlds that acknowl­edge their loose­ness and the vari­ety of involve­ments they permit.

We have sug­gest­ed that the con­cept of scene serves to des­ig­nate two sorts of cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­na. In one usage, scene cap­tures the spec­ta­cle of urban socia­bil­i­ty that is pro­duced (or expressed) as an effer­ves­cence or excess with­in the rit­u­als of urban life. In anoth­er, scene is a net­work of phe­nom­e­na ground­ing and struc­tur­ing the social life of cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­na. For the pur­pos­es of illus­tra­tion, we might look at anoth­er term cur­rent­ly ascen­dant in cul­tur­al analy­sis, in which the the­atri­cal and orga­ni­za­tion­al dimen­sions of scene are inter­wo­ven: this term is “atmos­phere.”

2.3 Scene as Atmosphere: Affective Resonance and Units of Containment

In Ben Anderson’s intrigu­ing devel­op­ment of the con­cept, an “atmos­phere” is that state that results when var­i­ous affec­tive inten­si­ties inter­act with­in a “space of res­o­nance.” The qual­i­ty of pos­sess­ing a par­tic­u­lar atmos­phere has, of course, long been one of the attrib­ut­es of those con­texts of live­ly socia­bil­i­ty named in our first def­i­n­i­tion of scene. How­ev­er, as he moves to reflect more specif­i­cal­ly on the con­cept of “sphere,” Ander­son pro­vides addi­tion­al tools to think about the sec­ond def­i­n­i­tion of scene, the arrange­ment of ele­ments around a par­tic­u­lar cul­tur­al “object” (such as a style of music):

Atmos­pheres have, then, a char­ac­ter­is­tic spa­tial form—diffusion with­in a sphere. Return­ing to Deleuze and Guat­tari, we can say that atmos­pheres are gen­er­at­ed by bodies—of mul­ti­ple types—affecting one anoth­er as some form of “envel­op­ment” is pro­duced. Atmos­pheres do not float free from the bod­ies that come togeth­er and apart to com­pose sit­u­a­tions. Affec­tive qual­i­ties emanate from the assem­bling of the human bod­ies, dis­cur­sive bod­ies, non-human bod­ies, and all the oth­er bod­ies that make up every­day sit­u­a­tions. (80)

If atmos­phere cap­tures the sense of effer­ves­cence at the core of the first, the­atri­cal sense of scene, the more restrict­ed notion of sphere leads us to a sec­ond way in which we might think about scenes: as con­tain­ers. To con­ceive of a scene as con­tain­er is to think of it as some­thing that holds with­in its bound­aries all the phe­nom­e­na that struc­ture the life of cer­tain cul­tur­al styles or prac­tices. The idea of atmos­phere offers one way to rec­on­cile dif­fer­ent notions of scene, as both a site of affec­tive res­o­nance, gen­er­at­ing a sur­plus of social inten­si­ties, and as a unit of con­tain­ment, an orga­ni­za­tion­al form that holds togeth­er the con­stituent parts of a cul­tur­al practice.

In fic­tion­al texts, both lit­er­ary and cin­e­mat­ic, a scene may des­ig­nate any unit of action that is rel­a­tive­ly con­tained: we speak of the show­er scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psy­cho or the bal­cony scene in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juli­et. In lit­er­ary stud­ies, the notion of scene has been devel­oped in ways that retain this func­tion of des­ig­nat­ing a tex­tu­al unit while open­ing up onto the ways in which lit­er­ary texts may enact the dis­play of socia­bil­i­ty. Renée de Smirnoff, in an analy­sis of visu­al­i­ty in the fic­tion of the French writer Hon­oré de Balzac, notes how a log­ic of sequence and nar­ra­tive will be inter­rupt­ed in cer­tain Balza­cian texts at those moments in which they set, before the read­er, the descrip­tion of a social tableau. These tableaux are scenes in the sense of open­ing up a place of rep­re­sen­ta­tion in which we are pre­sent­ed with the spec­ta­cle of social rela­tions arranged with­in a bound­ed space, as if for the reader’s obser­va­tion (de Smirnoff 232). Sequences fea­tur­ing ban­quets or par­ties describe peo­ple, décor, and a vari­ety of objects in their simul­ta­ne­ous vis­i­bil­i­ty. In the midst of nar­ra­tive, then, a scene takes shape as a tableau of rela­tion­ships dis­trib­uted with­in space. These tableaux main­tain the afore­men­tioned sense of scene as con­tain­er in the ways that their tex­tu­al lim­its lim­it the dis­play of such rela­tion­ships and their con­sti­tu­tive parts.

Scenes of social worlds may strive to doc­u­ment and dis­play a reper­to­ry of well-estab­lished social types in the panoram­ic form of the extend­ed sequence. Alain Badiou has writ­ten of the typolo­gie pop­u­laire that, in French cin­e­ma of the 1930s and 1940s, filled crowd scenes with social types who stood for the dis­ap­pear­ing social vari­ety of an ear­li­er age. These scenes ful­fill the func­tion of social map­ping, visu­al­iz­ing the social as a pop­u­la­tion of socio-his­tor­i­cal types arranged with­in the space of the cin­e­mat­ic frame. At the same time, such scenes typ­i­cal­ly pos­sess an excess of col­lec­tive ener­gies and descrip­tive details that goes beyond their strict­ly soci­o­log­i­cal function—indeed, the plea­sure of an exu­ber­ant excess is one of the delights of this cin­e­mat­ic genre. Antho­ny Slide notes that a 19th-cen­tu­ry term for the the­atri­cal extra was “super­nu­mer­ary,” a term that con­not­ed a sur­plus of peo­ple extend­ing beyond the dra­mat­ic func­tion of any sin­gle one. The social scenes found with­in lit­er­ary or cin­e­mat­ic texts thus work in sev­er­al ways: inven­to­r­i­al, in the ways they move across vari­eties of social iden­ti­ty; atmos­pher­ic, in the ener­gies pro­duced through the res­o­nance of bod­ies and things; and visu­al­ly spec­tac­u­lar in pro­duc­ing inter­vals in the flow of nar­ra­tive so as to offer their own abun­dance for observation.

2.4 Scene as Figure of Knowledge

The recourse to scene as a dis­tinc­tive fig­ure of know­ing is promi­nent in the work of sev­er­al French the­o­rists and philoso­phers. In her biog­ra­phy of Roland Barthes, Tiphaine Samoy­ault notes the extent to which the man’s life and career may be seen as the pas­sage through a sequence of promi­nent Parisian scenes, from the the­atri­cal cir­cles of Barthes’ young adult­hood through the lit­er­ary-polit­i­cal avant-gardes of the 1960s. At the same time, Samoy­ault sug­gests, scene became a key term for Barthes in his efforts to give form to par­tic­u­lar uni­ties of cul­tur­al strug­gle. Samoy­ault traces the move­ment of Barthes’ notion of scene away from its ori­gins in the­atre (a cen­tral focus of his ear­ly work) to its use in nam­ing the var­i­ous bat­tle­grounds in the “wars of lan­guages” (guerre des lan­gages) with which his lat­er work was pre­oc­cu­pied. A scene, here, names both a par­tic­u­lar rela­tion­ship of forces and the con­crete sit­u­a­tions in which the con­flict between them is made manifest.

The ‘scene’ has always haunt­ed Fou­cault,” wrote Gilles Deleuze (79). Indeed, the writ­ings of both Michel Fou­cault and Jacques Ran­cière are marked by the use of scenes in the con­ven­tion­al sense of descrip­tive tableaux employed in the illus­tra­tion of ideas. One need only think of the spec­ta­cle of vio­lence that opens Foucault’s Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish.  Rancière’s most explic­it def­i­n­i­tion of scene is offered in the intro­duc­tion to Ais­the­sis:

The scene is not the illus­tra­tion of an idea. It is a lit­tle opti­cal machine that shows us thought busy weav­ing togeth­er per­cep­tions, affects, names and ideas, con­sti­tut­ing the sen­si­ble com­mu­ni­ty that these links cre­ate, and the intel­lec­tu­al com­mu­ni­ty that makes such weav­ing think­able. The scene cap­tures con­cepts at work, in their rela­tion to the new objects they seek to appro­pri­ate, old objects that they try to recon­sid­er, and the pat­terns they build or trans­form to this end. (xi)

As an optic machine, Rancière’s scene joins the broad­er his­to­ry of visu­al­i­ty con­sid­ered here. The theorist’s scene—one that weaves togeth­er social forces to heuris­tic ends—is dif­fer­ent in kind from the loose­ly bound­ed music or food scenes encoun­tered amidst the flux of con­tem­po­rary urban life. The visu­al­i­ty of both sorts of scene, though, is shaped by the ways in which they are simul­ta­ne­ous­ly inte­gra­tive and dis­trib­u­tive. Scenes gath­er togeth­er social forces and actors of mul­ti­ple kinds and then offer an image of their inter­wo­ven prox­im­i­ty. At the same time, scenes dis­trib­ute these forces and actors across par­tic­u­lar arrange­ments that inter­mit­tent­ly assume the visu­al form of the tableau.

In this sec­tion, we have traced four promi­nent ways in which the notion of scene has been con­ceived. We may group these in two pairs. In one pair­ing we find an expe­ri­en­tial under­stand­ing of scene, as social action that con­geals as the­atri­cal spec­ta­cle, or as an atmos­phere in which inten­si­ties of var­i­ous sorts res­onate. The visu­al­i­ty of scenes con­sid­ered in this way is often tak­en to obscure the social log­ics that struc­ture and ground them. In the oth­er pair­ing, the scene is a form of order­ing, gath­er­ing actors, forces, and mate­ri­als around a par­tic­u­lar cul­tur­al object (a musi­cal style or cul­tur­al prac­tice, for exam­ple), or arrang­ing these ele­ments through the oper­a­tions of an “opti­cal machine” that serves in the pro­duc­tion of knowl­edge. In these con­cep­tions, scenes become intel­li­gi­ble through their order­ing in the realm of the visual.

3. Authors’ Contributions

The authors rep­re­sent­ed in this issue work, for the most part, in dif­fer­ent ver­sions of media or cul­tur­al stud­ies (Case­ma­jor, Straw, Rouleau, Reia, Hal­l­i­day, Sol­dani, Rochow, Schoen). We are pleased also to have con­tri­bu­tions from spe­cial­ists in geog­ra­phy (Gwiazdzin­s­ki), art his­to­ry (Yuen), phi­los­o­phy (Sil­va), and the visu­al arts (Rad­wan­s­ki). This range con­firms the extent to which the ques­tion of visu­al­i­ty runs through a vari­ety of recent attempts to under­stand the aes­thet­ic, social, and polit­i­cal scenes of con­tem­po­rary urban life.

Luc Gwiazdzinski’s evoca­tive essay on the Nuit debout move­ment in France sets the images of that move­ment in con­trast to what he calls the stan­dard visu­al­i­ties of polit­i­cal cri­sis: those of a pres­i­dent address­ing the nation on tele­vi­sion or a well-orga­nized polit­i­cal march. In terms that might be applied to a vari­ety of scenes—those of polit­i­cal move­ments, to be sure, but to music and oth­er cul­tur­al scenes as well—Gwiazdzinski cap­tures the ways in which the very form of Nuit debout is “mul­ti­scalar and frac­tal,” assum­ing dimen­sions and geo­met­ri­cal forms appro­pri­ate to the local­i­ties in which it has emerged and to the larg­er spa­tial uni­ties of which such local­i­ties are a part.

Jonathan Rouleau’s essay on Barcelona, like Gwiazdzinski’s, exam­ines the prac­tices of the urban night, offer­ing its own under­stand­ing of the forms and rela­tion­ships through which cities pro­duce scenes as ter­rains of vis­i­bil­i­ty. Indeed, Rouleau deploys Gwiazdzinski’s notion of night­time arch­i­pel­a­gos to give form to the com­pressed ter­rains of night­time socia­bil­i­ty that have focused polit­i­cal oppo­si­tion to Barcelona’s recent trans­for­ma­tion into a tourist play­ground. The visu­al­i­ty of Barcelona’s night­time scenes is marked by a shift­ing set of rela­tion­ships between fore­ground and back­ground, between the spec­ta­cles of revelry—typically involv­ing out­siders, that emerge to focus atten­tion, chal­lenge local val­ues, and gen­er­ate judgement—and the rou­tine labours of a local pop­u­la­tion ded­i­cat­ed to con­tin­u­al­ly pro­duc­ing the infra­struc­tures with­in which these spec­ta­cles unfold.

In Maria Tere­sa Soldani’s detailed study of Richard Linklater’s 1991 film Slack­er, the notion of scene works at sev­er­al lev­els of iso­mor­phic and inter­wo­ven vis­i­bil­i­ties. The much-her­ald­ed music scene of Austin Texas cir­ca 1990 was, in a sense, the sim­ple loca­tion of musi­cal and oth­er cul­tur­al prac­tices, but it also served—through Linklater’s film and a broad net­work of oth­er discourses—as a synec­doche for both a nation­al cul­ture of alter­na­tive music and the broad­er gen­er­a­tional phe­nom­e­na (“Gen­er­a­tion X”) through which this cul­ture was under­stood. We see here, as in Gwiazdzinski’s account of Nuit debout, the mul­ti-scalar prop­er­ties of scenes, their capac­i­ty to repli­cate them­selves in patch­works extend­ing across space and to cohere as social or polit­i­cal phe­nom­e­na at dif­fer­ent lev­els of gen­er­al­i­ty. At the low­est lev­el of Soldani’s analy­sis, we see the Austin scene as a set of ground-lev­el ges­tur­al economies unfold­ing with­in what she calls a “space of flux and encounter” marked by the slow, inde­ter­mi­nate move­ments of peo­ple across urban space. At the high­est lev­el, we see a gen­er­a­tion enact, through its per­for­mance of “slack­ness,” its dis­en­gage­ment from polit­i­cal sys­tems viewed as alien­at­ing. As Sol­dani sug­gests, with respect to Slack­er, “[t]he drift of the film’s cam­era through the spaces of the scenes reveals the var­ied human­i­ty of a new gen­er­a­tional phenomenon.”

In Rebec­ca Halliday’s arti­cle on the place of pho­tog­ra­phy with­in a Fash­ion Week cir­cuit involv­ing sev­er­al West­ern cities, the visu­al dimen­sions of scenes work again at sev­er­al lev­els. The visu­al field, in her analy­sis, may be seen as one of ongo­ing trans­ac­tions, as visu­al motifs and frames are trans­formed in the back-and-forth between the urban street and the fash­ion run­way. Here the visu­al field of fash­ion pho­tog­ra­phy may appear as a zone of uni­di­rec­tion­al expro­pri­a­tion, with the ongo­ing absorp­tion of infor­mal street style into the com­mer­cial forms and insti­tu­tions of fash­ion pho­tog­ra­phy. Yet, as Hal­l­i­day shows, cities seek rep­re­sen­ta­tions of them­selves that estab­lish fash­ion tastemak­ers with­in their own streets so as to pro­duce the signs of cos­mopoli­tan fash­ion­abil­i­ty by which they may mar­ket them­selves as places of style and trendi­ness. Street and fash­ion run­ways are both scenes in an ongo­ing rela­tion­ship where authen­tic­i­ty and pres­tige are trad­ed back and forth.

Jhes­si­ca Reia’s text on the straight edge music scene in São Paulo, Brazil invites a view of scenes as con­tain­ers, enti­ties that hold, with­in their bound­aries, all the phe­nom­e­na that struc­ture the life of cer­tain cul­tur­al styles or prac­tices: places, media forms, rit­u­als, visu­al styles, and ide­o­log­i­cal posi­tions. If music, with­in this struc­ture, pro­vides a rel­a­tive­ly coher­ent, shared domain of expres­sion, then the visu­al assists in divid­ing straight edge cul­ture into its var­i­ous sup­ple­men­tary objects and adorn­ments. Food, design, sig­nage, sub­cul­tur­al mer­chan­dise, and the built envi­ron­ment are among what might be called the dis­trib­uted fea­tures of the São Paulo scene—the par­tial objects, func­tion­ing for the most part with­in the realm of the visu­al, through which the scene acquires infra­struc­tur­al solidity.

In their com­par­i­son of the life of musi­cians in Copen­hagen, Den­mark and Welling­ton, New Zealand, Kate Rochow and Geoff Stahl pro­pose was they call a pho­to­graph­ic and car­to­graph­ic analy­sis rather than the ethno­graph­ic approach com­mon in analy­ses of music scenes. Map­ping the itin­er­aries of musi­cians and invit­ing them to draw “men­tal maps” of the spaces they inhab­it and tra­verse, Rochow and Stahl show the con­tours and exten­sions of a scene, its anchor­ing in prac­tices of move­ment and imag­i­na­tion. Build­ing on ethno­graph­ic work on “musi­cal path­ways” through cities, they extend the notion of path­ways in two ways: first, by con­sid­er­ing the move­ment of objects and oth­er mate­ri­al­i­ties (and not mere­ly peo­ple); and sec­ond, by see­ing a path­way as not as a line but rather a com­plex of over­lap­ping rhythms. The visu­al, in this analy­sis, lies in the activ­i­ty of map-map­ping through which they cap­ture “man­i­fold spa­tial expressions.”

One of the orig­i­nal fea­tures of Steven Schoen’s arti­cle is the way in which it brings the work of Ken­neth Burke into what might be called “scene stud­ies.” In Burke’s analy­sis, scene is “a blan­ket term for the con­cept of back­ground or set­ting in gen­er­al, a name for any sit­u­a­tion in which acts or agents are placed” (Burke, “Gram­mar of Motives” xvi, orig­i­nal empha­sis).  Fol­low­ing Burke, Schoen argues, scene is not mere­ly a qual­i­ty of citylife to iden­ti­fy or rec­og­nize; we ren­der some­thing a scene in an act of look­ing that ren­ders it mean­ing­ful. His analy­sis of the real­i­ty tele­vi­sion pro­gram Taxi­cab Con­fes­sions, New York pro­duces a sense of scenic the­atre at three dimen­sions: in the taxi cab itself, in which rid­ers are filmed with sup­pos­ed­ly hid­den cam­eras; at the lev­el of the larg­er city, which Schoen calls a “scene of exper­i­men­ta­tion, excess and trans­gres­sion,” and in the con­ven­tions of the real­i­ty tele­vi­sion show, which pro­duce scenes in which peo­ple are con­sid­ered both ordi­nary and, in a vari­ety of ways, grotesque.

The scene described in Kather­ine Yuen’s arti­cle on Toronto’s Nuit Blanche is most­ly visu­al, with artis­tic works impli­cat­ed with­in urban spaces whose accu­mu­lat­ed mean­ings these works com­ment upon, sup­ple­ment, or enhance. The art­works of Nuit Blanche take their place, for one night, with­in net­works of works and spaces, as points in what she calls the “cross-dis­ci­pli­nary net­work of con­tem­po­rary art move­ments.” Judge­ments of Nuit Blanche often com­ment on two sorts of rela­tion­ships: those of the works to the spaces in which they are installed, and those of Nuit Blanche scene-mak­ers to the artis­tic char­ac­ter of the event. The dis­con­nect of cer­tain works to the con­texts of their dis­play is one basis for ongo­ing crit­i­cism that Nuit Blanche is los­ing its orig­i­nal pur­pose to engage with the com­mu­ni­ty. The sense that the crowds wan­der­ing through Nuit Blanche see their own pub­lic socia­bil­i­ty as the key fea­ture of the event is anoth­er point of con­tention. Even as the key terms for describ­ing and judg­ing Nuit Blanche bor­row from dis­cus­sions of the visu­al, Yuen notes a counter-dis­course that address­es sound and speech. In its ear­ly days, crit­ics claim, works spoke to the place of their exhi­bi­tion in a crit­i­cal dia­logue. Now, such dia­logue has been lost in the buzz of crowds who see Nuit Blanche as just anoth­er occa­sion for wan­der­ing along city streets in a fes­tive fashion.

Arman­da Silva’s work on urban visu­al­i­ty grows from a mul­ti­year project on urban imag­i­nar­ies involv­ing key cities of Latin Amer­i­ca and col­lab­o­ra­tors from sev­er­al dis­ci­plines. Rang­ing across sev­er­al books devot­ed to indi­vid­ual cities and a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to the art fes­ti­val Doc­u­men­ta 11, the Urban Imag­i­nar­ies exam­ines images with­in con­tem­po­rary urban cul­ture. The imag­i­nary, Sil­va sug­gests, shows itself through the erup­tion into a social set­ting of images that cause aston­ish­ment. Scene, in this work, is less a cat­e­go­ry of col­lec­tive being (as when we speak of “music scenes”) but arrives through the pro­duc­tion of an image as a “phan­tas­mat­ic illu­sion” through which peo­ple par­tic­i­pate in city life.

We are very pleased to include as the visu­al dossier in this issue a selec­tion of images by the Brazil­ian pho­tog­ra­ph­er Livia Rad­wan­s­ki that doc­u­ment the transna­tion­al music scene known as Sonidero. Radwanski’s engage­ment with the Sonidero scene has extend­ed over sev­er­al years, in inter­dis­ci­pli­nary col­lab­o­ra­tions with schol­ars and artists and through a num­ber of exhi­bi­tions and pub­li­ca­tions. In the inter­view accom­pa­ny­ing her visu­al dossier, she draws atten­tion to the rich mate­r­i­al cul­ture in which Sonidero is embedded—the inter­sect­ing tech­nolo­gies, mul­ti­ple com­mod­i­ty forms, and visu­al accou­trements that ren­der the visu­al field of Sonidero high­ly com­plex. As the musi­cal forms of Sonidero cir­cu­late quick­ly and infor­mal­ly through mul­ti­ple path­ways of cir­cu­la­tion, the objects and images of the move­ment also accu­mu­late to pro­duce clus­ters of visuality.

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[1] See, for exam­ple, Hans Belt­ing on cor­po­re­al­i­ty and visu­al anthropology.

[2] For an anthol­o­gy of visu­al research meth­ods, see Eric Mar­go­lis and Luc Pauwels.

[3] Andre Mubi Brighen­ti prefers to inves­ti­gate the notion of vis­i­bil­i­ty, argu­ing that visu­al­i­ty is a nar­row cul­tur­al­ist “coun­ter­part of the sense of sight” (3). Dis­tanc­ing him­self from the field of cul­tur­al stud­ies, he adopts a social-epis­te­mo­log­i­cal approach that focus­es on the notion of vis­i­bil­i­ty “as a form of ‘visu­al­i­ty at large,’ mak­ing it clear that the vis­i­ble entails more than the visu­al, more than the sen­so­ri­al­ly per­cep­ti­ble” (3).

[4] See for exam­ple W.J.T. Mitchell on “visu­al order” (in Boehm and Mitchell, "Pic­to­r­i­al Ver­sus Icon­ic”) and Dominik Bart­man­s­ki and Jef­frey Alexan­der on “icon­ic power.”

[5] See also Susan Buck-Morss for a dis­cus­sion of Benjamin’s Arcades Project and Hen­rik Reeh for an analy­sis of Kra­cauer and mod­ern urban culture.

[6] For a crit­i­cal dis­cus­sion of these mod­els, see David Lyon.

[7] See “Why art lovers are flock­ing to Mex­i­co City,” The Tele­graph, 27 Octo­ber 2016 http://​www​.tele​graph​.co​.uk/​t​r​a​v​e​l​/​d​e​s​t​i​n​a​t​i​o​n​s​/​c​e​n​t​r​a​l​-​a​m​e​r​i​c​a​/​m​e​x​i​c​o​/​a​r​t​i​c​l​e​s​/​m​e​x​i​c​o​-​c​i​t​y​-​c​u​l​t​u​r​e​-​g​u​i​de/ Accessed Jan­u­ary 3 2016.

[8] See Alan Blum (“Scenes”) for a discussion.

[9] See “John­ny Guinn is king of Vicks­burg chess scene,” The Vicks­burg Post, 10 Decem­ber 1966, http://m.vicksburgpost.com/2016/12/10/johnny-guinn-is-king-of-vicksburg-chess-scene/ Accessed 20 Jan­u­ary 2017.

[10] See, for exam­ple, the var­i­ous stud­ies col­lect­ed in Ben­nett and Peterson.

[11] See Shele­may for a use­ful dis­cus­sion of these con­cep­tu­al and ter­mi­no­log­i­cal issues.

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