‘Street phenomenology:’ sensing street spots for skating, sleeping, selling, and spraying

13:30, Sunday 9 May 2021 (30 minutes)

Brian Glenney and Paul O’Connor, Norwich University, USA and Exeter University, UK

The body and its tools are stitched into the world as a ‘something in-order-to’ (Heidegger 1927, 31). Our paper investigates a “street” variety of tool phenomenology: the skater’s board, the vandal’s aerosol, the drug dealer’s bag, or the homeless person’s tent, tools regarded with the intentionality of the practitioner working as material heuristics to meaningfully engage with an austere urbanism, to skillfully comport themselves ‘in and through their surroundings’ (Ingold 2011, 11). Our study concludes that street tools endow bodies with a unique urban perceptual skill, finding “street spots,” spatiotemporal areas for urban embodiment, a when/where to skate, to vandalize, to sell drugs, or to sleep. E.g. the vandal finds spots that maximize visibility for their mark and minimize their being seen doing it; a drug dealer’s corner or the skater’s handrail must be both visible to their clientele yet invisible to their would-be captors. Indeed, the “street spot” becomes a totality of tensions and potentials; a display for experts able to actualize street embodiment. ‘Street phenomenology’ views these practitioners as urban shamans, likened to agrarian Nuer herdsmen or Trobriand islanders departing for a Kula exchange, both understanding their tools as interactive objects to meaningfully engage with their worlds.

Norwich University