City A-Z by Steve Pile and Nigel Thrift (ed.)

By Steve Pile and Nigel Thrift (ed.)

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For children, the unexpected return to the bestiality of family pets heralds other horrors. Our wannabe modern culture promises that childhood will be a period of protected innocence, carefully nurtured in the embrace of a domesticated family. This is a domestication that relies on the myth of home, a bounded space within which the unfriendly rivalries of the public sphere do not intrude. Instead, physical proximity breeds affection and its attendant comforts. Household pets are part of this process - perhaps its most exemplary case.

Boundaries are manifestations, not just origins. The physical boundary seen this way emerges as the outcome of a need and desire for social control, as the pervasive extension of power across the city. Every picket fence, every mirror-glass clip-on fenestration system, every ornate door handle, every 'No Entry' sign is disclosed as social not natural, political not innate, prescriptiveproscriptive not neutral. There is more. Boundaries do more than control frontally; particularly in the postmodern city with its simultaneous increasing paranoia and contradictory desire for a (false) democratic and popular urban space, new kinds of boundaries have begun to emerge which seem open, seem friendly, seem attractive, yet which also seek to control access and bodily movement.

They have become a residual feature of public life in the western city, however. Close encounters with people of a different racial identity or of a different class in the spaces of a collective transport system can be avoided by all but the poorest, children and the elderly. The protective capsule of the car keeps others at a distance. There is no danger of touch or of verbal abuse or of a brief exchange about the weather. The black hospital cleaner waiting for the bus in the inner city shelter may remain invisible to the white car-borne commuter.

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