Barricades and boulevards: material transformations of Paris, 1795-1871

Douglas, C
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Large-scale urban violence is a tumultuous, messy, and distressing affair. The materials and patterns of everyday life are disrupted. Amongst death and disarray, however, it would be easy to overlook some of the important spatial operations that take place in urban conflict. This paper examines the construction of street barricades in Paris between 1795 and 1871 as a transformation of the city. This transformation is described as an instance of what Rancière calls the 'redistribution of the sensible'. According to Ranciere's argument the materials and spaces of the city do not simply bear the imprint of politics. The city is not a neutral surface which is inflected politically by means of certain loaded marks. Instead, the very perception of there being a city - what a city is, how it is assembled, who inhabits it - is the result of "a distribution of spaces, times, and forms of activity." [The Politics of Aesthetics, 12] The subject of Haussmann's Paris was the middle-class individual. The sensible structures of the city priveleged those who shopped in the arcades, visited l'Opéra and had leisure to stroll the boulevards.The existence of mobs or crowds was an affront to this priveleged individuality. The collective is unthinkable in Haussmann’s city. The sensible elements of Paris, including the materials of the city, are distributed to assign places to individuals. The ephemeral architecture of the barricades effects a redistribution of of the sensible, a material politics that is not merely the mirror of an abstract politics which happens elsewhere.

Barricades , French Revolution , George-Eugène Haussmann , Paris , Architecture , Urban space , Crowds , Jacques Rancière
Interstice, vol.8, pp.31 - 42
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