Dialogue, ambivalence, public space

Article à comité et rapport

Kenniff, Thomas-Bernard, (2018), Public space is neither a fixed thing, nor a stable concept. This paper applies the term ‘dialogue’ as a conceptual basis for the idea of public space as something that changes according to multiscalar and overlapping contexts, with use and discourse. The concept of dialogue is developed from the dialogism of Mikhail Bakhtin whose related notions of ambivalence, polyphony, heteroglossia, carnival and chronotope are used to support a dialogical understanding of public space. The paper develops this understanding by creating a parallel between Bakhtin’s dialogism and the Barking Town Square by muf architecture/art (2004-2010). Through this parallel reading, the paper suggests that design proposals for the public realm are valued propositions that suggest a particular transformation of aesthetic, ethical, social and political relations through the ordering and transformation of spatial relations. No design, no conception, and therefore no dialogue creating public space can be neutral — but inevitably takes place within a fraught dialogical context inseparable from individual positioning and responsibility. The question of boundary maintenance thus arises inevitably, and the paper examines a range of such problematic demarcations, including between public and private, typologies and flexible criteria, immediate and social contexts, and ideals and reality. Given dialogue’s condition of ambivalence and incompleteness, the paper argues that the inherent contradictions to the concept of ‘public space’ are its very conditions for existence.

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