SARAI | publication

Beijing, Life on the New Frontier | April 23, 2008

MovingCities publishes “Moving Cities: Life on the New Frontier” in Sarai Reader 07: Frontiers. SARAI is a program of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, one of India’s leading research institutes with a commitment to critical and dissenting thought and a focus on critically expanding the horizons of the discourse on development, particularly with reference to South Asia.


The Sarai English Readers are published once a year . Each issue is structured around a specific theme and features articles, essays, reviews & criticism, interviews and photographic essays.

Frontiers considers limits, edges, borders and margins of all kinds as the sites for declarations, occasions for conversation, arguments, debates, recounting and reflection. Our book suggests that you consider the frontier as the skin of our time and our world, and we invite you to get under the skin of contemporary experience in order to generate a series of crucial (and frequently unsettling) narrative and analytical possibilities.

For us, the frontier is a threshold waiting to be crossed, a space rife with the seductive aura of transgression. We are not talking only of actual, physical borders (though of course we are interested in literal and political borders) that are usually the residues of war, but also of the borders between different temporal registers, between languages, between different modes of action, between different bodies of thought and conviction, between the exception and the rule. Looked at this way, a border is more than a constellation of fixed markers circumscribing a domain.

Beijing, Life on the New Frontier | April 23, 2008


What we witness and are mesmerized by, almost to the point that we don’t, or can’t, understand its functioning, its modus operandi that now dominates large areas of the world, is maximum mobility, a term coined by economic historian Fernand Braudel.

As artist/philosopher Manuel De Landa explains in A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, maximum mobility is „the layer where large amounts of financial capital, for example, flowed continuously from one highly profitable area to another, defying frontiers and accelerating many historical processes.”

The two other layers, that together with maximum mobility form the three separate flows moving at different speeds through the history of the past millennium, are what Braudel terms “material life” and “accelerators of all historical time”. As defined by De Landa:

…”material life”, the know-how and traditional tools, the inherited recipes and customs, with which human beings interact with plants to generate the flow of biomass that sustains villages and towns. This body of knowledge resists innovations and hence changes very slowly, as if history barely flowed through it. (…) Next comes the world of markets and commercial life, where the flow of history becomes less viscous. Braudel calls market towns „accelerators of all historical time.

The socio-economic contours of developing countries are still determined by these three flows today. Urban and architectural development in these nations is inevitably and unavoidably intertwined with these flows. Along with the flow of financial capital, halting to circulate in some cities, or infiltrating one country after another, comes the flow of people, ideas, knowledge and styles. They halt only temporarily, as if briefly touching the ground and then taking the next leap to a different site.

Today’s problem could be that we don’t understand this temporality, and that we have not been able to get a grip on an ephemeral that lasts for a hundred years. In vain, it seems, we search for concepts and tools to deal with this; desperately we implement methods that have proven their use in the past; painfully we watch reality come into being, history unfolding, the future nervously knocking on new doors of perception.

Meanwhile the three flows move along at different speeds, forcing different trajectories and modes of development. Is there a beauty, or a method, in the madness of this inevitable movement?

Beijing, Life on the New Frontier | April 23, 2008


Sarai Reader 07: Frontiers. [all contributions can be downloaded]
Moving Cities: Life on the New Frontier – Bert de Muynck | MovingCities [pdf alert!]

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