Street culture: The dialectic of urbanism in Walter benjamin’s passagen-werk

Philosophy and Social Criticism 31 (3):293-308 (2005)
This article develops a sociological reading of Walter Benjamin’s ‘Arcades Project’, or Passagen-werk . Specifically, the essay seeks to make explicit Benjamin’s non-dualistic account of structure and agency in the urban milieu. I characterize this account as the ‘dialectic of urbanism’, and argue that one of the central insights of Benjamin’s Passagen-werk is that it locates an emergent and innovative cultural form - a distinctive ‘street culture’ or jointly shared way of modern urban life - within haussmannizing techniques of architectural administration and spatial domination. In the modern metropolis, Benjamin sees a new kind of collective - an embedded and effervescent sociocultural group held together not by the functionalist imperatives of capitalist urban planning but by an improvisational mode of street life. Key Words: agency • culture • embeddedness • structure • urbanism.
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