Sitting outside: conviviality, self-care and the design of benches in urban public space

Rishbeth, Clare and Rogaly, Ben (2018) Sitting outside: conviviality, self-care and the design of benches in urban public space. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 43 (2). pp. 284-298. ISSN 0020-2754

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The urban bench has been romanticised as a location of intimacy and benign social serendipity and problematized with regard to perceptions of unwelcome loitering. In this paper we explore embodied practices of sitting on benches, within an urban context characterised by corporate-led regeneration and impacted by austerity urbanism, imperial history and ongoing racisms. Our schizocartographic methodology enables us to attend to the differentiated and shifting subjectivities and temporalities of bench users, and to emerging counter histories of space. The research is based on the case study of a central square in Woolwich, south-east London. This involved an eclectic combination of methods, including film-making, ethnography and interviews, and a cross-sectoral team of activists, academics and artist. The paper starts by conceptually framing public space with respect to lived experiences of marginalisation, arguing that architectural design is intrinsic to understanding micro-geographies of conviviality and care. The case study material is used first to provide a visual sketch of sitting and watching others in the square and then to address conviviality and the value of visibility and relative proximity in framing a mostly un-panicked multiculture. Thirdly, we discuss agentic, yet critically aware, acts of self-care. Finally, our focus shifts to the design of the benches and the ‘touching experiences’ of bodies sat in various ways, impacted by structural inequalities, yet differentiated by the particularities of individual or collective priorities. In conclusion we argue that attending to the precision of sitting on a bench can illuminate multiple temporalities of urban change in relation to both individual subjectivities and hegemonic structures. Further, the counter histories that emerge can inform policy and practice for inclusive urban design.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > Geography
Depositing User: Sharon Krummel
Date Deposited: 24 Aug 2017 08:25
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2021 07:29

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Project NameSussex Project NumberFunderFunder Ref
The Un-Sociable Bench, and other urban micro-territories of encounter and intimidationG1656AHRC-ARTS & HUMANITIES RESEARCH COUNCILAH/M0016107/1