Generalities about particular cases

if we want to be on the sidelines of totalitarian points of view, we need to use relativity and a particular and located vision.

To talk about relativity results problematic nowadays due to the possible relationship that could be traced between relativism and postmodernism, interpreting the first one into the frame of the second one. But relativity, as we will see below, is nothing more than a fundamental scientific attitude to approach reality.

As Latour (2005) used to say, more or less, we cannot produce objectivity without relativity, without using different frames, approaches, elements… Having a relativist and a located perspective is avoiding “the trick of seeing everything from nowhere” (Haraway 1988; 581) that distorts and hides objective vision.

Having this in mind, at the moment of taking care of a “particular case” is important do not lose the focus on the circumstances where we are in. That is, basically, remembering that we are talking about doing ethnography of the outside, of the —so far called— urban places. This idea of specificity is located in a pretty clear and defined field. Other domains and ethnographical intentions are not included in this work.

The usage of the concept of “particular case” (in the way how I am presenting here) out of the proposed “urban-public-open-place-frame” is the responsibility of each researcher. However, I want to clarify that my interest is not building a disciplinary wall around those kinds of public-open spaces. It is, on the contrary, defining, flattering, and stretching them.

In this way, a “particular case” always will be linked to a spatial condition. But this space far of being a Euclidean one, just a container, is —in a Lefebvrian style— an unfinished-multiple product resulted from a collective work. Doreen Massey (2005, 9) defines this social space through the presentation of three statements about it:

  1. ”We recognize space as the product of interrelations; as constituted through interactions, from the immensity of the global to the intimately tiny.”
  2. “We understand space as the sphere of the possibility of the existence of multiplicity in the sense of contemporaneous plurality; as the sphere in which distinct trajectories coexist; as the sphere therefore of coexisting heterogeneity.”
  3. “We recognize space as always under construction.”

So, a ”particular case” is always tied to a produced space, a territory. This territory is a still unassembled ecosystem composed of an unknown number of elements located in an uncertain context of potentialities and possibilities. Everything there seems so unstable, so effervescent and because of that, so complicated for being traced.

But theoretically, we can quickly identify a particular case. For instance, and regarding my work, to choose Times Square as my study object was not a hard task. Nevertheless, things turned complicated at the time of bounding on it. The Square was always in a constant process of being transformed, and its limits sometimes result blurred and mixed with other places and things. How can we talk about a “particular case” in a context like this one? How can we approach a fluid multiplicity through the construction of ”solid fields”? What is the point of doing it?

For answering those questions, and with the intention of accurately taking care of what is a “particular case,” I would like to make two clarifications. The first one is that you won’t find here, in this proposal, a stable object that you can apply in any “(urban)context” as a sort of recipe. In this way, more than defining what a particular case is, I will give you some tips for constructing your own particular cases. Those tips are also general statements —neither tools nor instructions— for approaching (describing and representing) spatial-tied-particularities in the specific context of big “urban” agglomerations. 

The second clarification is regarding my intention of dividing this definition into two different scenarios (1) (2). I’ve found practical the idea of proposing two separate ways for discussing the notion of “particular case” because of the possibility of presenting more detailed descriptions. However, those are not antagonist scenarios. They are complementing eachother. The separation is entirely artificial it only obeys to explanatory purposes. At the time of constructing a particular case, both moments or scenarios should act blended. The first one covers an ontological view of what does a “particular case” mean. Another moment is regarding an epistemological interest on how should we boarding that object.