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Post nº12 | How to understand the conflicts inscribed in the urban space?

Along the past blog publications, we covered a few tens of centuries, from 2000 BC up to the 12th century, and we become aware that this is the period necessary to stabilize the physico-symbolic values of a human settlement, such as: life / death; nature / culture; up / down; etc. These values are the root of any human settlement and, in general, they are expressed in space, in the form of places or monuments. It is a question of "a point" in space, which energizes mobility trajectories in the ritualized space, such as: the journeys of the King; the market; pilgrimage routes; etc. These spaces remain inscribed in our collective memory.

To solve an urban conflict is sometimes a question of understanding its physical-symbolic values ​​and the dynamics that this generates. Let’s look closer at the example of the space of conflict that is the Berlin Wall, where the notion of cycle linked to the metabolism of physio-symbolic values ​​comes into play.

1. In the episode of the Berlin Wall, we first note the presence of a morphogenetic gradient, organized between a totalitarian ideology in its revolutionary futuristic version (communist regime) and a liberal ideology (European and American parliamentary democracies). This gradient stems from multiple roots, but its effective deployment begins with the consequences of the October Revolution of 1917, in Russia, and the coming to power of a communist regime. This gradient will generate a "socio-cultural border", in other words, the convocation of a latent form, separating two conflicting political and institutional regimes: Communism and Liberalism.

2. This socio-cultural border materializes geo-historically in the form of a wall, becoming a “physical border” and dividing the German capital since August 1961. Following the capture and liberation of Berlin by Soviet troops, the presence of the Red Army constituted a socio-cultural border for the advance of the USSR. This presence initiated in the division and control of the city by the victors, a consequence of the fall of the Hitler regime. Given the disagreement between the blocks, and the economic and social difficulties of the East German management by the Ulbricht government, the latter obtained from Khrushchev the authorization to settle by force the problem of the emigration of skilled professions and capital to the west. On the night of August 12 to 13, 1961, a 43 km “anti-fascist protection wall” was erected, dividing the city in two. At the end of the war, we witness a differentiated evolution of the institutional forms of the socio-cultural stratum between the two German institutional regimes - FRG and GDR, being the latter under strong pressure from its population to either liberalize the regime or to emigrate to the West.

Let us recall the first attempt to close the borders by a blockade, in 1948, fought by an airlift until May 1949, when this attempt failed. Let us also evoke the military repression of the East German popular uprising after Stalin's death in 1953, aimed at rejecting the communist system. Following these repeated crises, a final diplomatic crisis made up of negotiations and ultimatums, will lead to the isolation of Soviet Germany by a wall.

Source: © 2021 by Isabel Marcos

3. Following the stabilization of the wall for about thirty years, this “physical border” will finally become a “physical-symbolic border”, through a qualitative transformation linked to several geopolitically explainable reasons, when the fall of the Berlin Wall occurs, in November 1989. This physical-symbolic border expressed itself by the gradual dismantling of the wall. The void left in this space and the spontaneous recovery of pieces, carried out by individuals, initiate a process of symbolizing this setting-in-frontier, subsequently musefied, patrimonialized and celebrated. But what is remarkable, in our opinion, is the phenomenon, which consists of a reversal of the separating border into an attracting centre.

4. This physio-symbolic border will come to nourish and reconfigure the deepest, driving stratum, the physio-symbolic stratum, by a metabolization of the old border - physical pieces of the wall - attracting new powerful ideologies: it will be the symbol of "crossing all borders". On the one hand, this old separation becomes a veritable "vacuum", or attractive organizing centre. On the other hand, this centre, through a process of symbolic reinvestment of the wall itself, conveys a new ideological significance - the dismantling of the wall itself being the symbolic counterpart to the dismantling of any border.

This powerful new ideology can be represented by the universality of human rights. It would aim to truly overcome the particularity of political entities and the borders set by nation-states. After reunification, there occurs a “densification of structures at the centre” at the level of political and administrative structures, which again makes the idea of a “vacuum”, active in this centre, taking precedence to the following East-West separation and becoming attractive for the decision-making pole and the concentration of power and media activities.

You can read more details about this example in my article in French: Marcos, Isabel, avec Morier, Clément, 2019. "What is a border? The meeting between semiotics and the theory of catastrophes”, in La sémiotique et son autre, (Biglari, Amir and Roelens, Nathalie, Eds.), Paris, Kimé –ISBN 978-2-84174-939-3

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