Marginality and the Prospects for Placemaking, by Michael Rios

Cultural theorist Homi Bhabha has written about the everyday spaces of marginalized groups in relation to modernity as expressed in cultural construction of nationhood. He introduces the idea of liminal space between accepting dominant narratives of identity and the hauntings of violence that have to do with the memories of migrants and refugees. Bhabha argues that the power of minority discourses lie in their ability to resist the erasure of these brutal histories, and shows how histories and cultures constantly encroach into the present, demand new ways of understanding social relations, and require negotiations between marginalized groups and powerful interests. While Bhabha‟s theorization operates in the linguistic realm, his work offers critical insight about the negotiations of culture with respect to issues of marginality, aesthetics, and place. Drawing from Freud‟s idea of the unheimlich, architectural historian Anthony Vidler views the uncanny as a trope for imagining the loss of home in a post-industrial society and the unsettled nature of late modernity that evokes a feeling of powerlessness. Vidler cites Bhabha‟s use of uncanny to speak of the return of “the migrants, the minorities, the diasporic” to the city as “the space in which emergent identifications and new social movements of the people are played out”.

From the perspective of the liminal, places can be viewed as an assemblage of different practices that involves negotiations between groups whose histories are intertwined and are situated in territorialized space. For migrants, refugees, and diasporic communities, places provide a common sense of territorial identity despite these groups having roots elsewhere. However, these places have specific histories, myths and meanings that are situated within narratives of marginality that need to be taken into account in practice. This raises questions about the way designers and planners think about place and the fixity of boundaries of „here‟ and „there‟, „inside‟ and „outside‟, and what it means to dwell in place.

The historical contingency of place determines which rights matter and for whom. Place claims are an important means by which marginalized groups negotiate different imaginaries of culture and, in the process, create new physical and political spaces. A focus on the uncanny spaces of marginality disrupts normative and a priori views of citizen entitlements and allows for new rights to be imagined, claimed, and enacted. Placemaking in marginalized communities also highlights negotiations of belonging, authorship, and power that can lead to transformative

In the paper, I will discuss the role of marginality in placemaking. Marginality draws attention to the spatial contradictions found in these locations, but also provides openings for aesthetic engagement and an emplaced practice that involves material thinking, collaborative human action, and location. In aligning with an ethics of cultural difference, I will argue that the aim should not be to placate dominant discourses of aesthetics or form, but rather to reflexively engage the uncanny spaces of marginality where problems of identity, self and other, mind and
materiality, the local and the extra-local

Michael Rios, University of California at Davis, USA

Harvard Citation Guide: Rios, M. (2012) Marginality and the Prospects for Placemaking, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 20 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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