Workshop #2: Intellectual Commons event series

Workshop #2: Intellectual Commons event series


The topic today has
the nation, and that’s what I’m going to
be talking about. So what is a nation? When is a nation? And most importantly,
what is a nation good for? These are questions that have
nagged me for a long time, to the point where I think
they have directly affected my personal politics and
research orientation, even though a big chunk
of my research is centered on the 12th
to the 15th century, long before the idea of
nation became common currency in historical analysis. Let me start with
the time frame. What, or when, can we call a
socio-political unit a nation? History tells us
that the term can not be used in a legally binding way
before the Peace of Westphalia, of 1648, which recognized
the nation-state to have exclusive sovereignty
over its territory, although a sense of
national belonging existed in all cultures
long before that date. I face this issue most
acutely in my book project on a 15th century
historian by the name of Taqi al-Din
al-Maqrizi, who wrote The Khitat, the
first book really that is a true urban
history, of a city, in his case it’s his
own city of Cairo. My interpretation of his
writing is that it was driven by an emotion that cannot be
described but as quote unquote “patriotic”, even though in our
age of combative nationalism, we exclusively reserved
patriotism for the moderns. Some of you may be thinking
now of Emmanuel Macron and how he last
week distinguished between patriotism
and nationalism to teach a lesson
to Donald Trump. In his introduction,
al-Maqrizi stresses that impulse, in a deeply
felt lyrical language, that borrows from several
literary and poetic traditions to construct an unusually
passionate definition of what belonging to a homeland means to
a person from the 15th century. He says, and this is what
I’m translating here, [NON-ENGLISH] in this context,
it means Cairo and Egypt at the same time, this is
how they use it in Egypt– [NON-ENGLISH] is the
place of my birth, the playground of my mates, the
nexus of my society and clan, the home to my
family and public, the bosom where I
acquired my wings, and the niche I
seek and yearn to. Similar feelings, though
probably a bit less lyrical, animate my sense of belonging
to my native city of Damascus, which was especially heightened
with the loss of that country of my birth due to the recent
failure of its revolution against its dictatorial regime. I turn thus to the
question of heritage, a byproduct of the notion
of the nation, which is in peril because an entire
regime of nation-states in the Middle East based on the
colonial Sykes-Picot Plan that dates back to the First
World War is dissolving. We know not what
would replace it, other than the chaos
reigning today. Indeed, any
discussion of heritage is perforce
predicated on a sense of shared identity with
a defined territory and a collective history. This is exactly what is
being challenged nowadays. As both history and geography
are being contested, challenged, reclaimed,
and reconfigured by groups within or outside
the borders of the nation-state that no longer seem to accept it
as a framer of their identity. Thus, the heritage
itself is being divided and re-appropriated. And the unfortunate
part of it, that fall under the custody of a
group that does not recognize it as its own heritage
or as heritage at all, is being destroyed. This was most
spectacularly demonstrated in March 2001 when the Taliban
blew up the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan as
relics of paganism, and thus alien heritage. But what is the heritage
of the Middle East? Here now I have to evoke the
notion of the imperialism in its wider sense, which
allowed Europe to claim Greece as– in a historical
sleight of hand– as its civilizational
cradle and Christianity as its creed, without
acknowledging their Middle Eastern roots. This process, as Martin
Bernal so cogently argued, intensified in the
18th and 19th century, especially after the
rediscovery of the civilization of ancient Egypt and its
deep impact on Greece, which many of the
ancient Greek thinkers matter-of-factly acknowledge. Instead, the West
invented for itself an exclusive and teleological
civilizational sequence that started with
the ancient Greeks and ended with the modern era. This civilizational
sequence is best illustrated by the famous
tree of architecture of Bannister Fletcher,
which appeared as the frontispiece
of his own book– actually it’s Bannister
Fletcher, father and son. They have the same name. In all 17 editions of
their influential book, called A History of Architecture
on the comparative method, between 1896 and 1954,
this was the frontispiece. This unabashedly Eurocentric
diagram preserved the living trunk and the upper healthy
branches of the tree to an uninterrupted
succession of Western styles, from Greece to modern America,
dubbed “historical styles”, and demoted the architecture
of all other cultures– labeled “non-historical
styles”– to dead branches, functioning
primarily as stylistic curiosities. The Middle East was thus severed
from its own classical heritage that extended for
more than 1,000 years between the conquest of
Alexander the Great in 3333 BC and the fall of Constantinople
to Mehmet Fatih in 1453. It was cast as a
bizarre, chaotic, brutal, and most importantly
uncivilized, because Europe, and that victorious moment
when it was figuratively and militarily
conquering the world, could not tolerate
an indebtedness– no matter how small
or remote in time– to other cultures, which
were then the target of European colonialism. In other words, people
of the Middle East, according to the
modern myths of Europe, do not belong to the classical
civilization claimed by Europe, even though that civilization
evolved on their land at the hand of their
ancestors and very directly shaped their cultures
past and present. Finally, what is
a nation good for? My answer, to paraphrase
Edwin Starr’s 1970 songs, may be absolutely nothing. Or perhaps something– hmm? Say it again. I was giving you the
next line of the song. Yeah, that’s true. Or maybe something a
bit more sinister– governance. Let me end with two quotations
that illustrate this point. Charles de Gaulle, the legendary
French General and president, is supposed to have quipped
in despair, “how can anyone govern a nation that has 246
different kinds of cheese?” Whereas Shukri al-Quwatli,
the first president of independent
Syria, who was forced to relinquish his position to
Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, when the two countries
united in 1958, said to his more charismatic
and ambitious counterpart, “you don’t know what you
have got, Mr. President. You have got a
people who all think of themselves as politicians– half of them think of
themselves as leaders, while 25% think of themselves
as prophets, and 10% as gods. I leave you with the
thought, long live pluralism. Professor, I think
we’ll follow the pattern that we did last time,
which is actually to allow for questions directly
after the presentation. That’s fine. Because then we can
have [INAUDIBLE] questions to answer on this
particular presentation. Maybe I should start. Sure. Also, a famous distinction
that [INAUDIBLE] has been between patriotism
as the love of one’s people and nationalism as the
hatred of all others, stands out in your presentation
as a kind of questioning of what nationalism stands for. But one aspect of nationalism
that you have not touched upon, but has always been [INAUDIBLE]
speech for what the nation presents is the state. And you, at the end, mentioned
it in terms of the relationship with [INAUDIBLE],, but we
always understand the state at its most benevolent,
as being the protector of the unprotectable, the
speaker for the voice of people who have no voice. But also, the redistributive
mechanism [INAUDIBLE].. In the absence of the
nation-state, quotation in parentheses, what
mechanisms are there for the creation of the form of
fair governance in the world? And we ask this question
ourselves constantly today, because as we realized
that the bigger questions of environment,
inequality, refugees, [INAUDIBLE] require forms
of governance that are much larger than the nation state. The realities of
power are evolving not only to the level
of nation-states but to city states, which are
reemerging, interestingly, in the face of
this global ecology to help on these decisions? I mean, let’s– first of
all, I don’t want to get into the question of comparing
the state to other forms of authorities, which today are
very prevalent in our global world. So I’ll skip my own two
cents about the relationship between big corporations and
states and go back to state, and come back to a
definition of the state. We have two strands of
definitions, if you want. And one of them is more
anthropological-archeological, the other is more perhaps
actually a social science. And the second one
is the one that perhaps would answer your
question positively– is that the state is,
at the end of the day, is basically a social contract. It’s the result of
a social contract in which each and every
one member of the state has an opinion
about what state is. The state that I am
perhaps actually neglecting to discuss in here is not
really the benevolent state– there’s no benevolent state
as far as I’m concerned. But it’s actually
the monopolizer of violence in a certain
space in the protection of individuals. This is what the state
has been for most of us. This is what the states have
been for at least the cases that I’m looking at in here. And these are the models
that have been perpetuated after the colonial period,
in the formation of states elsewhere, where
they didn’t exist. And even actually sort of like
in a convincing of the people of those lands that the best
way of governing themselves is to think of
themselves as nation, with some sort of a
defined boundaries and having a government. That whole Rousseauian
idea of the social contract was not really applicable
in any of these cases of the foundation of about 170
of the states around the world. So what I would say is that I
would be very much supportive of a nation-state that
is based on some sort of an agreement between the
governed and the governing. And that agreement would have to
have some sort of a structure, and so on. We have the democratic structure
that we have been living under and a lot of us
are sort of, like, unsatisfied with the
way it functions. If I go back to
[INAUDIBLE],, I feel like I have to, in terms
of the relationship between the project
of nation-state, the project of development,
which I hope we will touch on, there is a direct connection
between the authority of the state as a mobilization
of force towards development. As contradictory as
extensive, in terms of its colonialist
aspirations as it might be, the development
project persists even under the umbrella
of mobilization. And there is a dimension
of the state we probably need to talk about,
which is its ability to mobilize the
collective imaginary towards transformative
practices of society. Why is that suspect? That’s not a problem. I mean, you basically jumped
on the issue of the legitimacy of the mobilization. Or if you want, actually, the
strategies of mobilization. I am critiquing in my
answer, not in my paper, I am critiquing the
mobilization of force, which actually is the
dominant form of mobilization. In the past and in the present,
but more so in the past. So I want us to go back to
the earlier stage of how the state is mobilizing,
not whether the state needs to mobilize or not, or if
the state is the proper tool for mobilization. So personally, this is
what I’m really advocating. And you know how utopian
my vision is, so– I mean, those of
you who are thinking that I’m saying anything that
has any political implication, forget about it. I’m saying, basically, what the
pipe dreams of a utopian person would be. Any other direct
questions for [INAUDIBLE]?? Thanks. Thank you so much for
such a provocative talk, that I’m wondering– I want to kind of push
on your invitation to consider the question
of, what is the nation for? As well to pick up on
that thread and say, in your conception, you
feel like there’s a notion of a post-national– I don’t know if it’s
governance, [INAUDIBLE],, or is there some
other kind of form that you feel like that
can be the placeholder for dispensation of a
more ethical construction of heritage in this kind
of post national model? Or is there some
other kind of form to also wield
power in a way that can have some more kind
of utility, and not ethical framework
reconciliation? I mean, if you allow me
to just basically dream about what I’m
speaking about, yes. This is– let me actually
speak about something that I personally experienced
until about 20 years ago. And then I’m experiencing
the opposite of it. And that is, I was a citizen
of a Third World country, and now I’m a citizen of
a First World country. So as a citizen of the
First World country, I’m actually very close to
the model that you’re talking about– of the post-nation. I can travel anywhere I want. No one actually asks me,
why are you coming in here? I just had my passport and
I go from nation to nation, borders have
absolutely no meaning. But for the Syrian that
I was 20 years ago, half the world was closed,
I couldn’t even get into it. For the Syrians that
I still care about, that I see now they’re stuck,
they cannot even come and visit me here. That is the negative
model of the nation that I was proposing. So in a sense, we have
transcended the national model of, let’s say, 17th
century all the way down to perhaps Second World War. By nations are– some nations
are in privileged positions to keep the world
as their backyard. That’s the globalism that is
beneficial to some nations. And other nations are
suffering from a globalism that is insisting on
their national identity. I mean, think here–
in this country, for example, of the
immigration coming from South of the border,
and how they are constantly being reminded that this is
a border we can not cross. The movement in the other
direction is not a question. So we are in a
post-nationalist, but we are a post-nationalist
of unequal power distribution among the nations. If we are going to get to the
post-national, which actually I would not have any
problem with it [INAUDIBLE].. I don’t know if you know that,
but many, many years ago, there was a study going around and
asking people how many of them are willing to die
for their country. And in Western Europe, the
average was less than 40%. So in Western Europe,
the Europeans, they basically felt that the
countries are worth dying for– which I actually
fully agree with– your country is worth dying for. Was there a question
of whether or not you would die for the EU? Was that on the
list of questions a national
consideration was there, a regional identity that
you felt like they’d be willing to die for– I don’t know if identity
is a question that we need to worry much about. I mean, I actually
would likely go into a definition of the state
as basically an operative, a facilitator, but not
someone that is also framing and defining
who we are for us, or how we define ourselves. That is, at this point
in time, I mean even in our society in
here, we actually have an amazingly big
array of identities. And some of them
do not really fit what the state wants us to be. And that’s where– it’s healthy. And we need to go
in that direction. But I’m actually pointing
out to the inequality of the distribution of this
bounty of post-nationalism that is available for some
and unavailable to the others. And even actually within the
borders of the same state. You know, by asking that
question that means that you’re going to be the next speaker. I assume that I was the
next speaker because we go to the same barber. So you don’t have a question? So my question is going
to be around public goods. And it was sort of this
other question of what it is that we hope for states. And so Hashim put
forward one of the hopes, and the hope is
basically that we use the state as a
redistributive method. The other hope that we
often have for states is that things
that are extremely difficult for a
group of individuals, even for a corporation,
to build and transport– great works of architecture– are the sorts of things that
we sort of hope that states can come together and build. And so in particular
as you’re thinking about this sort of
loss of heritage, and you’re sort of looking
towards the post-national, what’s the future of public
goods in a post-national world? Is it possible to imagine a
separation between the nation and the state, as actually a
word that we still have not managed to create a real word
of it– we still hyphenate it. Is it possible to see the state
as the benevolent identity– not– I mean the benevolent
entity that Hashim was defining without
connecting that to the notion of a nation
or a national identity. Is it possible for us to
be citizens in a state that because it’s
beneficial to us, and because we are seeking
the protection and the support of the state
without having to be the people who would die
for causes that the state is defining? Well then, we– No one asks if you’re going
to die for Massachusetts. Precisely. And in a very real
sense, Massachusetts is who is more likely to build
the railroad that means that I can get home [INAUDIBLE]. No, actually, I’m a lover
of states, by the way. I’m actually someone
that would think that all public utilities have
to be collectively controlled. The oonly thing that I’m
trying to work against is that that coupling of the
notion of the nation and notion of the state, because it
renders certain nations more privileged than others. Let’s stop imagining the
community, [INAUDIBLE],, and actually think about
the governance mechanism, let’s get [INAUDIBLE] ambition
and perhaps have a structure. Indeed. Cool. OK. I’m glad we [INAUDIBLE]. You need this? I can try. So hey, my name’s Ethan,
I’m over from the Media Lab. It’s always fun to get to
visit with other chunks of the department. And happy to be here. I really enjoyed
professor Sassen’s talk and I was very
struck by the idea that she put forward about
extractive globalization. And I wanted to dig
into something that she talked about very specifically. Because a tension that I
saw in her talk is helping me think about a
tension in my own work. So she raises this distinction
of extractive capitalism, extractive
globalization, instead of talking about high
finance, and talking about this idea of
constructing a realm of finance that you can
essentially distinguish from commercial finance– commercial finance
where I have some money, I lend it to you,
that might be useful, you pay me back a
little bit more. And we actually see a
social utility with that seems sort of opposed
to this version of extractive globalization,
where we say, hey, here’s a bunch of poor people who
aren’t able to buy homes, but if we find a way
to make them buy homes that they can’t afford,
we can construct very complicated
financial instruments that will make us extremely
wealthy until it finally collapses, ruining people’s
lives in the process. And this feels black
and white, right? It feels like, let’s do
that and not do that. But of course, like most
dualities, is it’s a continuum. In many ways, when we
think about something like subprime lending,
we’re actually trying to correct some
historical inequities, and the inability
of people of color in particular in
the United States to borrow money from
banks to buy houses. There’s some version
of this that we can look at that
sort of says, let’s let poor people borrow
money and buy houses that we can say is pretty good. There’s some version of it
that’s clearly pretty awful. And there’s a lot of
very complicated sort of middle ground
between the two. And so I’m thinking
about this not because I think
much about housing, but because I spend a lot of my
time thinking about Facebook. And I’ve specifically
been thinking about global platforms
like Facebook and these questions of
whether these platforms are good for democracy. And I would say that
question of whether they’re good for democracy is
probably not the best way to frame the question. Most of these platforms as
they currently are right now have some very strongly
anti-democratic elements to them. I’m actually much more
interested in the question of how would you build
a social network that supported liberal democracy. And what would that look like? And how would you bring
those sorts of things about? But as you think
about this, I end up looking at some of
the same distinctions that I think Professor
Sassen was playing with, and I often end up
thinking about her concept of the global city. The global city as
this term that’s almost contradictory in nature. Simultaneously a global city
is sort of tightly integrated into the cosmopolitan flow
of goods, ideas, and people, but at the same time a city
is necessarily more local than the nation. And in many places,
the city, it’s– you know, Cairo may be at the
time you’re talking about, the avatar for Egypt. But in most cases,
that’s not the case. New York is not
the United States. It’s not a particularly
effective avatar of America as a whole. It’s its own sort of
unique, more local entity, as well as being tied
into this global network. And I want to make this argument
that these same tensions between the local and the
global come into play when we’re thinking about these
platforms like Facebook. They’re global in
some senses, they’re decidedly local in other senses. And it’d be really
hard to miss this because so much of their
rhetoric is around the global. Facebook will
relentlessly remind you that they have 2.2 billion
users from all over the globe. I wrote a piece for the
prestigious journal, The California Journal of
Images and Mark Zuckerberg– look it up, it’s a real
journal, it really exists, and I really wrote for it– about the ways in
which Zuckerberg uses the image, over
and over and over again, of Facebook’s global spread
as his way of sort of encoding this idea that Facebook
is a universe– it’s what ends up sort
of connecting all of us. It has perpetual global reach. But in a very real sense,
platforms like Facebook are profoundly local. I did a study about five
years ago using data from within Facebook that was
able to show that less than 12% of connections on
the network are crossing international borders. Now, that’s a huge
number, that’s 1 out of 8. But you actually have to look
at the distribution around that. Almost all of those
connections come from people who are
displaced somehow in space. If you are an Indian worker
living in the United Arab Emirates, 98% of
your Facebook network is in another country than the
country that you’re within. And so you’re going
to show up as 98% international connections. Most people have
fewer than 2% or 3% international connections. Facebook is basically a
profound reinforcement of social ties to
the people that you have been physically
co-present with or are currently
physically co-present with. In fact, in a very real sense,
Facebook essentially says, I want to lock you digitally
into physical co-presence. When you join the network,
the first thing it says was, where did you go to high
school, where did you grow up? Let me find you those friends? You may never escape
that small town you grew up in because
Facebook will not let you escape that geography. And then Facebook
is also profoundly local in another sense, which
is that when you’re interacting with those people, you are
linguistically, geographically, and culturally isolated
in one fashion or another. You may be having a
conversation on Facebook, which is a global platform, but
if you are in Myanmar or Sri Lanka and you’re talking to
your friends and neighbors about local issues in a
local language, what’s happening on Facebook or
globally may be invisible. And certainly your
conversation ends up being invisible to
the rest of Facebook. So here’s one way
to think about this. Recently in Sri
Lanka, there’s been waves of anti-Muslim
violence that are being spread in part by Facebook. And the ways in which
this violence comes apart are incredibly
hard to understand. So here’s one of the videos
that’s been getting people out in the streets to pull
people out of mosques and beat them up. A young woman is in
a clothing store, she takes a bra off a rack,
she takes a pair of scissors, and she cuts the bra, and she
shows the camera that there is gel within the bra. That’s the video. That’s the entire video. So here’s the
story that explains why that video is hate speech. There is a rumor going
around in Sri Lanka that Muslims are trying
to sterilize Buddhists. And the way that they’re
trying to sterilize Buddhists is two ways– they’re
putting powder in food, and it’s sterilization powder. But much more
sinisterly, they’re putting powder in underwear. And if you put on the
underwear that has this powder, as a Buddhist, you
will be sterilized with a sinister Muslim plot. And so by clipping
the bra and showing that there’s a gel inside of
it, this is proof positive that the Muslims are
out to sterilize you through your brassiere. Now, this is a real story. This is really happening. And it only makes sense
within that highly local sense of a particular set of
conspiracy theories. So let’s deal with
another locality. The other locality is
Mountain View, California. Palo Alto, Silicon
Valley, the places in which Facebook is based. That narrative does not make
any sense in Silicon Valley. And in fact, that narrative
of a deeply local Facebook is a complete counter-narrative
to the narrative that people are putting
forward in Silicon Valley. Because the narrative
in Silicon Valley, is that this is a true
universal tool that can be used by anyone
anywhere in the world and that we will all get
together and be better in the process. And so what you get is from
this sort of totalizing ideology of the politically
neutral platform is incapable of seeing
the ways in which it can be used in these incredibly
hateful, incredibly local ways, because the whole
point is that this is a global technology
rather than a local one. So that contradiction,
that tension, between the global
and the local is a huge part about what’s failing
these platforms at this point. And so you can look at this,
and almost immediately you find yourself going to the
extractive vision of this, where you basically say,
clearly this is a terrible idea. This is evil. This is a bad
direction to go in. These businesses
are literally based around registering people’s
consumer preferences so that when low income nations
become middle income nations we can sell people’s attention
to advertisers going forward, and this is a company literally
lining us up to monetize us at some point in the future. But then there’s another
tension that comes into play, and the tension is this– in a lot of places, by
being a global space where there are very strong local
restrictions on speech, this global space ends up
being the sole opportunity for open discourse. And for me, the example for
this with Facebook was Tunisia. And watching what
happened with the protests around Mohamed
Bouazizi’s suicide, and the protests that
erupted in Sidi Bouzid. Because in Tunisia, we saw a
series of localized protests– whether they were protests
against corruption, around mining exams,
whether they were protests around local issues– that failed to go global. And they failed to go global
because Ben Ali had so closed down the media
environment in Tunisia that international
networks like Al Jazeera were not able to get in
and get outside of Tunis and go and report on things. But what ended up happening
because of Facebook is that you have people on the
ground in Sidi Bouzid who took video, posted video. No one in Tunisia would
dare to look at that video. It would’ve been a terrible
idea that particular moment. Facebook was very
heavily monitored. But you had Tunisian dissidents
in France, grabbing that video, subtitling it, indexing it,
handing it off to Al Jazeera, who would then broadcast it
out of Qatar, where it would show up in the cafes in Tunis. And that global
movement of information had an enormous
amount to do with how a small local protest
in Sidi Bouzid turned into a nationwide
protest, which turned ultimately
into the Arab Spring, with all the pluses and
minuses that have come from it. So what’s so challenging
about this for me– the notion of Facebook as
the global network, AKA to the global city, which
is both local and global at the same time– is that while part of
us wants to look at this and sort of reject
this and basically say, it’s crazy that the boy king
Zuckerberg sitting in Silicon Valley should have control over
the public square in Tunisia, there’s also versions of the
scenario in which that becomes incredibly valuable, because
you’re dealing with situations in which speech is otherwise
constrained and impossible. And so as we take
on this challenge of imagining what
it would actually be like to create networks
that enable liberal democracy rather than hobbling
it, figuring out this question of
the local and global and the ways in which
they play together for me it’s one of the
central challenges. So that’s where I
found myself thinking, coming out of Professor
Sassen, wanted to share that, and
very, very happy to argue, debate, crack
jokes, any of the above. Or to sit down and
let other people talk and we can talk
to the end of it. Any questions directed
at this presentation? Go ahead, [INAUDIBLE]. Yeah, so Ethan, thank you,
it’s very fascinating work. And I was kind of
thinking about– wondering if you’ve done
any generational work to look at what Facebook
needs to different generations because I think there’s one
tail of that spectrum where you have this international
exchange and [INAUDIBLE] information. And then if you look at the
teens or the tweens that are growing up with it, it’s
something very different. But it is shaping their
sociopolitical reality. And I’m just wandering about– Well it’s not only
generational, it’s local. It’s enormously
different attitudes towards it depending on
what age cohort and where. And those attitudes
can change radically even in a very short
period of time. And so hope, haven’t
done the survey work. But I’ll tell you an
anecdote that’s actually, I think, sort of
useful around it. Does anyone remember
the name Wael Ghonim? Mm-hmm. OK, so Wael Ghonim is the
Egyptian Google employee who puts up a Facebook
page called, we are all Khalid
Said, which ends up being the rallying point for
many of the Tahrir Square protests. And Wael becomes prominent
enough in all of this that at a certain point,
Mubarak calls them up and says, I’ll negotiate with
you, get your people out of the street, at which point
Wael goes, like, dude, I’m 22. These aren’t my people,
I can’t call them back. Like, sorry, that’s
outside of my power. Ghonim is profoundly
disappointed with the fallout
of the Arab Spring. He actually blames
it on Facebook. So the tool that he
uses so effectively to bring people
into the streets, he ends up feeling like
Facebook fails Egypt. And it fails it because Facebook
hasn’t constructed a platform where deliberation is possible. Facebook’s really good at
amplification and mobilization, but it’s not so good
at civil discourse. And so after the Muslim
Brotherhood fall, after the military government
comes in, Wael comes to the US, and he builds an
alternative social network. It’s called Parlio. And the idea behind it
is, rather than Facebook, he doesn’t want to get 100
million, 500 million people using it. He wants 100,000
people using it. He wants them to be
highly influential people in politics and in civic life. And he wants it to be
really, really polite. And he builds a social network
with these very strong rules associated with it. And if you’re mean,
he can throw you off. And it starts to blossom. It’s actually doing OK. It gets bought by Quora,
which is a social network that has its own norms around
question answering that tends to be significantly
more polite than some of the other ones out there. But I look at Wael and I look
at that transformation from, here’s where
everyone is, I bet I can harness them
in a particular way and get them to go somewhere. And then this very personal
rejection and sort of going, wait, that’s not the only
civic action we need. Mobilization is only part of the
problem– we need deliberation, we need conversation,
and maybe the tools that get us out into
the streets are not the tools that help us build
a functional government. Please. Although you offer this
emotion that actually follows what we were discussing
earlier, which is basically moving from
the local to the global without anything in
the middle ground. Yeah. But it seems to me
that you need to answer to the question of the
middle ground in here. And two notions that I
would like to ask you about. One is what’s the effect of
language in defining what circle are you in touch with? And the other is the
notion of trending. Because we know, for
example, that things trend in in certain places,
because it’s sort of like join or share cultural traits. That’s right. And is that a way–
because, I mean, here I’m going to go back to
how I answered Hashim about the definition of the nation– because one definition
of the nation also, an 18th century
definition, is that they share the language and
they share, if you want, the mindset or
common goals, which are the two things that
also define another circle of communication in
your global model. So we did a study a few years
back called What We Watch. And what we looked at as
our raw data for this– we do a lot of visualization
of open data sets, and we build a lot
of open data sets. What we were
visualizing were what videos were popular in
different countries on YouTube. And there were certain
things that sort of come out. And you would be
surprised at how many heart rending Google
commercials end up being incredibly popular. Like, possibly the
most popular video we watched on the
whole thing was a Google ad about bringing
together India and Pakistan. But what we found is exactly
what you’re talking about. And it’s linguistic
and cultural heritage. I spent a lot of
my 20s in Ghana. It’s one of the
countries that I spend a lot of time thinking about– Ghanaians and Nigerians
watch the same videos. They’re both British
colonies in West Africa. They watch different videos
than the Senegalese and the Cote Ivorians watch. There is evidence of sort
of the Indian guest worker diaspora throughout the Gulf. And you can see it in of
how videos get shared. It actually is powerful enough
that it sort of counterbalances the ways in which you would
expect Arabic to be a language Franca, because in
as much as where there are a lot of
Indian guest workers, there’s a lot of change. So we can absolutely
sort of see and identify those sort of patterns through
something as simple as, like, what rap music
are people listening to, and how that sort of manages
to cross or not cross cultural boundaries. As for how it goes into
more serious topics, it would be lovely to be
able to do it on Twitter. My experience with
trending topics on Twitter is that they tend to
be quite parochial. They tend to be quite
nationally focused. But I haven’t done
that work in Arabic. And that would be worth doing
and trying to figure that out. Yeah, please. A follow-up of that
language barrier. [INAUDIBLE] they’ve
been improving translating in the automatic
translation of postings. So actually now you can’t tell
that the original posting is in a different language
and you’re reading it in your said language
in your Facebook. And then when you say, oh, this
was already translated for me, and I had no idea. So have you put some thoughts
on that, like what effect it is, in spreading more globalized– Sure. So the last book I wrote
was about cosmopolitanism and visual spaces. It was called Rewire, and
they didn’t like the title, it was called Digital
Cosmopolitans. They’re the same book. Don’t buy both. And one of the things
that I looked at was automating translation
as a path towards lessening those barriers. My sense is that
there’s really nothing that gets people to hit the Back
button faster than encountering unfamiliar character set. Like you hit a language,
you’re sort of like hey, I’m not on the Internet that
I should be on [INAUDIBLE].. So I think it’s great
that Facebook’s doing it. I found it super useful. My guess though, is that
it’s a more common experience for folks like you and
me, who are in this highly privileged cosmopolitan space. Because the statistics
that I’ve run on it suggests that it’s actually
sort of exceedingly rare that people have their immediate
social networks crossing a lot of different linguistic lines. I’d also note that
before Facebook did it, Twitter did it. And the reason Twitter did
it was the Arab Spring. And it was based around tools
that people started hacking together. Andy Carvin, who was covering
the Arab Spring for NPR, worked with some
friends of mine to build a plug-in that did automated
Arabic English translations, so that buyer would
get [INAUDIBLE].. Facebook is actually kind of
late to the game in this spot. We’ve got other super smart
people here they should come up and talk and we’ll– I’m just trying to
be polite, Hashim. [INAUDIBLE] It just seemed there
was a really strong link between [INAUDIBLE]
book where you said this idea kind
of there is really no globalism or no
globality, there’s just the kind of ability
of certain locations to produce or act,
produce [INAUDIBLE] act in a global
way, and obviously then the kind of
communication practices that are coming from those
particular locations are extremely contingent
cultural practices. So then my question
is, do you think there is any kind of true
mediated cultural practice, or is it always just kind of
extremely specific, contingent cultures kind of masquerading
as something universal? Or is there a kind of emergence
of some degree of universal cultural practice in
this online [INAUDIBLE]—- Certainly in online
spaces, there is an illusion of globality
that is worth breaking down. And the first place
where it breaks down is China, where China
has functionally opted out of the social
media systems used in the rest of world. They’ve built their own systems. Those systems are pretty badass. They’re really interesting. But they’re completely opaque
unless you speak Chinese. There’s other countries that
opted out in different ways. And they’re interesting ones. In Russia, with
VKontakte, and then it’s gone on to other
systems like Telegram. Hungary, for a long
time, was basically an international who’s who, as
a completely different space. So first of all, there’s
been no universality. Second of all, once you
look at these platforms, the Europeans have
been surprisingly unsuccessful at building
competitive platforms. You can think of Skype is
perhaps the last platform, and that’s really
a person to person, rather than a one
to many protocol. And so what you’ve
really ended up with is a specific, highly
localized value set around Silicon Valley
that are sort of projecting in different ways. And then in the same way
[INAUDIBLE] saying here, these are not global
spaces once you’re in them. They’re local spaces atop
a global platform running on local Silicon
Valley laws and norms. So yeah, no. Not near as I can tell. I wish I wrote a book sort of
hoping for it, but not so much. Cool. Who’s going next? So I have to admit, I had
two moments of panic there. One when Nasser said nation,
and I thought, oh no, I misread an email, I’ve
not written anything about the nation. And then the second
when he said paper. And I thought, oh no,
I’ve not written a paper. So like– I do, I’m going to
try to relate to the comments that were made,
though, particularly around the difference
between belief and reality in your
presentation and what this means for income inequality. So let me load this up. Yeah, and thank you very
much for this initiative and for the opportunity
to be a part of this. I think it’s a
really exciting idea and hopefully
we’ll at some point engage with Professor
Sassen on her comments. So I did I think something
very similar to Ethan in that I structured my remarks in
relation to my thoughts from her lecture. And one of the
things that struck me the most from her lecture
was this idea that small, enabling conditions– the creation of high finance
and the regulatory structures that had enabled that– had had profound
implications on the global. She’d mentioned this idea of
the ghost apartments, or zombie apartments, as they’re being
called in different places. And I was looking
into this, there’s more than 2,000 billionaires
now on the Forbes list. So each of these has on
average at least 10 residences. And they’re of course in the
most desirable locations, because the apartments
store wealth, they secure investment
in global cities. So they’re in Paris and
London and New York. I’m sure Boston
has its fair share. And they’ve also pushed the
lower socioeconomic brackets to the margins. It’s a kind of
unintended consequence of the storing of wealth
or wealth in absentia. And so as I was thinking
about the enabling conditions of this one of the things
that struck me is it’s maximizing the exchange
value of these properties at the expense of their use. And this led to some
thoughts about distortions and misplaced paradigms
of development. So in my own work, one of the
things I’ve looked at this is what I think is another
enabling condition, it’s a faulty assumption
in economics– both heterodox and orthodox–
about the nature of value. And in particular,
this idea that there are two types of value– use
and exchange– only exchange is theorized, and exchange is
treated as though all value is commensurate through exchange. And so one of the things
I look at in my work is the temporal
signature of value. And I make this argument
that in fact, finance builds its value off of
value derived from exchange, particularly potential
value– value to be created under certain
conditions in the future. So I have two columns here. The point here, though, is
the future extends infinitely into the future, and value
can likewise extend infinitely into the future. And so this leads to
incredible distortion. So I was looking into some
of the figures around wealth inequality in the world today. And this– I don’t mean
to pick on Jeff Bezos, I think Amazon is great. I have toddlers,
everything– diapers, everything comes through Amazon. In 2017 his income
was $32 billion– 600,000 times that
of the median worker. Part of this speaks to
the success of Amazon, but I think it
speaks to a broader trend of the capacity of finance
to distort the nature of value and the nature of wealth. There was this– so this chart
here shows the median worker’s income, which is $50,000,
of those 2,000 billionaires, the average is 4,000 times. And so that blue
panel on the top would be the
average billionaire, and then this stack of
the columns, 600,000 times the median worker, is
Jeff Bezos’ income. And if you think
about this, it’s an extreme of what could
have existed, even, I don’t know 200 years ago in
terms of wealth inequality. And the capacity to do this
for this distortion I believe exists in finance. So I was looking at another
study by Dan Early and Mike Norton where they asked
oh, I’m sorry that should be– there’s my own
distortion, 5,000, not 50,000. 5,000 Americans. What is the distribution
of wealth in the country? And what is the ideal? And I’m sure many of you have
probably seen this graphic. It’s really quite interesting. So they divide the
nation into quintiles, and they ask Americans what
is the distribution of wealth? And this is kind of people’s
idea of what’s ideal. There’s about 10 times more
wealth in the upper quintile, in the red columns,
than in the blue. But it’s a pretty
even distribution across the quintiles. This is what Americans
think the distribution is. So that’s about maybe 20 times
more in the upper quintile than in the lower quintiles. And then this is the
actual distribution of wealth in the United States. The 1% is so large that it means
an entire column of its own, and then even the top 10% can’t
be represented on the graphic. But I think the key to this is
how much of that is in finance. So the 1% owns 50% of stocks,
bonds, and mutual funds. The other 50%, bottom 50%, of
people in the United States only own a half a percent of
stocks, bonds, mutual funds. And so in effect, wealth is
being created in finance. And that leads to, I think,
some very interesting questions about the nature
of the creation. And again, this issue of where,
temporally, does value actually exist? I think this also has
ramifications for the paradigm of development. This is one of my favorite
photographers, Peter Menzel, in a very fascinating project. He went around the world, and
he asks the average family– I don’t know how he did some
census analysis to decide what was the average family– went to their home,
unpacked everything in their homes, their household
and worldly possessions, and then took a photograph. And this is from the
1990s, it’s outdated. I was trying to see if there was
the 2020 version of the study. Unfortunately, no one else
has done it, it seems. So this kind of just
shows the disparity. On one side you have Japan and
you see their washing machines, their tables, all of their
books, their consumable goods. In India, there’s a family with
their bed, a few pots and pans, their grain stores, a bicycle. And you kind of
see the disparity in terms of how people live. And I was trying to
imagine, what would it be if we took the 1% and
unpacked their 10 [INAUDIBLE] and then took the
photograph today. But this is a really important
issue for development. Because it creates the
sense that development is about the establishment
of material wealth, of more consumptive capacity. And I think that’s
also a lost paradigm. So people are probably also
familiar with this idea the ecological footprint. It’s a measure of
how much of the– or rather how many
planets are needed to generate the resources
that we consume to sink the waste that we produce. And there’s a number of
different calculators online. It’s kind of a fun exercise. You go, you plug-in
your data, and you can see the different
numbers that are produced. I did mine. I’ve just moved on to
campus, which is brought my a number of Earths way down– 2.9 years. I tried to do Joe billionaires. I couldn’t get close. I kind of maxed out the
capacity of the system, and got to 30.4
Earths are required if everybody’s to live at
that level of consumption. And basically, so the
point of these calculators is it’s unsustainable. We have to think
about, if only– even getting here, if only
one billion people live here, there are 2.9 Earths. We can’t get 7 billion people
to consume the way that I do. And so development can’t be
measured in this standpoint. And then finally
this sort of relates to some work I’ve started
with some students in southern Louisiana. As many people
are aware, climate change and a whole series
of poor planning decisions with the Mississippi
River Delta– and southern Louisiana is
disappearing into the Gulf. There’s been a latest–
there’s this periodic updates to the coastal plan,
the 2017 master plan, suggests that 28,000 homes will
have to be moved or bought out. And even in just five
years, the projections have gone from worst
case scenario in 2012 is now best case
scenario in 2017. So this is a byproduct of dams
up the Mississippi River that block silt river levees,
the transfer of the silt into the Gulf,
and then of course the various land
zoning decisions that were made for petroleum
extraction from the region. And now climate change,
with sea level rise. And so we’ve been studying
some of these communities and what it means in terms of
relocation and the development plans. And often the model of
the development plans is move inland and create
some sort of a subdivision. And a lot of the communities
we’ve looked down at– this is the Isle de Jean
Charles redevelopment plan asuming this is problematic. If it’s a traditional community,
we need to maximize use values– crops,
community grazing lands, access to the water. Because it’s not just
about having the material resource of the house. That’s importancem
in context, but it’s about the utility of
what the house provides. And so I was sort
of thinking maybe this is an opportunity to do
something radically different as the land loses its value. To think instead of
property rights– it’s a problem because it
creates property taxes, it creates a whole host
of other exchanges, to dedicate a section
of disappearing land for communal and instead
of fixed property rights have fixed use rights– a certain set of uses that
each inhabitor is guaranteed. Mobile structures that
enable access to the water. Modular structures that can
be compiled into flexible– maybe not cities,
but communities. Off grid, solar power,
rain collection, et cetera, and then mobility
and functionality of [INAUDIBLE] as
storm situations arise. So just a thought in
terms of what could we deal with development instead
of maximizing exchange, value maximizing use value. Thank you for your attention. You may direct your
questions to Janelle. Yes. So what about the practical
implications [INAUDIBLE] apart from the usual
questions asked [INAUDIBLE] champion
particular types of practices? Well, for this question
of high finance, I think one of the
challenges is that– what I’m trying to get at is
how tenuous our economic system actually is. I think there’s been this
sense that we had a correction, went through the 2008
financial crisis, the problem has been resolved. And I think at its
heart it really hasn’t. So that’s one issue,
is is there something that we can do on
a broader level to think about what
that means in terms of the function of economies. Is there a way to put
limits on finance? And in particular, one of
the things I argue about is that the leverage ratios– how much potential
capital can be bought or leveraged
against existing capital. So that’s one question. In terms of development, I think
it’s a very different model if you start trying
to prioritize use instead of exchange. And it has a different
set of connotations about what’s important. How do we– is it access to a
community store, a hospital, or is it having a
traditional lifestyle where you’re able
to fish on the water and the resources come
proximate to the resources that you can see? Yeah, Ethan. So I your intervention
at the end. The proposed intervention
feels very much like this question
of, house as use rather than house as exchange. And it’s interesting
to think about how home tends to be so connected
to land, in many ways. And the ways in which,
at least in America, and I guess actually you could
argued in Europe as well, transience always has this
set of social undesirability– we talk about
trailer parks getting disappeared, we talk
about Romani caravans. And I’m wondering what would
have to happen, normatively, as well as economically, to
sort of shift from this model of land as asset that has
utility, even if we’re not on it to home as machine, as
practice, that mobility might become part of the benefit
rather than the downside. Yeah, it’s an interesting idea. I think it is challenging,
though, because of the legal regime. Everything is based, at
least in the United States, on property rights. So you need a different
kind of legal regime. So this is sort of
the idea, is could you experiment with this
at a small scale in places that are losing
the asset value of the land, and then try to
experiment– what does that kind of
legal regime look like? How do you control for– On the absolute opposite
of what you’re looking at, there is a particular
fascination with some of the Silicon
Valley libertarians right now about sea based
living, because it puts them outside of the legal frameworks
of established nations. And if you look at someone
like Peter Thiel, one of his various
investments, as well as trying to colonize
Mars, is to try to build floating
cities that you could opt in to to be tax free
in one fashion or another. It would be fascinating
to sort of see the debate between
displaced Louisiana that’s looking for a way to hold
onto versus a narco-capitalist silicon valley
billionaire who’s trying and figure out how to get
outside of US jurisdiction in international waters. Maybe you and [INAUDIBLE] could
write something like that. There we go. There has been, in international
politics, a very strong resistance to dealing through
international standards of environmental control,
participation in that project. Using the question
of development as being the [INAUDIBLE] some
developing countries argue that it is only now that
we are trying to catch up with you and with
all of the demands that that might have
on the environment that you’re policing–
in other words, seeing the ecological project as
an extension of the colonialist project that Nasser has talked. You very convincingly
showed the impact from the development
project on the environment. But in face of the economic
inequalities that inevitably generate environmental
inequalities, how do we reconcile the project
of development with the project of
environmental recovery? Yeah– well I
think one challenge there is who’s agenda is it? Who’s agenda is the
development agenda? And this idea of the
creation of homes, even of a particular lifestyle– I’m not– again, I’m not trying
to say that everyone shouldn’t have access to a hospital and
a school and a 9 to 5 hour job, and then a shopping mall where
consumer goods are purchased after week we’ve
generated our wealth. I’m not arguing against that. But I’m sort of saying– I guess I’m questioning
the assumption that that is a universal in norm. I think that’s a Western ideal. This is a Western
framework of how we exist and what the utility of our
function is as a society. And maybe if we challenged
that assumption, we can start to challenge the
ways in which we develop and we build utility in increasingly
challenging domains. Yeah. I don’t know if you’re going to
be up to answer this with this kind of [INAUDIBLE] I think
is between the different presentations, so having had
Saskia Sassen speak about this in other places– I wasn’t at the
lecture that you’ve been responding to–
but I’m sure she’s spoken about the
issue of housing in certain cases, even the
exchange value of housing becoming negligible compared to
the exchange value of the land that it’s built on. And you get this
problem in London– the phrase we had in
the UK is land banking. I’m sure it has [INAUDIBLE]
here as well, where essentially [INAUDIBLE] don’t build,
they just sit on the land and then sell it on again. And there’s a kind of– you’re allowed to– there’s
a kind of maximum time you can not build for, so
people relate very strongly about ideas about time
within [INAUDIBLE].. So then, these ideas
have been focusing on the use value of
land, [INAUDIBLE] predicate essentially like
a abolition of privately owned land, then becomes
the question of at what geographical scale could land
be held in common by a state? And there are certain
kind of cities where there is a lot of state owned land. But it’s the city
acting as the state. So yeah, I don’t know
if it’s answerable, but the kind of thinking
between these things, it’s thinking in a
Utopian way, at what scale could land usefully be
kind of held collectively, and at what scale does
that end start to introduce political problematics. Yeah, absolutely. It’s a good question. And that’s where I sort
of think it’s interesting if you could experiment
on the margins, in a way, in the places that are losing
their value that then creates an opportunity for
something different. And for a lifestyle, for native
inhabitants of these areas, I think that is– it gives them
maybe access to something they wouldn’t otherwise have, a
kind of traditional lifestyle. So yeah. Well, obviously, related to
these last three questions, but so when– in context where people
are sort of grappling with seeing potential benefits
to rethinking relationship with land, relationship with
space, relationship with use, what– in a context like
Isle de Jean Charles, where were those ideas
are actually coming from, and what institutional contexts
are they starting to land, or have you sort of witnessed
any institutions that are just sort of starting
to deal with this? You kind of spoke to
more rigid legal regimes as being very limiting. Are there other
sets of actors, or– Yeah, I mean the other place
I’m seeing something similar is in the Arctic. And again, both
of these projects are a little bit nascent,
so they’re not fully formed. Professor Sassen,
at the last lecture, said she loved the fact
that the presentations were in development. This is very much also
an idea in development. But the Arctic is facing
a similar challenge as the sea ice melts, and
indigenous communities that aren’t fully integrated
maybe into global norms and the global economy
are facing this challenge of what is now the lifestyle,
traditional lifestyle, provided through access on the
ice is no longer available. So I think that there are
other communities facing similar challenges. I don’t know that the
potential that’s really been investigated yet,
though, because it is kind of a phenomenon
that’s evolving. Yeah, Nasser. I’m building on John’s question
that this is actually something that we hosted [INAUDIBLE]
group two days ago by Sarah Stephens, who teaches at the
University of British Columbia. And it was
[INAUDIBLE] the state. And she had this graph
that showed the development [INAUDIBLE] to the development
of these high-rise, high end buildings, and there
she separated between space, people that use it for space–
and this is a relationship to what you’re talking about– and people that think of
these things as assets. And in her graph, she
actually reconnected the asset to the stage of
design as something that is informing design,
and left space dangling. So my question to you,
again, in relationship to the value of land
versus the value of what’s built on the land,
do you, as someone who teaches in a school that
has architecture on the side, not just planning, do
you think that design can have a role in
alleviating this problem? And I’m asking that
because you show us at the end an image of
something that is hopeful, and that is designed, do you
think that design can play a role in actually
negotiating a return, if you want, to the possibility
of [INAUDIBLE] redistribution, a lessening of the asset-like
quality of spaces that we have now and [INAUDIBLE]. Yeah. There absolutely– I think
design has a temporal signature as well. Two things– design
for use, which requires the thinking,
of what is the utility, but designed for use in time. We don’t– I’m not an architect,
so a very naive perspective, but we don’t build
for 100 years. We don’t build for
1,000 years anymore. There were
civilizations that did. And why not? Why shouldn’t we try
to extend [INAUDIBLE]?? I think it’s part of what’s
inherent in capitalism is, wealth is generated through
the circulation of resources. It’s profitable for a building
to be obsolete in 20 years or in 30 years, to need
renovation or re-modification. And I think that is
inherently problematic. And that’s where
design might have– could have a significant impact. And perhaps reinforces what
Ethan was asking about, in terms of the place-ness
of architecture– I mean, you’re adding to it now
the permanence of architecture is another way of
perhaps countering that cycle of exchange. Yeah. Yeah. All right, well thank
you very much I’ll give it to [INAUDIBLE]. Thank you all for
remaining in the room. It’s 7:25. I’m very impressed. I don’t always have
such stamina myself. And thank you to
Nasser and Janelle in particular for
having visuals. It permits Ethan and I not to. We confirmed that at the
beginning and were comforted. I’m going to speak about
development and the built environment. And the idea of ends– end and ends of development
and end and ends of the built environment. I’ll start by saying that I’m
not a scholar of development, per se. So I don’t want to try to
come to a definition of what development means. I think any definition
that I could arrive at or that any of us
might arrive at would probably be
pretty contested. And my very limited sense of
the development literatures is that indeed development
is quite contested. However, there are a lot
of different dimensions of development that many
scholars have spoken about, a couple of which
I’m familiar with. For example Gilbert Rist
has spoken about development as a set of practices that are
geared toward the production and consumption of commodities. Kind of economic
understanding I think that’s actually a fairly simple
understanding of development, but one that actually has
a lot of pull in the world when you go out and
see different societies and where they’re going. Amartya Sen, of
course, has spoken famously about development
as a set of freedoms. It’s not necessarily freedom
as the lack of something, but it’s also freedom as
the presence of something. Ability, the capability
to do certain things. And although Francis
Fukuyama doesn’t always speak about
development per se, he does speak about
political order. And my understanding of his
dimensions of political order is a kind of
understanding of a process of political development
where you first attain a coherent state– whether a nation-state
or not, we can discuss– you then attain rule
of law, and ultimately you attain an
accountable government. It’s a kind of teleological
path toward an ultimate state of political order. So this is a rapid, and I
think totally inadequate, survey of ideas and development. But we see that
development has– first of all, it’s an
idea of progression. And it’s an idea of
progression along economic, social, and
political lines at least. There are dimensions
of economics, politics, and society involved
in development. Toward an economically
more prosperous state, as measured maybe by GDP or
a host of other indicators. Toward a greater
state of liberty, with respect to
one’s own actions, and toward a greater ability
to operate within a government at all, which is a privilege,
according to Fukuyama, but also the ability to
influence one’s government, which is an even
greater privilege, according to the same person. But I’m not any one of these
economic, social, or political scholars. I’m a design scholar. And to a lesser
extent a practitioner. I’ve always found that
development scholars weren’t that interested in
the built environment. So as a PhD student I didn’t get
that interested in development, because I couldn’t see
development speaking to who I was and what I
was interested in. I just thought that that was
too bad, because as someone who studies the evolution of
built environments quite a bit, whether it’s a city or
non-city environment, I’ve found this
evolution to be not only interesting in its own right
through history and other forms of study, but raising
lots of questions that I’ve come to become very
interested in about the meaning of development as it pertains
to the built environment, which I will return to. I’ve also found that citizens in
so-called developing context– and the term becomes
inescapable once you become a professional, right? Underdeveloped, developing,
you’re speaking about it all the time, even if you don’t
really know what it is you’re speaking about. These citizens in
developing context, they were not worrying too much
about what development meant. They knew perfectly
well what it meant, at least inherently with
respect to their context within which they were living. So over the past year, I’ve
done some work in India with Lorraine Abeyo and Jim
Westcoat from the Department of Architecture, following
up actually on work that MIT had done 20 years ago,
which was quite interesting. And we interviewed
many villagers in the state of Gujarat. And these villagers knew
exactly what development meant in their context. We asked them about
their ultimate goals, what they wanted
their village to be. It’s kind of ultimate
development question that we think about a lot in
terms of planning, or urban design,
where we’re projecting a kind of fixed,
ultimate future. It’s pretty interesting
what they said. The villagers said, we
want to be like Mumbai. And I– first I
thought the villagers didn’t really understand
what we were asking them. And I’ve been pondering
this answer for a time, ever since I was in India. I actually realized that we
didn’t really understand them. Being like Mumbai
is a phrase that actually means a whole bunch
of things that we didn’t have the context to really
grasp, certainly pertaining to a particular
meaning of development for these villagers
as the most developed, or even representing a kind
of apex of development, for these people in Gujarat. The biggest possible,
most developed place that they were familiar
with from where they were. And Mumbai has indeed been
called a maximum city. It’s also sometimes thought
of as a global city. And maybe if Saskia were
here, I would ask her it’s a global city was,
in fact, an ultimate end state of development. Many of us would
probably hope not, given that we’re
starting to understand all the problems
of global cities, including rampant inequality– London maybe being the worst. Anyway. The villagers have many
other, more local ideas about what development meant. And I really couldn’t
argue with any of them. It was not my place to say
for someone, for example, that it shouldn’t be
a goal to have shoes. Nor could it be
my position to say you shouldn’t have a mobile
phone, which was a universally held goal in this village. Many other goals were
more traditionally related to ideas of sanitation
and infrastructure, having– although ones like the
mobile phone of course fit right in with Rist’s
understanding of development as a kind of progression of
production and consumption. So the villagers are becoming
consumers in the global sense by wanting mobile phones. But villagers wanted
many other things. They wanted a latrine
constructed within their yards so they didn’t have to
go outside to the forest or to the edge of the woods. At the same time, they wanted
freedom from certain things, like the freedom
from being harassed or even from being raped
when you went to do that. So in line with
understandings of development as a kind of freedom. Villagers were very
interested in replacing their [NON-ENGLISH] houses,
which are mud brick, with [NON-ENGLISH] houses,
which are concrete, meaning permanent. They don’t see the
homes they’ve been living in for centuries and
even millennia as permanent. Which is quite interesting. Of course, these houses– these [NON-ENGLISH] houses, were
the ones that MIT visitors from 20 years ago said, this
should be the end state of the village. We should restore and live
within these mud brick houses. Nobody wants them, they all
want the [NON-ENGLISH] houses. But we also found that
development was in motion. So moving your latrine
indoors, out of the yard, so you had an indoor bathroom,
was also a developmental goal. And then moving
other things away from you was a developmental
goal– moving your water buffalo that you’ve been living
without out of your house down the street to a
stable was a high priority. Even though people love
their water buffaloes, they don’t want to
live with them anymore. And freeing yourself
from other things, like insects, which people
spoke about all the time– we forget that in a mud brick
house you live with insects. Heat, floods, and
the list goes on– this was all considered
part of development for these villagers. And of course,
basic services has been the goal of our
so-called development agencies for decades, right? Even though, as we know,
the achievement of these is far from universal. So as I said, development
is a moving target. Once you have a yard latrine,
you want an indoor bathroom. And then we spoke
with many people who wanted two indoor bathrooms. You can imagine
how befuddling this is for policy experts who are
trying to determine exactly how far should their funding go. This was a challenge for the
Aga Khan development network that we were working with. They were quite comfortable
with giving people latrines in their yards. They were pretty comfortable
with giving people indoor bathrooms. They started to get
uncomfortable about funding two bathrooms. You’re starting to fund two
bathrooms in villages where many people are still at the end
of the developmental spectrum, going outdoors. But I understood how
these villagers felt. Having a two bathroom
apartment has long been a developmental goal of myself. I achieved this last year. [APPLAUSE] And I’ve felt– thank you– I’ve felt like I’m developing. Villagers felt the same
way about bedrooms. One bedroom, two
bedroom, three bedroom. So even at the small scale and
comparatively uncomplicated place, this village in Gujarat,
development was not static, nor did it really
have a clear end state, unless that end state was
in some cases literally Mumbai. Because what too often happened
was that children growing up in the village, they
seceded entirely from this developmental
spectrum and they just left. And they went to Mumbai,
or to a nearby city. So it didn’t matter how big
their parents [NON-ENGLISH] house was. And in many cases we met
parents who had very large– they had developed– they
had very large [NON-ENGLISH] houses, but the children
were no longer there. The children had seceded
from this trajectory. I think if we go
back to the built environment of the global
scale, we find the same thing. Development is always in
motion and it does not have a clear end. Nor, I’m afraid, does
development have a common end. Unless we understand
development as a single thing, but something that has a
plural nature rather than a unitary nature. For example, if we
get down to specifics with respect to infrastructure,
unfortunately for Ethan, I don’t think American cities
will ever have high speed rail. Certainly not in the same
way that Chinese cities do. And I’ve spoken with Chinese
scholars coming to the United States who say America is
underdeveloped, especially when we see a rail system. It’s really underdeveloped. And when you look at
our trajectory of rail, you might agree. We definitely will never have
a maglev system like that that Japan is building
that’s going to link Tokyo and Osaka by 2026. Absolute– I can
never foresee this. So the question is, does this
mean that America itself is underdeveloped? Maybe, or maybe we just
have a different development trajectory than
some other places. Kind of akin to what Ethan
was saying with respect to social media. That China’s not on
the same social media trajectory as many other
parts of the world. It’s very clear. But in some ways we may
yet understand China as being underdeveloped,
of course, because China lacks
democracy and open discussion of political issues
that we, in America, see as being very closely
tied to our understanding of our advanced
status as a nation. In fact, Fukuyama closes
his very long books on political order with a lot
of puzzlement and confusion about China’s
seeming imperviouness to an otherwise global
desire for more democracy. And he’s puzzled as to
whether China really is going to end up being a
kind of parallel condition where democracy never arrives. And I think that’s a really
interesting thing to ponder. In urban design,
scholars have also puzzled for some time
about whether or not there’s a single set of
ideals or end points that could characterize a
so-called good city, and especially a
well designed one. Hasn’t really worked out. There doesn’t seem to be any
best or ideal city design, and even really one of the last
ambitious attempts from Kevin Lynch concluded that
it might not really be possible to have a
singular idea of a good city. But there is consensus,
sometimes, on which cities are better or worse. That does still
seem to be the case. I have puzzled myself
about whether or not good urban design aligns
with other ideas of goodness. In other words, about whether
or not good urban design or even the existence
of urban design can be tied to other desirable
attributes of a good society, like democracy or
economic prosperity. For example, American
cities, which in my view are often terribly
designed, exist in parallel with this economic
prosperity and democracy. Silicon Valley is
a great example. It’s essentially a non-place
with almost no design, at least in terms of aesthetics. But look at the
economic prosperity that’s arriving there. In other words, we don’t
find easy correspondences between the most beautiful
cities and the best places to live. And places where urban
designers have historically had a lot of power, and
therefore a lot of potential to influence city
form, have not always been ideal in other ways. And of course, the example
that I refer to all the time is the Soviet Union. I like Soviet cities a lot. They’re highly ordered,
they’re logical, they did provide housing
for most of the citizenry. They were exemplary
in many, many ways. But few people today– today, at least–
would say they want to live in the Soviet
Union at any point during its trajectory. So development in the
sense of urban design is not consistent with
other kinds of development. I would also say that
I think our practices, and even theories of
pedagogy, in our school are inconsistent with an
understanding of development as a kind of plural practice
with multiple ends– if there are even end, but
certainly multiple parallel trajectories. I’ll talk about our own
department, the urban planning department, where we talk
about citizen participation, or public participation in
citizen organizations, as– it’s a kind of mantra
in urban planning. This is almost
explicitly and uniformly held to be an ideal
for urban planning. It’s not clear at all to me that
public participation or citizen organizations are an end
state of planning processes in other parts of the world. Even if some countries
do feel the need to pay lip service
to these features– Singapore creates a kind
of facade of participation. And we– it’s like in
Russia, when they said– Soviet Union– they
said, we pretend to work, they pretend to pay us. Singapore pretends
to have participation and we pretend to
be OK with that, and say, oh, Singapore
has some participation. Much of the way
that Russia today pays lip service to
the idea of elections– they have a kind of
facade of this closely held Western ideal. And yet, within
SA&P at MIT, we go on teaching a kind of
single version of planning that posits this participation
in citizen organizations. But it’s actually, like
Facebook is deeply local, I think participation and
citizen organizations are also highly situated features
of certain places. They’re far from universal. And I tend to think
that they’re likely far from an ultimate state of
planning in most countries. I don’t think that
my department has come to terms with
that reality, at least, did not through our
teaching entirely. But we should, and maybe
we’ll move closer to that– I’ve always thought that we
needed to globalize not only our curriculum and planning
but our sort of whole approach to the enterprise,
to acknowledge these parallel trajectories
that don’t always end up with the W Street
Neighborhood Initiative, for example. Going back to urbanism
and urban design, which we can think of as a
piece of design that’s closely interwoven with society
and political institutions, though not the only one, I
think the same thing is true. Ideals like tactical
urbanism and new urbanism they might mean a lot
in Peoria, or Topeka– in fact, I would say
they’re badly needed, having been to those places– but I doubt that
tactical or new urbanism will ever mean much
in Bamako or Conakry, which will be some of the
largest cities of late 20– we’re in the 21st century now. The late 21st, 22nd
century certainly. Similarly, teaching urban
design studios in China, I think China’s variation
on modernist urbanism has little applicability
in the United States. And it really never will. So to conclude, we’re faced
with the process of development that’s quite plural in nature. This can be seen as frightening,
perhaps, or reassuring. But certainly these
are points that don’t indicate an inevitable
convergence of a development trajectory, or even
arrival at anything. I don’t think there’s
an ultimate city or an ultimate city design. And yet we also have a
seemingly universal desire for particular aspects of this
concept of plural development. So so far, everybody seems
to want a mobile phone. And so we’re faced with a
kind of paradoxical condition where some parts of
development are highly plural, and other parts are not. And understanding that,
I think, is something that we should also
be closely engaged in. Thank you. So I was struck by
this comment you made early on that
development scholars tend not to be very interested
in the built environment, and it took me back to a
dinner that I had in Taipei about four weeks ago. And I was being
hosted by my friends, and I was really
enjoying the city. My first time in it. Really enjoyed it. It’s a city to move around
and sort of experience. Not a pretty city. And was trying to find a
very polite way to say this to my Taiwanese friends. And one of my friends said,
yeah, so the thing about Taipei is that no one ever planned
on staying here very long. The Japanese weren’t planning
on staying here very long, the nationalists were
going to come here, they were going to sort of
hole up, use it as a base, then they were heading
back to the mainland. Nobody was planning
on sticking around. And I found myself kind of
thinking about your talk from this idea of, nobody is
planning on sticking around. Like, is it possible
that as long as we are within an arc of
imagining better futures, we’re thinking of
our built environment very much as a disposable built
environment that we’re going to move through step
wise towards some sort of ultimate space, and
whether we end up at Mumbai or whether we end up at
London, it’s not until then that we’re willing to think
about sort of permanence associated with that. And if I were to pull this
out, it would not just be Rajasthan or Gujarat, it
would also be McMansions. We’re sort of imagining this
future in which we’ve developed further than not only our
two bathrooms but our eight bathrooms, to some ultimate
place at which point we might finally decide to
settle down in permanence. I think that’s a
very complex notion. I think, again,
different societies land in different places with
respect to ideas of permanence and the built environment. Pretty interesting one
is Japan, which we often see images of Japan as
ancient temples and gardens. And indeed we go to
those ancient temples and gardens, which we
then often remark again are periodically rebuilt.
At least some of them. And then you find,
in parallel, you find a highly disposable or
seemingly disposable built environment, where housing
seems highly impermanent. And Boston looks
like ancient ruins compared to this highly
impermanent and flexible built environment. So I do think there is– I think that’s a notion
to be deeply unpacked. I think it’s true– Americans are highly mobile. And yet in Boston we
persistently build our houses as versions of these wooden
houses from the 17th century. Highly frustrating
notion to architects who wish people didn’t
want these colonial homes, and wish they
wanted modern homes. And then other places
are very comfortable with modern architecture. I have to say, I don’t really
understand all of these. Things but it’s
absolutely observable. I must admit that when
Mark and Saskia came back with the theme of
development for this panel, I was elated because I still
see a very strong importance and relevance for the
project of development, particularly in relationship
to globalization. And I also want to go
back to that problematic that you put in front of
us about the relationship between development and
urban planning architecture. The kind of blood, sweat, and
tears form of development that Sen talks about as being the
wrong development started with Truman in 1949, his second
[INAUDIBLE],, he said, I will take it upon myself to
give peace loving countries support– meaning technology transfers–
so that they can catch up with the developed world. And in doing that, he set the
model for what developed is and what underdeveloped is. And they accelerated the
process of development in favor of technology
transfer– of course, giving up any allegiance
to the Soviet bloc. But that package
included, in order to make it work,
a national plan. So the international
development bank, which became the
World Bank, insisted on the production
of a national plan followed a template
provided by, primarily, graduates of the
New Deal, in order to qualify for
support [INAUDIBLE].. Interestingly, urban
planning and architecture were part of this
technology transfer. The templates were provided by
[INAUDIBLE] for Latin America, Doxiadis for the rest of the
world, and again, both of them uncovered branches of science. So there’s a kind of
international universal global model for development
that came with that. The premise that a
sandbox [INAUDIBLE] is that in order to be
qualified for this development, you have to suspend
your quest for rights, for certain freedoms, and be
part of this larger project. If you go through the
process of development, you will eventually
attain your freedom. So [INAUDIBLE] proposes the
model that you have alluded to, which is development as
freedom, whereby freedom is the precondition to
achieve development, and development is
the precondition to be making free choices. And as you rightly
pointed, this modle has to be very local, because
the participatory practices, et cetera, that make it,
have to be localized. And in that sense, it could
invent models of development from the ground
up, and therefore promise a pluralized
form of development. I think the dilemma that you’ve
pointed to is a very, very interesting one is that
neither the participatory process is utilized
nor its outcome has been pluralized yet. And I ask– Nasser, who’s pushing in
that direction, [INAUDIBLE] pushing in that
direction, you’re pushing in that
direction, why has it not produced the kind of free
choices that you’re asking for? Is that a question
for our speakers? Absolutely. All of you. And Mark. [INAUDIBLE] The open ended
[INAUDIBLE] that we see these sort of ambiguities
in open-ended [INAUDIBLE] got me thinking about
the beginning of it all, how does one
sometimes look backward at some sources on
this [INAUDIBLE].. Sort of a sticky
term in sociology that I can’t ever
imagine developer theory talking much about– Status. Status. Status. You know that status is
huge, right, the reason why I’m doing it is because you
hear that people in the town have two, and you want two,
and the reason you want one [INAUDIBLE]. So within the realm of
the village or the city or whatever, and there are these
sort of strange vortexes, which often drive
development which had nothing to do with
anything, except that there might be sort of– have a lot to do with
education, over-education. You become too familiar
with what’s in the city, and want to be like that. Whereas if you live
in isolated, you might be happy
with your outhouse. right So you know you want
to give them choices, and then of course choices means
really not opening up to choice but really honestly
the opposite– you’re foreclosing choice
by replacing your status and status desires. So all of a sudden it’s easy
to reject that as development, because in some sense now
you’re sort of home schooling, or perhaps the
realities on the ground. So anyway I’m trying
to see if there’s ways in which one
can engage in sort of even thinking [INAUDIBLE]
right by sort of introducing sort of more like
sociological epistemologies within the continents or on
the underside of continents. I don’t understand
the concept of status well, although I think we
all have an interest in it as members of society. But it’s definitely
socially constructed, as I think you said. And you see that actually
with respect to urban design as well. And you see it in– I see it at least– in China,
where with very rapid social economic development, people’s
understanding of which built environments possess a
kind of status has shifted, so that historic
built environments– which 20 years ago were
not valued and torn down– those environments have
a degree of status now. And Chinese scholars
will say, well it’s in the most advanced cities
that that process is the most advanced. So in Shanghai,
people value these built environments very highly,
and that will filter down to other cities. It’s filtered into
this kind of hierarchy, which we saw in India as well. You’re pointing to a
clear dilemma, which is, is social and economic
development inspired by particular [INAUDIBLE]
or vice versa. And you’re saying,
no, however, we are replicating
this model endlessly around the world, ad nauseum, as
we are replicating this model. You’re saying
state’s development in a political sense? No, I’m saying social
and economic development, and wonder, and real estate, and
you’re calling it urban design. I’m just debasing
it a little bit, I’m calling it real estate. That’s one form of urban design. You’re calling it
by its real name. Yeah, I mean, I– You’re just putting
a nice face on it. I’m not– sorry. I think we’re sometimes– and I guess we could challenge
Saskia with this [INAUDIBLE],, I think we’re often seduced
by the seeming dominance of globality with respect to
the built environment, when in fact, most built environments
remain, as I understand them, highly, highly, highly local. So you would say Tokyo and
Shanghai are global cities. They both manifest aspects of
globality, towers et cetera– these cities are entirely
distinct with respect to their built environments. And actually, I don’t know
if people here like Fukuyama, but I like these books
about political order. He said institutions are
incredibly slow to change their resistance to globality. and. I thought, yes, that’s
absolutely true. And urbanism is embedded
in institutions. Institutions play a huge role in
shaping what cities look like, whether that’s property rights
or a participatory process, or even educational processes–
we’re an institution ourselves. And in that sense,
it’ll be a long time before cities all look
the same, act the same, and behave the same. So I’m reassured
by that in a way that this kind of high
level of differentiation and high level of localization– I find it to be
incredibly persistent, despite the fact that I can
go have a latte anywhere around the world. But are you saying then
that this proliferation of other forms or [INAUDIBLE]
models, that cities are still very different,
an outcome of free choices that people are making in
their community participation in order to produce
different cities? Or is it the result of
confluences, accidents, compromises? Because in the 50s and
60s, people weren’t– say, look at a city
like Medellin amd say, well, it looks like this because
the national plan was never fully implemented. So local identity is about
a compromise that emerges– or a failure that emerges. Well, a great example
of this is our– now we’ve concluded this failed,
our invasion of Iraq in 2003. Some naive Americans
expected that once the light was shown, that
American institutions would immediately flourish in Iraq. I haven’t read any close
analysis of that failure. It’s too depressing
an episode for me. But why did that effort fail? Social traditions? So participation–
I don’t think it’s necessarily an
institution, although it has been institutionalized. But it exists
because of the kind of social tradition, which is– are social traditions
collectively constructed? I guess they are. But they’re also very,
very long lasting. It was simply impossible
to expect Iraqi society to all of a sudden become
a pluralistic democracy in the way that these young
Republicans had hoped it would. Do you have any perspective
on that, Nasser? They actually, for all
intents and purpose, they have become pluralistic
the way we wanted them to be. But they have not
become pluralistic the way it would serve them. Because there are
now 120 newspapers published in Baghdad, much
more than any other city in the world. So if you speak about
pluralistic voices, they are there. And they still are
bombing each other. So what we have not been
able to perhaps understand is that our form of pluralism
is only our form of pluralism. One more little thing
maybe [INAUDIBLE].. Which is a huge investment
and development [INAUDIBLE].. And so how can you do
your work [INAUDIBLE] intermixes with sort of
building industry cultures and development [INAUDIBLE]. Building industry
culture certainly can seem global, especially
with the kind of– that there’s a veneer of global
firms right that seem to operate very
comfortably across contexts and will seemingly build
more or less the same product in every place. And I think to
some extent it is. I think it’s part
of this global world that that Saskia
Sassen talks about. But I think pretty
quickly you’re getting into local
context once you start getting into the
actual building process. A great example
is, again, China. The China system of
buildings and roads to me seems incredibly persistent. You always kind
of end up with it. It’s hard to get away
from that system. It’s a highly embedded set
of planning regulations that kind of dictate
the form of buildings. And I’m not sure that
any of these global firms have been able to
get away from that, even if they really wanted to. Although again,
it’s not something I know that much about. I wanted to ask the
speakers if they wanted to say some final words. I am [INAUDIBLE]. So if any final thoughts about
this discussion [INAUDIBLE]—- we have each separately,
very insightfully, presented us with
[INAUDIBLE] discourse on globalization
[INAUDIBLE] questions of nation-state and
identity, and questions of the environment, and
building [INAUDIBLE].. So I want to grab this thread
of participation for a moment, because I’ve found that to unite
a lot of the conversation we had here, although I
didn’t find much of it in Sassen’s presentation,
there was this sort of sense of institutions that were
sort of beyond our control. And I think once we turned
this into physical spaces, whether it’s cities
that we create with or even online
spaces that we create, the question of
participation becomes a critical aspect of it. Even in the planned city,
individuals build buildings or don’t build buildings. They make stylistic choices– they choose one bathroom or two. I was struck by this
point Brent made about the facade
of participation and the ways in which
we sort of show that. And I would argue that
there is one sense in which the spaces
that I’m talking about are all about that facade. Facebook likes to ask me
every 10 days or so whether I like Facebook, and on a scale
of 1 to 5, how much I like it or trust it, and that’s
my ability to participate. And that feels
pretty superficial. On the flip side,
Facebook literally has no assets
other than the fact that I and 2.2 other billion
people create content every day in an uncompensated
fashion for them. So it’s about as participatory
as its going to get. And so for me, one of the
real questions in all of this is, where is that participation? And how does that
participation involve not just the sort
of hyper-locality of the space of our home or
the space of our home page, but when does that
participation step out and allow us to feel
like we’re actually having efficacy over the systems
and rules through which we’re being governed? And for me in my space
of study, in civic media, that’s the question. We– civic media is built
entirely through participation. And then the question is,
when is that participation efficacious, and efficacious
beyond something other than [INAUDIBLE]? Yeah, sure. So the [INAUDIBLE] it’s a
kind of paradox or tension [INAUDIBLE] about this
realization that the lifestyles that we want– like what is development? Like [INAUDIBLE]. This is like a
process [INAUDIBLE].. And why, if we think about
it in the national level or a broad social
level, it’s so costly, is that enlightenment
is expensive. But they can– this is
an expensive enterprise. Materially, it’s energy,
resource intensive. And so that’s sort
of at odds, again, with what does it
mean, I think, to live in a constrained environment? And so that kind of
paradox that says– it’s something I think
that’s sort of become very present for our students. We had a new environmental
policy and planning faculty after the IPCC
report was released, particularly the younger
faculty sort of said, oh no, it’ s crisis. There’s a– what do we do? How do we respond? [INAUDIBLE] pertinent to? We talked about canceling
all international flights. So we had the private
moment of panic about– we can’t consume
resources the way that we’re consuming resources. But then it doesn’t
enable the sort of intellectual
purity of what we do, the pursuit of what we want. And so I think that
paradox exists inherently, [INAUDIBLE] we get
as individuals, but also it’s part of the
broader social collective. And I don’t know that there’s
a good answer for that. And that kind of– I think that tension now it’s
becoming increasingly present. Yeah. Yeah. We had it– it came up
in a faculty meeting as well today, where we were
like we, have so much food and there’s this [INAUDIBLE]
about why all the food we should [INAUDIBLE]
state has nothing, we should send out
the state our lunches. Nasser? Well that’s actually
a very good image that you’re ending
up with, because I don’t know if you noticed
that after faculty meeting, there’s an email that
is sent out that says, free food in room such and such. And that, in a
sense, is an analogy to what’s happening
in the world. There are pecking orders– you go first and you eat your
food and then that food that is left over by you
is [INAUDIBLE]—- it’s basically made available
to the lower social order. And then it goes further
down and further down. And that is the development
that I was criticizing. And the reason why it is– in my opinion– is that
globalization is being pushed, and is being promoted, by
the most nationalist powers in the world. It’s actually being foisted
on the unstable nations– Iraq is a very good example– to become global. But not to the benefit of
the notion of globalism. So going back to Ethan’s notion,
participation is not only participation at
the local level, at this point in
time participation has to be also
global, if we’re going to speak about participation. Because the poor
citizens of Bangladesh need to be able to
say, stop emitting CO2. You’re killing us. We ultimately are
going to go underwater. And we are not
listening to them, because actually there
is no mechanism of them making their voices heard– or as a matter of fact, making
their voices have leverage. So we need to think
of participation at a much larger scale
than what is absolutely beautiful and admirable
of the local scale, and of like you go to your
school committee and town hall meetings and so on. But at this point
in time, because of that interconnectivity,
it seems to me that the participation
has to be rethought, and rethought politically. Because I agree with
you Ethan, I mean– to say that you love
Facebook, or I mean– every time that I go
and stay in the hotel I now have this survey
that comes, and tell us what you think about the hotel? Or every time that you fly. Or as a matter of fact, the
lousy medical services at MIT. Every time that you
go and see a doctor, they send you and
say, rate your visit. It’s like, I have absolutely
no means of going to them and saying, your services are
lousy, I’m paying you money and you’re not giving
me the services that you are promising. And then I am actually
supposedly participating in this fake
participation masquerade. And it’s very similar to a lot
of elections around the world. [INAUDIBLE] survey up
in the faculty meeting? Plan another thought. So I shared already the
ecological footprint calculator. And first I did
mine, quite honestly, and there was no response
from the calculator. And then I tried to
max it out to see– to see kind of how
costly could it be? I maxed out
everything, and then it came up, finished my results,
and this big yellow button– donate, donate. So it was like, first
I didn’t register, but then I maxed it out
with something [INAUDIBLE].. I also just want to point
out a critical difference between the Media Lab and
the rest of the Architecture Department. We also order way
too much food, but we have an overly sophisticated
technical system that we’re hugely proud of where
we bring our food down, we have a webcam hanging
from the ceiling. We press the button
on the wall, which takes a photograph of the
food under the webcam, and then sends it out so that
our impoverished grad students, once the people who are
supposed to eat the food, then can redistributed to
be underpaid grad students via a sophisticated, highly
complicated mechanism that everyone then buys into. So , yes we think of ourselves
therefore as morally superior because we found a way of
engineering out our guilt in our [INAUDIBLE]. So in continuing
the analogy, you are the United States of
America and we are Iraq. Hell yeah. [INAUDIBLE] brought up the
facade of participation, can you help us wrap it up? Because we’re– Well, when you enter
China, you actually are surveyed by
the customs agent. There’s a little
pin pad this says, how well did you like your
passport checking experience? I’ve always wondered
whether or not that was a facade of
participation or not, and how that actually
influenced the passport process. They don’t like it. You’ll never have access
to the country again. Actually, I think one of
the times I tried to do it, it didn’t work. It was there, but
it didn’t work. I think it’s a dilemma
as to which aspects– what sort of
development goals are universal and which
ones are situated, whether they’re local– I don’t really like the word
local, but really situated or relative. And working in a
place like India is really, really
compelling, because you– no one can deny
that having shoes is a development goal that
probably every human being wishes to attain. To question that is
probably inappropriate. Similarly, freedom
from sexual harassment. Probably a universal goal. But then other types
of goals, whether it’s participation or
other things we’re thinking about with respect to
cities, the design of cities, the planning of
cities, also seem to be really, really
situated relative, and not necessarily universal. So somewhere in
this world, there’s a line between these universal
and these situated local ends. I don’t know if it’s possible
to draw that line to anything meaningful too, but
I know it exists. And this is something– maybe
we just always need to be aware, and not to assume that
everything is situated or that everything
is always universal. And that us
definitely not a bunch of states congregating getting
together to make the global. I think so. On that note– On that note, thank
you very much. [APPLAUSE]

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