Gentrifying of the memory and “the becoming – child” of a city | KOSTAS ATHANASIOU

August 19, 2014

The rather provocative title of this article impacts the special interest and the critical approach the “Encounter and Conflicts in the City” workshop has regarding the management of the past and the role that has effectuated in the city of modernity and postmodernity. In this small article there is an attempt to explore the relationship between the city’s past having as main example the museum. Nonetheless, the discussion expands and shifts to the management of the past at the urban level through the paradigm of creative cities.

The “becoming-child” of the city, a term that Deleuze and Guattari use, is another way to express the process of the desire of the city to its memory [1].This becoming doesn’t haveneutral connotations but profound political onesand implies a potential emancipatory procedure[*]. In this article the “becoming-child” aims to express a thesis that will lead to the rejection of the hitherto management of the past and the need of finding new radical ways to deal with such knowledge.

In the era of modernity the management of the past was constituted by the establishment and the proliferation of the museums. However, this is not a becoming, but a birth that came from the conjecture of the proto-capitalistic imperial State and the Nation.It was an “apparatus of capture” which encasted the past and put it into a museum. The museum which was born and bred during the early modernityis of significant interest because it moves between the border of the public space and collective property andthus could be considered a potential shared space, a common [2]. Nonetheless, one must doubt even the casual notion of the museum as a placeof learning and reconsider it better as a place which aims at the reformation of the collective memory through a wide range of social representations and tactics that take place inside it.

In order to better elucidate and understand the relationship between the museum and the capitalist State it is useful to approach and interpret the former as a heterotopia. “Heterotopias are counter-emplacements which establish arelationship with the real emplacements thatis simultaneous represented, contested, and inverted”[3]. Under this prism the museum isregarded as “heterotopias of infinite accumulation of time”.Having in mind that a strong characteristic in capitalism is the idea of accumulating everything, then the museum expresses the need of establishing a sort of general archive and the will to enclose in one place all times, all epochs, all forms andall memories. The collective memory is controlled and ultimately is gentrified, becomes an object of exhibition behind a showcase, especially when this memory is dangerous to the State. The museum, as ideological instrument of the state, during the modernist era, documents and depicts the hegemonic narratives of and for the Nation, molds the past to the needs of the dominant ideology and finally produces and reproduces any kind of social stereotypes.

However, with the transition to the era of postmodernity, Western thought was radically reconfigured and changedthe way academics approached the past [4]. The national-centric view and its reproductive institutions (ex. the museums) has changed to a more fragmented image. The postmodernist vision of the past expresses a heightened sensitivity to the principles of openness and freedom; it commits itself to the establishment of conditions that favor the accommodation of an expansive collection of viewpoints and as such, also strives for the ‘gates’ to the past to remain widely open: everyone has to be able to find a way in and, in fact, everyone does [5]. Although the aforementioned view has some grains of truth, at least at the level of intentions, it does not give the whole picture. Echoing the end of the Nation-State and the rise of neoliberalism, a new dangerous liaison between capitalism and past has began to develop. As Catapoti very successfully describes what “we witness nowadays, all over the world, is that museums, historic monuments, archaeological and other heritage sites, by the hundreds if not thousands, are “valorised, glamorised, and relentlessly merchandized”, and no longer exclusively by national governmental authorities but also by international agencies (like UNESCO), regions, municipalities, local communities and even private management companies or transnational corporations” [6].Here there is a “becoming-child” of the city which went astray. While there is pluralism and multiple aspects of the past in the museums and in the cities there is nothing emancipatory in it. The management of the past seems to pass from the Nation-State to the global capital.

The impact of the neoliberal policies in the management of the past at urban level is more apparent in the paradigm of the creative cities. The theory of creative cities which was introduced by the work of the urban theoristsCharles Landry [7]and Richard Florida [8] have as one of the main premises that in order “to fully harness creativity we need to think of resources more widely and draw on the history of places and their evolving culture” [9]. A basic principle of this theory is the shaping of the cultural and historical aspects of the city must become a source of profit. Hence, the creative cities must not only be sustainable but also profitable. The historical space of the city is thus quantified and consumed and the city’s past isn’t recalled this time for the shaping of the collective memory as was the case during modernity, but is used as an economic measure that has to be calculated, valorized and merchandized. In the case of the creative cities, the cultural heritage, the historical centers, the monuments and the museums, that is the becoming-child of city, connect the desire of the city to its past with great sociopolitical injustices. It is no surprising that the creative cities almost always lead to gentrification as many researchers, including Florida, have accepted [10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17]. In this case, the memory of the city, the cultural heritage and the museums are used as tools of economic speculation, of gentrification, of normalization and ultimately of sterilization and depoliticisation of the physical and the social space of the city.

The critical approach that was presented regarding the city’s memory has no intention to act like an aphorism but wanted to bring out policies, tactics and strategies that use the past as a tool to shape the collective memory in the case of modernity, and to produce profit in the case of postmodernity. However, the “memories of the city” should not be considered a lost case. These memories should not be considered an object of management that construes national identities and acts as an instrument of division. It should also not be considered a manageable number that impacts the coffers of the few. The past is something to be shared. Although there is no wish to dictate what someone can do with such knowledge, there is the wish to not follow the practices that were used until today. The sharing of the past should bean on-going emancipatory procedure and a collective open to the future without “top-down” interventions.


[*] According to Deleuze and Guattari, all “becoming is minoritarian and is a political affair” (Deleuze and Guatari 1987: 340). In the Western society where the dominant political subject is the white male, then the woman, the child (memory) and others are minorities and the “becoming-woman” and the “becoming-child” are potential paths of emancipation(deterritorialisation) from the majority, Patton, P. 2000. Deleuze and the Political. London: Routledge.



Konstantinos Athanasiou is a postdoc researcher of the Architectonic Department of Polytechnic School of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. He is working as an architect in various archeological sites and research projects and has presented his work in many conferences around the world.




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[15] Kagan, S. and J. Hahn. 2011. Creative Cities and (Un)Sustainability: From Creative Class to Sustainable Creative Cities. Culture and Local Governance / Culture et gouvernance locale, vol. 3, no. 1-2: 11-27.

[16] Florida, R. 2013. More Losers Than Winners in America’s New Economic Geography, (Accessed: 11 June 2014).

[17] Florida, R. 2014. The U.S. Cities Where the Poor Are Most Segregated From Everyone Else, (Accessed: 11 June 2014).




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