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The Power of The Infra-Ordinary

It is fascinating how everyday places that through turmoil, have come to mean something else to those that frequent them.

To work within these everyday worlds is to touch the bedrock reality. By ‘everyday places’ I mean, the repetitive, common and taken for granted, the parts of the built environment that residents frequently engage but only truly appreciate once they develop a special meaning or character that stimulates a deeper perception.

The every-day is an arena of endless difference, a place we cannot simply go to. We are always-already immersed in it, although we typically do not realize this.

Perhaps we shall try to engage with the every-day on its own terms, rather than to subordinate it to reconstituted ideological narratives or abstract conceptual categories.

We appear to swing from being embarrassed, to unaware, or uninterested in ‘common things’ and that, what resonates with us, are the big events, the untoward, the extra-ordinary.

Theorist Georges Perec noted that within society, railway trains only begin to exist when they are derailed, and the more passengers that are killed, the more the trains exist. Aeroplanes achieve existence only when they are hijacked. We are seemly conditioned to recognise that behind the event there is a scandal, a fissure, a danger, as if life reveals itself only by way of the spectacular, as if what speaks, what is significant, is always abnormal: natural cataclysms or social upheavals, social unrest, political scandal.

An interesting position from which to explore the impact of place in a once brutal context, especially after they have achieved existence through violence.

Places that may have once been every-day, are now non-everyday places in nature, or what one might class as ‘infra-ordinary’ places of social significance within the built environment. Acknowledging that, while these places that used to present themselves as a great swath of the unexceptional, everyday life, needs only a little trauma for them to reveal an exceptional and important antisocial nature.

Peacebuilding tends to focus too much on economic development and too little on addressing the underlying causes that created the violence or meeting the needs of victims/survivors, and those who suffered the most from the violence.

Image: Aftermath of Iranian fuel protests in November 2019

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