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Department of Architecture



The Realm of the Phantom: Intersections of Spectrality, Temporality, and Spatiality

Hauntedness, as some scholars assert, is a vital aspect of ‘cityness’ (Pile 2005; Donald 1999). Whether informed by lingering pasts or looming futures, we see the influence of spectres in the everyday discourses of city-building across the world: residents aspire for, anticipate, or resent awaited transformation; states, developers, and entrepreneurs rush to build and outrun both imagined competitors and homegrown histories; utopian imaginaries of progress — including those that have been once attempted and lost, as well as those still far on the horizon — continue to dictate both form and function of the cities we live in. We understand these forces as ‘phantom temporalities’, or temporal expressions that are informed by recollections, imaginaries, and anticipations that may appear absent on the surface, but are deeply present by way of influence. They penetrate the logic of developers, the aspirations of planning offices, cycles of construction, the rhythms of migration, as well as both the hopes and lamentations of residents. Thus, these phantom temporalities — from individual aspirations and collective cultural imaginations, to political agendas and market devices — come to inform the spatial, social, political, economic, discursive, and aesthetic tapestry of urban life. Yet, likely due to the methodological challenges that researching them entails, traditional analyses of the urban rarely foreground spectral presences as core actors in their own right. Their impact on ordering and destroying, or advancing and delaying urban transformation, however, is monumental.

Scholars who work with hauntings have previously aimed to chart the ‘spectral geographies’ (Wylie 2007) that unsettle the normal order of space and time (Edensor 2008; Hill 2013; Derrida 2006, Benjamin 1982). They have noted how echoes of the past continue to inform the present, spanning from imperial legacies (Manchanda and Salem 2020) that extend colonial imaginaries (Coddington 2011), or discourses that vilify the “zombies” of state socialism (Chelcea and Druţǎ, 2016) to post-industrial (Edensor 2008) and domestic ruins that crystallise personal (Tandy 2017; Lee 2017), as well as class-wide, histories and losses (Hill 2013, Meier 2013). For geographer Steven Pile (2005), the figure of the ghost is one that inherently speaks “of loss, of trauma, of an injustice.” To ‘tell ghost stories’, then, as Gordon (2008) puts it, requires an attunement to both the visible and invisible phantoms of local histories. This would entail a “spectrographic analysis” (Andreotti and Lahiji 2016) that could unfold the horizontality of a given space into its various vertical spectres, which exist and persist along parallel, overlapping, palimpsestuous, and interfacing temporalities.

Temporal complexity is central in the study of spectres. It allows for the deciphering of landscapes along the threads of prismatic and often conflicting temporalities, which, as Ingold (1993) has argued, are embedded in our intertwining perceptions of time rooted in space. Accordingly, we understand the potential for ‘hauntings’ as that which not only ‘haunts’ — i.e. a past which lingers and possesses — the urban fabric, but also that which creates alternative spatio-temporal imaginaries and futurities. Katherine McKittrick’s (2013) ‘plantation futures’, for example, compellingly outlines the potential of phantom temporalities to disturb and reroute the logics of the present in an envisioned direction. This, along with a growing number of scholars, connects the study of urban haunts with calls for a confrontation and integration, rather than an avoidance and suppression, of a city’s traumas and spectres. When acknowledged, integrated spectres can serve as productively-destructive vehicles of change (Salem 2019), resisting state- sanctioned efforts of erasure (Best and Ramirez 2021) and cultural amnesia (Nagle 2018). The just and free city, in Pile’s (2005, 161) words, “will need to find ways to accommodate its ghosts whether from the past, the present or the future; whether personal or collective; whether dead or alive.’’ Expanding the understanding of hauntings to encapsulate more than just lingering pasts, but also anticipated futures and parallel presents — along with situating the political imperative of this analytic — makes it ripe with potential for broader studies of time and space.

Over the past decade, a growing number of scholars across the social sciences have revived the so-called ‘temporal turn’ (Hassan 2010), positioning time at the heart of understanding the production of socio-spatial realities. They show the influences of different temporalities on our individual and collective experiences; from the terminal temporal experiences of the climate crisis (Nobert 2018), everyday temporalities that subvert colonial rule (Barak 2013), to the material objects that modify our perceptions of time (Birth, 2012). From the temporal experiences of displacement (Sakizlioglu 2014; Pull and Richard 2019) and large- scale redevelopments (Ghertner 2015; Arican 2020), to those of economic precarity (Adbiboa 2019) and wholesale political upheaval (Ringel 2014; Pusca 2016) -- the analysis of ‘time’ has grown ever-more central in the analysis of ‘space’.

How we experience and imagine time rooted in space is multifold and overlapping. Scholars who have attuned to the overlap of various temporal expressions, from the present to the phantom, have highlighted how they come to inform the rhythms, tempos, cycles and actions of urban interventions. Economic geographers have explored how the temporal norms of finance shape urbanization (Harvey 2010), and in turn, how the logics of financial calculus dictate the speed of construction industries (Bond 2019, Grafe and Hilbrandt 2019, Ryan-Collins 2019). Likewise, urbanists and cultural geographers have come to position everyday temporalities as ‘infrastructures’ that may either enable or constrain the urbanization process and everyday life (Besekovsky et al 2019). However, as is well documented in the aforementioned works, the notion of a singular urban temporality is false: temporal experiences and orientations are heterogenous, and their many rhythms interface at various scales. At the nexus, temporalities may benignly overlap, experience localised tensions— for example, between construction schedules and residents’ anticipation of displacement — or, in moments of significant conflict, precipitate political strife (Ranciere 2004; Dikeç 2012) and regime overhaul (Penzin, Budraitskis in Dziewanska et al. 2013). Others have shown how spatial conditions such as emptiness (Dzenovska 2019, 2020) or ruination (Stoler, 2013) can be understood as temporal conjunctions of violent events, life paths, memories and potential futurities. Therefore, to trace the multitude of temporalities embedded in space is to trace where they coexist, intersect, and collide: which appear visible at the surface, and which continue to haunt lower still?

Many notable works have employed architecturally-minded methods to ground studies of everyday life, sociocultural imaginaries, and power relations in their spatial and material expressions. Forensic investigations have benefited from meticulous mapping and imaging of space (Weizman 2017); both professional (Kaijima, Iseki, Stalder 2018) and university-based studios (Mitchell 2010, Angélil & Malterre-Barthes 2016) have forged dialogue between technical architectural analysis and ethnographic insights; architectural philosophers have sought to phenomenologically deepen our understanding of spatial experience (DuFour, forthcoming); while architects, (ElShahed 2016, Maggi 2020), anthropologists (Schielke 2018, Haapio-Kirk & Cearns 2020), artists (Apel 2015), and photographers (Wiblin 2007), to name a few, offer fine-grained visual analyses of the built environment and its representations. We wish to extend similar methodological approaches to the task of tracking the intersection of the spectral, the temporal, and the spatial in shaping how cities exist and evolve today. By doing so, we aim to not only explore productive avenues of grounding phantoms in the tangible and spatial, but to also contribute to the ongoing project of formulating the disciplinary particularity and methodological utility of architectural research within the social sciences. 


Ibrahim Abdou                                                  Ekaterina Mizrokhi                              Dr. Nicholas Simcik-Arese