UKNA - Urban Asia presentation series

Book launch: Ancient and Modern Practices of Citizenship in Asia and the West Care of the Self, Vol. I

Book launch by Gregory Bracken (editor; Chapter 1) and Renske Maria van Dam (Chapetr 11), each of whom contributed a chapter to this volume of collected papers.

Lunch is provided by IIAS. Registration is required.

Picture: (c) Gregory Bracken



The Book

Ancient and Modern Practices of Citizenship in Asia and the West - Care of the Self
Gregory Bracken (editor)
IIAS/AUP Asian Cities Publication Series (2019)

This collection of papers originated at a conference organized by the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), Leiden in the spring of 2016. The contributors come from a variety of different disciplines, including architecture, urbanism, philosophy, and history, and their essays make comparative examinations of the practices of citizenship from the ancient world to the present day in both the East and West. While the book’s point of departure is philosophical, its key aim is to examine how philosophy can be applied to the betterment of the everyday lives of citizens in cities in the West and Asia. The papers’ comparative approach, between East and West, and ancient and modern, leads to a greater understanding of the challenges facing cities in the twenty-first century, and by looking to past examples, suggest ways of addressing them.

Chapter 1: Citizenship and the Good Life

By Gregory Bracken

This chapter examines concepts of citizenship and the good life as they were understood in the ancient world, both East and West. It begins with the writings of Cicero, which stress political engagement. These are then compared with the non-engagement of Epicureanism, where to live the obscure life (lathe biosas λάθε βιώσας) was seen as the surest way of achieving tranquillity (ataraxia ἀταραξία). It then examines Plato’s and Aristotle’s writings. Plato was concerned with how to conduct the good life, but asked ‘what is good?’ He tries to answer this by positing ideals that are too unattainable. Aristotle, on the other hand, thought that humans could indeed lead a good life and sought ways of how this could be achieved, formulating his famous ‘doctrine of the mean’. The chapter ends with a brief look at Confucius, particularly his concept of the gentleman (junzi 君子). One thing all of these philosophers had in common was their pragmatism. They were all studying the good life from a practical standpoint because they understand that the human being is basically a political animal (zoon politikon ζῷον πoλιτικόν) therefore the good life is a politically engaged one, active and full of social contact. Good citizens have to cultivate this political and social engagement if they want to enjoy a fulfilled existence and lead a good life.

Chapter 11: Home Within Movement: The Japanese Concept of Ma (間): Sensing Space-time Intensity in Aesthetics of Movement

By Renske Maria van Dam

The ubiquity of immanent change and movement seems to exceed the present cognitive and sensitive abilities of our species and changes the relation between people and the environment. The emergence of the metropolis affects our sense of home. In Euro-centric architectural discourse this is more often than not referred to as a general shunning of place, resulting in an experience of homelessness. But, in contradiction of the negative connotation of deterritorialization and displacement in Euro-centric discourse, in Asian discourse there are alternative sensibilities. The social environment’s relations provide for a more positive sense of home within movement. In Beijing’s tradition of community building, this fluid concept of home is visible in the courtyard typology (in historical order: fang 坊, danwei 单位, and superblock). Social interactions based, respectively, on family relations, work, or lifestyle are the key to the conceptualization and experience of feeling at home. In Japan, this is further conceptualized in the word ma (間). Ma, normally translated as ‘gap’ or ‘interval’, describes the ‘pregnant nothingness’ with which the contemporary experience of home resonates. In this way the concept of Ma interferes with the Euro-centric philosophy of difference and inspires us to look at the modern urban environment from a different perspective; as a potential ‘fifth dimension’ in architecture.

The Speakers

Gregory Bracken is an Assistant Professor of Spatial Planning and Strategy at TU Delft and one of the co-founders of Footprint, the e-journal dedicated to architecture theory. From 2009-2015 he was a research fellow at the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) Leiden where he set up (with Dr. Manon Ossewijer) the Urban Knowledge Network Asia (UKNA) with a €1.2 million grant from Marie Curie Actions. While there he also established the annual IIAS-TU Delft conference series, of which ‘City and Society: The Care of the Self I and II’ were the eighth and ninth. These were the events at which this volume’s and Volume II’s papers were first presented. Some of his other publications include Asian Cities: Colonial to Global (Amsterdam University Press, 2015), The Shanghai Alleyway House: A Vanishing Urban Vernacular (Routledge 2013, translated into Chinese in 2015), and Aspects of Urbanization in China: Shanghai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou (Amsterdam University Press, 2012).

Renske Maria van Dam is an architect and researcher with a great interest in Japanese spatiality. Initially, she started her studies in fine art and philosophy but then graduated as an architect from the Technical University of Delft with a minor in urban anthropology from the honours programme in Chinese urbanity. She worked for architecture studio Herman Hertzberger in Amsterdam and Li Xiaodong Atelier in Beijing. From 2009 to 2011 she worked for Vision included, which is a self-initiated, pro-active design practice and discussion platform. Since 2013 she has been a lecturer in Art Science and Spatial Design at the Royal Academy of Arts, the Hague. In 2017 she started a design-driven PhD research at the KU Leuven architecture department Campus Brussel/Ghent.

Registration (required)

Please register via the web form provided below (by Tuesday 7 May if you would like IIAS to cater for your lunch).

Registration IIAS Lunch Lecture

To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.