a glossary to help you on your journey through constellation.s

by Michel Lussault, geographer

This glossary gives you the keys to interpreting the exhibition. It explains the meanings of terms essential for describing and understanding new ways of inhabiting the world.

We are living in a new “geological” era called the anthropocene because of the major role played by human activities in the global changes affecting the planet. Global warming, declining biodiversity, and increasing scarcity of resources will lead to radical transformations in the way humans inhabit the World. The recognition of this anthropocene represents a crucial point where individuals and societies become aware of their vulnerability and their direct involvement in that vulnerability. The change is both global and local, as are the analysis that has to be made and the action that must be taken.

The word ”care” is interesting for its multiple meanings: one can take care of something, and one can take
care over an activity, for example. Joan Tronto defines it as an activity “that includes everything we do to maintain, perpetuate and repair our ‘world’ so that we can live in it as well as possible”. Care is a basic principle of human life. It extends to what is around us: all the human and non-human realities that surround us. Creating relationships between the different components of individual and social life is at the heart of the development of spatial and environmental care.

“Hubs” are places that make it possible to connect several spaces of different scales and different kinds. Airports and stations are prime examples of hubs: they create a tangible and intangible connection between a very large variety of spaces that potentially intersect and interact. This is why this type of facility is so important in contemporary urban planning. The development of tangible and intangible flows explains this. But hubs also respond to a desire to control several spaces of different sizes at once—which is what a mobile phone allows you to do, for example.

“Commonality” results from what is pooled by key social operators in the framework of their activities. Because it requires the joint commitment of individuals, commonality is fundamentally political. It is also specific to each situation that gives rise to it: it arises in practice, including in activities that affect our daily lives. Commonality involves new forms of extended citizenship that are not restricted to taking part in elections.

“Connectivity” refers to the many possibilities for connections that are available to a given individual, group or space. Contemporary societies are influenced by a thriving culture of connectivity, which affects all areas of individual, social and family life, in particular via Internet. It is striking that the most emblematic global companies mostly base their business on an ability to connect people to each other and to the things
that interest them. Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter and many others sell and promote not so much instruments as intangible services expressing and magnifying a universal culture of apparently unrestricted, if not uncontrolled, contact.

“Empowerment” refers to a mobilisation process that is both political and educational and which makes it possible to enhance the actions of individuals who are initially on the margins of design and decision-making systems. Empowerment can allow a subordinate to become actively involved in a collective initiative, for example. Applied to urban planning, empowerment involves recognition of inhabitant expertise, and it is an instrument that can help us to respond to the requirements of spatial justice.

The French word “forain” refers, in this instance, to itinerant and non-permanent urban installations. The principle of non-permanence is essential to this way of inhabiting a space. Fragility and lightness hold the potential for creativity, and they also encourage people to take care of common spaces. The term “forain” also suggests spatial flexibility and fitout reversibility; developing a living environment thus appears as a necessarily unfinished process where what matters is the way people actually inhabit the space, however perfect or imperfect that space may be in formal terms.

The term “inhabiting” refers to all forms of experience and occupation of space by individuals and groups. To “inhabit” is not just to live somewhere;  it also involves moving and connecting. Day by day, equipped with skills and driven by values and imagination, each inhabitant organises the subtle combination of materials and ideas that makes up his or her “habitat”. What do humans do? They inhabit, constantly and on all scales—that of the body, that of housing, that of mobility, and that of the World. More precisely, they permanently co-habit with all other humans—and thus face the political challenge of how inhabited space can be shared.

The way individuals and societies relate to living environments cannot be reduced to a functional or utilitarian relationship. It is also sensitive and emotional: it involves ideas, representations, and values. All this comes together as a form of geographical “imagination” that is both individual and social, and which is expressed and mediated via narratives, discourse, and images. This imagination makes it possible to describe and conceive the conditions for inhabiting space, and opens up a repertory of possible actions in situ for an individual or a group.

An act or a spatial reality is considered “informal” when it escapes explicit public regulations and standards and lies outside the official market. In many situations, informality is omnipresent: it is even the normal regime for many urban processes, especially in economic and residential terms. Informality is often presented as the result of a need to survive when faced with poverty or corruption; however it often also arises from rational choices made because of the advantages it brings— even if such choices may lead to illegal practices.

In the face of growing inequality, social justice promotes the principle of fairness in the way goods are divided up or in terms of access to resources. By analogy with John Rawls’ Theory of Justice, “spatial justice” can be defined as a way of organising geographical space that allows us to provide maximum access to urban amenities and public assets to everyone, including the least privileged members of society. This principle, which has to be redefined to fit every situation, should be one of the main preoccupations of housing policies.

In the social sciences, a “place” is where a range of social realities (human and non-human realities and material constructions) are brought together in direct contact with one another and integrated into the limited space that contains them and gives them their meaning and function(s). “Places” manifest themselves via the explicit and tangible nature of their limits and the threshold and crossover effects that result from those limits. In a “place”, the individual makes himself seen: he agrees to be looked at by others and to leave the family and domestic sphere. Globalisation restores the importance of “place”, which constitute essential environments for communal life. “Places” are new magnets for globalised human life, and they both anchor and drive contemporary forms of cohabitation.

The World is the social space deployed by human habitation, which is now planetary. The advent of the World began a few decades ago, defining a new way of organising space that differs from all previous situations in terms of the modes of existence of human societies. Widespread urbanisation is the main constituent force of this World, via the spatial arrangements it produces and the imagination, knowledge and ideologies it cultivates.

Here, “restraint” refers to the optimum operation of inhabited spaces: it involves consuming as few resources as possible to meet the needs of the greatest number—including those needs that relate to celebrations, culture and excess, which are necessary for a society to breathe. Restraint is not the same as self-sufficiency, abstinence, or degrowth. It involves a successful combination of individual desire, efficiency, control of resources, and social justice. It opens up a way to reinvent democracy in the framework of a common political project that is both local and global.