Article: The creation of consensus through spatial appropriation: Normalization of western hegemony in the built environment

Dellenbaugh, Mary. 2015. The creation of consensus through spatial appropriation: Normalization of western hegemony in the built environment. Journal of Narrative Theory. Volume 45, Number 1, pp. 47-61.

Socialist and communist landscapes share inherent characteristics – monumental architecture, large plazas, wide thoroughfares, and, in the case of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), slab building construction. These landscapes were additionally imbued with symbolic capital of the socialist or communist regime in the form of statues, monuments, public art, and street and place names. These physical and symbolic characteristics form the backdrop of residents’ daily life and tourists’ visits, as well as the foundation on which changes attendant to the political shift of 1990 must be built.

The combination of these physical and symbolic characteristics create landscapes that both differentiate themselves strongly from their postmodernism-influenced western counterparts, but are also through the permanence of their constant use and built characteristics not easily ‘remediated’ or assimilated into western spatial discourses. The high ideological position of cities and built space in general for the fostering of socialist forms of life, including collectivity, marches, and demonstrations, provides additional fodder for the creation of an “Other” in new pro-western discourses.

Indeed, landscapes and the physical environment contribute significantly to the construction and reconstruction of identity. The labeling of architectural forms such as the slab building style typical of CEE post-socialist urban development creates an “Other” characterized by backwardness and inferiority, reinforced both by a West-dominated architectural discourse and a unilateral west-dominated media representation (Steinführer and Kabisch). The neoliberal assumption of western hegemonic and free market dominance creates consensus through the normalization of its own dominant position (Winchester, Kong, and Dunn 31), thereby creating self-reinforcing spaces of western symbolic self-propagation.

The visual representation of the cities of the CEE (for example in tourism brochures) concentrates on the post-modernism influenced revival of vernacular architecture and city centers “left to rot” by socialist regimes, whose inherent value in postmodern discourses, and attendant highlighting of the inferiority of the socialist regime’s planning, can now be brought to the forefront. The manufacture of consensus through discourses of inclusion and multiculturalism extends however only to certain groups, and constantly creates and recreates a strictly controlled symbolic space dominated by the forms and icons of the West.

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