Parallels in the city 1 – Space, community and James Carey

We follow three parallel streets in the city of Porto: Bonjardim, Santa Catarina and Rua da Alegria. All three cut through the city centre, ending close to Marquês. Parallels in the city is a wandering, a necessarily attentive and emotional look at the urban space. Parallel 1 – Rua do Bonjardim, Porto

In an upward direction, Rua do Bonjardim, in Porto downtown, starts near the Brasileira and ends at Jardim do Marquês. It is a long straight street in the city, parallel to two other big straight streets in the city: Rua de Santa Catarina and Rua da Alegria. For me, Bonjardim started out as a street of ill repute, in the words of a secondary school classmate, whose mother forbade her cross because it was a prostitution spot. After that, I went up and down Bonjardim dozens of times, in a street that mixes a lot of the city and also of the village and that has, in fact, something decadent and seductive. Today, the day I walked along Bonjardim again, with a more attentive look and a defined purpose, I discovered a street in constant mutation. Perhaps it is a good time to invite James Carey (theorist of North American Cultural Studies) to this wandering that impressively communicates something to us, which we mix with our own experience of the place. In advocating human communication as a culture-building phenomenon, Carey (who drew on Dewey and Mead of the Chicago School), conceived art, architecture, politics and culture, as belonging to the broader hat of communication. That is, communication as a way of life rather than as a transmission of information (Carey, 2010). And here we stand at the top of a parallel, trying to decode what this uninterrupted communicative process (the public sphere) that throbs in the city has to reveal to us.

Down here, where the city is boiling, the noise of the traffic mixes with the hammering of works, which sprout a bit all over the Baixa (downtown). We don’t really know what type of city will emerge from this impetus construction, which is always aimed at tourism. For now, we can see that Bonjardim is caught between hotels and local accommodation. The Brasileira is a hotel, and across the street, another hotel unit has been opened. Tourists resurface, crossing paths with the city’s people. And there are those who take advantage of the support programs for the preservation of traditional commerce. These add a contemporary air to the initial vocation, which only confirms the metamorphosis of the city. I’ve seen butchers in Bolhão (Municipal Market) posing with a pig’s ear for a photograph! Something that seemed immutable is definitely in a process of erosion.

As I walk up the street, silence. In the back there is the bustle of restaurants at delivery time, the fine grocery stores with their mix of smells. And the eternal cod hanging on the door of the establishments. The doors, now, photographed out of context, look like village door knockers. That is also what Porto is made of. Windows that are showcases of private life: vases, birds, cats, grimy and decrepit curtains, side by side with the sophisticated imitation of local accommodation. Nothing in Bonjardim is distinct from so many other streets in so many other cities. Except the idiosyncrasy that makes it unique and unrepeatable, like a body that belongs to an individual being.

I summon James Carey (and the American Cultural Studies) to reflect on the relationship between space, place, time, memory, local, global and community: I draw on Angharad N. Valdivia’s interpretation of the concept of space from Carey. “How can space accommodate fragmentation, resistance, difference and common culture?” (2010, p. 35), the author wonders. To conclude, “Carey’s notion of space is rich, contradictory and therefore theoretically transgressive, refusing all facilities of demarcation or binary divisions.” “Carey’s notion of space is rich, contradictory, and thus theoretically transgressive, refusing all facile demarcations or binary divisions” (Valdivia, 2010, p. 35). If, for Carey, space is for transmission (the global) and time for memory, this does not mean that the author discards the communitarian potential of the concept. It is certain that the transmissive and globalizing vision (the power of distance, which James Carey took from Harold Hinnis) seems to annihilate the particular. Transporting this notion to the urban space, some people speak of gentrification. We might put it simply: there is a familiar Mc Donald’s in any city in the world where you go. But Carey restores a ritualistic hope to the concept of space when he associates it (as his predecessors did) with the heritage of place (with memory), or rather, with anthropology, culture and geography. A space that is not only impersonalised and massified technology, but a communal reservoir (it should be stressed that community is etymologically associated, in Carey, with communication), which places the subjects of the polis in incessant, life-giving conversation with the local culture.

None of this is black and white. What there is to unveil is greater than what we know so far, in this city in formation. It is important to retain the notion of community, as a seed for a place-memory, a place of social and symbolic exchanges, in which the subjects and the cultures that build it are in permanent communicative process. It is the glue that binds us together. In the words of Filipa Subtil: “[Carey] insists on a cultural perspective that seeks the conjunction between communication, participation, sharing, association, civic life and democracy. In short: communication and community.” (2014, p. 41). What is this if not the city, this parallel that is presented here, intersecting, multiplying, getting dirty and populating itself in these conversations, in these fragments of affinities, conflicts and communal and communicational powers? Looking at Bonjardim, the temptation to see the contamination of an idea of the global over the local is inevitable. The question is whether this globalised place (which only clings to memory as a kitschy prop justifying the tourist-economic voracity) will be dominant in the city or whether the city will have the resources (a cultural repository in constant renewal) to transmute itself, without losing its sense of community.

Text and images: Teresa Lima

Published on 14-03-2022


Carey, J. W. (2009). Communication as culture, revised edition (2nd ed.). Routledge.

Subtil, F. (2014). A abordagem cultural da Comunicação de James W. Carey. Intercom: Revista Brasileira de Ciências da Comunicação, 37(1), 19-44.

Valdivia, A. N. (2010). Space – The possibilities and limits of the conversation model. In S. Linda & C. Clifford (Eds.), Key Concepts in Critical Cultural Studies (pp. 26-39). University of Illinois Press.,shib,uid&db=e000xww&AN=569700&lang=pt-pt&site=ehost-live&scope=site







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