'Working to take place back'—Bradley Garrett in Transactions journal


In the current issue of Transactions of the Institute of British GeographersExplore Everything author Bradley L. Garrett shares his research and analysis on urban exploration as critical spatial practice. Garrett ties present-day urban exploration to past interventions by the Situationist International and culture jammers, suggesting a common starting point for acts of urban subversion. Garrett notes:

Urban exploration can be read as a reactionary practice working to take place back from exclusionary private and government forces, to redemocratise spaces urban inhabitants have lost control over. 

Garrett recognizes both the problematic aspects of actively participating in the communities and activities he is researching, and the "value of undertaking deep ethnography" in order to gain trust and access to his subjects-turned-comrades and the spaces they explore. By traversing the boundary between observer and participant, Garrett is privy to the thoughts of the urban explorers outside of the formal interview setting, while sloshing though sewer tunnels or infiltrating unfinished skyscrapers. Drawing upon conversations with explorers, such as Silent Motion or members of UE Kingz and LTV Squad, Garrett says: 

Explorers like Silent Motion seek to reprogramme controlled space through both premeditated and spontaneous recreational trespass, acted out as placemaking performances that disrupt monotonous, normative urban spaces colonised by capitalist forces that encase and secure the city as a spectacle to be seen rather than negotiated.

The increasing privatization of public space by state and corporate actors is undoubtedly an element driving urban exploration, a practice Garrett describes as, "in the framework of late capitalism, largely pointless, but in the context of vibrant social life, immensely powerful." At the same time, increasing interest in and visibility of urban exploration means the increased likelihood that the practice will be co-opted for profit:

It would be naïve, or at least premature, to assume, despite the overarching ethereal and media-dodging ethos of the community, that urban exploration has sidestepped appropriation. If we are to learn anything from the urban subversions of the past, urban exploration will inevitably be appropirated and monetised by corporate global interests.

Corporate advertisers may find ways to capitalize on the coolness of place-hacking, and private interests may continue to encroach upon public space, but luckily for urban explorers, the liminality of these spaces means that there will always be someplace to explore.

Visit Transactions to read Garrett's article in full.

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