Social responsivity and phenomenology

Social responsivity as a concept expresses that the human tendency to commingle is intertwined with the ability to respond. My use of the concept focused the social interaction that is mediated to the materiality of urban artefacts and structures. Responsivity should not simply be interpreted as a pre-programmed or automatic response to material stimuli but as a complex interaction between humans in a social context and material environment. As I see it, responsive relations are possible in relatively open and free settings as well as in rigid and dominated ones. However, the scope of possibilities and the degree of challenge involved differ, producing radically different practises of convention or transgression. Asplund’s concept is the starting point for developing a theoretical constellation, a bundle of theoretical approaches that can help contextualising and making deeper the analyses. Whereas Asplund’s discussion leads to a rather exclusive definition of “true places”, I want to stress people’s ability to create meaning even in plain and almost sterile settings. I also understand places open for responsivity as belonging to a broad spectrum, far outside the associations to farmhouses in Schleswig-Holstein – or Schwarzwald for that part.

The phenomenology of place is crucial as one contribution to the understanding of social responsivity. If we see responsivity as between humans and spaces, there is a relevant discussion to be found in O F Bollnow’s Mensch und Raum.[1] Ambient space is probably the phenomenon that best illustrates the between-ness of responsivity. In focus of my understanding of space stands its creation, which can be a mental or concrete achievement. Space then is rather process than product. Consequently I mean that architecture is not realised until it is taken into use. In the contexts of cities or urban landscapes, when places are the issue, this is more or less self-evident. Bollnow’s authoritative treatment of “lived space” is deeply embedded in continental phenomenology and includes concrete reflections of different modes of space and of aspects of the landscape and the house. The tradition of phenomenology works in the background of several important schools of thought on space, place[2] and cities.

[1] Bollnow 1990 (Eng: Human Space 2009)

[2] Casey 1997