The void : Urban wasteland as political space

Abstract: The rugged field and group of trees between housing estates or next to the railroad tracks, the left-over space of deserted industrial areas, the vacant demolition site of a central city block – they could all be termed ‘urban voids’. However, they are often anything but voids, in a literal sense, as they are not empty, or deserted. Yet they are ‘urban voids’, lacking an evident function, or a definition according to a plan. It is a category of urban space constructed as a nothingness, even though the very same space is often used for a variety of purposes. The aim of this thesis is to show how the urban void becomes as the constitutive outside of the City. It investigates the difference made between well-defined urban spaces (known by names such as ‘street’, ‘park’, ‘parking lot’, ‘housing block’) and the other kind of space. The production of the void – either it is made a no-space, devoid of any meaning, or a mesmerising rabbit- hole leading to another world – is here understood as fundamentally political. With a relational conception of space and an anti-essentialist conception of politics and the political, the author conducts a deconstruction- inspired analysis of the becoming of the urban void as another kind of space. The Derridean notion of an undecidable provides a figure of thought that hinges the analysis together with a particular way of under- standing how dominant discourses on the City and conceptualisations of the urban void interact to deter- mine each other. It does not present a “truer” version of the urban void, but aims to shake up the dominant modes of conceptualising the phenomenon. The analysis engages a variety of texts – whether in the shape of what one might call ‘theory’, or ‘empiri- cal material’, or a TV-series, or a novel – and the thoughts provoked by working with those texts, have been edited into a montage. Fieldwork – in Athens (Greece), Berlin (Germany), Brasília (Brazil), Malmö and Stockholm (Sweden) – interviews, analyses of policies and plans, and close readings of academic literature from a range of different fields, have generated material for the study. The editing of a montage is, however, more than a mere methodological tool or a way of writing; with Rancière’s notion of ‘indisci- plinary thought’ it politicises the way of making the analysis by engaging a variety of perspectives and material in different forms that transgress disciplinary boundaries. The thesis not only writes the urban void into politically relevant space, but also represents it in a way that makes it obvious as a politically relevant space. It brings the ‘no-spaces’ out of an (assumed) obscurity, yet at the same time de-mystifies the (same) fascinating places, in hope of a less polarised and more nuanced discourse on the urban wastelands. Only then can the existence of the urban void as a category of left over space be questioned, and the thesis concludes by opening up for future inquiry the question of what kind of city could become from a point of view where the urban void is just another kind of space.