Presentation [ENG]

The PARVIS project consists in studying representations of the future city, in order to identify the multifaceted futuristic urban imaginaries, particularly in terms of climate change. The objective is to confront these imaginaries with today’s futuristic feelings and desires, in order to measure their connection or, on the contrary, their decorrelation. The analysis will therefore be conducted on literary corpora (core of the speciality) and on a range of media and social discourses (cultural industries, official and contractual discourses, social networks, etc.). This corpus will be defined by a multidisciplinary group of researchers (literature, arts, social sciences, architecture, digital humanities) and civil society actors (NGOs working on climate framing).

      The challenge will be to identify prejudices and misconceptions, and to bring out expected or surprising convergences or divergences in these representations – beyond the evolutions of the very concept of ‘city’. Futuristic representations are critical sources for meeting the three challenges of the I-SITE: Sober City, Smart City and Safe and Resilient City. Do the varied imaginaries about the future city agree / disagree ? Are the most active the most plausible ? Are the most extravagant effects of less importance than the most banal, or do they act obliquely ? Which part take the fantasies and images originated in the arts and the cultural industries, confronted to the reality ? How do current and past visions (retrofuturism) of the future city articulate ? In other words, we aim to take into account of not only one, but several urban futurisms, in their extensiveness, their diversity, and their dynamic relationships. We seek to identify aspirations, fears, innovative ideas that are not blocked by the principle of reality, doubts about our capabilities and how our words and our stories are already building the field of the conceivable and impossible, facing the climate change in particular. As an increasing number of private actors is relying on science fiction to come to feed their work of foresight and innovation (see Futuribles, 2016), the public sphere would benefit from such an approach as part of the city-building of tomorrow. The example provided by Mike Davis (1992) shows how the dominant images of popular science fiction were out of date at the very moment of their triumph in the cultural industries: the city of fiction, vertical, colossal and mechanized, made of glass, concrete and steel, is competing in the real world with low urban sprawl, made of low quality materials, even slums. For him, Planet of slums (2006) should prevail against the City of Quartz (1990).

The originality of the project is to confront different types of fictions and contrasting discourses, and to create the conditions for an unprecedented Creation-Research approach in France. The interest of confronting fictional and creative discourses with those carried by public and private actors – on urban development and renovation projects, adaptation to the effects of climate change in their communication documents, marketing, awareness-raising , political – is to highlight their effectiveness on the imaginary or on the contrary their lack of connection with the visions of the future that awaits us.

Groundbreaking research : the city in the climate fiction

The main point of the project (supervision I. Langlet, LISAA UPEM) is a study of climate fiction (« cli-fi »), an emerging sub-genre of speculative fiction, in which the climate change is framed through various scenarios : urban dystopias, geoengineering on Earth or other planets, regressive or utopian survivalism. As every literary / media genre (see Letourneux, 2017), the cli-fi is not so much to be examined as a set of properties intrinsic to works. Rather, it should be understood as a reading effect formulated by a community of readers who identify, in a given context, affinities between works, fictions, authors, themes, and who establish a cultural continuity between them and a labeling (a name of genre), the latter reciprocally building a generic concept. Thus, to define cli-fi as genre fiction, we must examine not only texts, films, games, themes, stories and narratives, but a convergence of poetics and social discourse where all the actors of a cultural system are dynamically associated and bring out an active imagination of the future. As disaster scenarios interact with radiant futures, post-apocalyptic fables resonate with positive visions of the environmental storytelling (Ferrari, 2016, Brelet et al., 2017).

These interactions will therefore also be explored through the dissident, sometimes subversive, imaginaries as the one of Afrofuturism. The construction of an urban cohesion and the structuring of space by reuse, repackaging and any other so-called adaptive strategy, as evidenced by Eco Park of Kunlé Adeyemi or the Lycée Schorge of Diébédo Francis Kéré, allow us to rethink the links between imaginary, informal settlements and mediation.

Applied research : the city, from the fiction to the actual perceptions and the active promotion (3 work packages)

The literary and artistic study of the cli-fi will serve as a base for a multidisciplinary reflection: literature and media cultures, urban planners, architects, environmental associations will question the relation of fiction to the reality of the city and global warming. These questions will be gradually asked: in a first empirical step, what are the images (representations) of the city in the cli-fi? How do they stand out from those in other close literary genres? Are these images consistent with the way the city is reflected in « scholar » texts (architects, urban planners, legislators, politicians, engineers, researchers, etc.)? In a second, more reflexive, step, is climate change a driver to reinvent our city models, or to revisit old ones? What legitimation of these models can be found in learned writings? Finally, in an ultimate proactive step, how can we invent new relationships to the city and new urban imaginaries through creative writing, music, artistic mediation in the city? The challenge eventually is to identify plausible scenarios for a « safe and resilient city », but also a sober and connected one, reshaped beyond the usual framework by adapting to environmental and climatic contexts (see sub-genre of solar punk in science fiction).

Original and convergent interdisciplinary crossover axes have emerged, from the problems of urban informal housing (“slum city” group: architects, EAVT) to the issues of urban « storytelling » (“storytelling” group: Paris Malaquais architects, IFSTTAR geographer-urban planner); perceptual and collaborative cartography via digital speech analysis (“carto” group: computer scientist, IGN).

« Slum city » group – Based on the assumptions of M. Davis, two architects of the EAVT (associés au labo OCS “Observatoire de la condition suburbaine”)P. Joffroy and J. Ippoliti) will focus on the role that the slum plays in the visual imagination of urban futures. They will develop a graphic depiction of informal settlements in which they work, and confront the seizure of the reality with fictional, cartoon and / or filmed sci-fi works. This little “image factory” will feed the study of the imaginaries attached to the informal urbanism. Pictorial description will question as well the objects raised as the techniques of representation (drawings, photographs, statements, layout and texts) compared to new references drawn from comic strips, image banks, sensitive cartographies or hypertexts. We look for a « broader » visual representation of slums that would take into account their constantly evolving built shapes, the grasping of uses, the recording of self-building and self-management practices, the collective functioning – and beyond, the political context as an element of the architectural framing. This political context will be seen in the powers of the nation-states but also in the reactions of the population, in a documentation where France could be compared to certain countries of the South (in particular Morocco or Kenya).

« Storytelling » group – By examining the uses of storytelling (Salmon, 2007), a second team of architects and urban planner, coordinated by G. Morel Journel, (ACS laboratory, Paris-Malaquais School of Architecture, IFSTAR) will observe positive futures as verbalized both by politicians, developers and real estate developers, and by urban planning documents. To a certain extent, their comments are directly related to the images and speeches produced by architects and urban planners. In that respect, our daily lives are invaded by figurations either learned or prosaic, commercial or ideological. One may recognize here a double bind: the completed projects must comply both with the ambitious aims of sustainable development imposed in the planning documents, and with the realities of the market and the territory, often combining contradictory injunctions. Noteworthy here are the documents produced by land developers and real estate developers, who construct genuine iconotextuous narratives. What is the purpose of these stories? How do they fit into the system of futuristic urban imaginaries? How do they disseminate in the speeches of architects, urban planners, officials? We propose here to scrutinize real estate projects of a very active operator, Epamarne, and in particular its écoquartiers and its ambitious Village-Nature®, as well as the very special case of La Défense.

An example of icono-narrative to decipher:

Real estate operation at Bussy-Saint-Georges, image from the marketing brochure, EpaMarne.

« Carto » group (C. Dominguès) – In the corpora of the partners, we will extract descriptions of cities and places, as they shape socially recognized sites and make differences between real, projected, imaginary areas (Purves, Derungs, 2015), and also sensitive informations correlated to them. These extractions will be done through Natural Language Processing (NLP) tools (Andreevskaia, Bergler, 2008), in order to give cause to sensitive mappings of those sites. We will use a collaborative method as the one experienced in the EHESS seminar « Atelier de cartographie sensible : espace vécu, espace perçu » (Centre d’analyse et de mathématiques sociales –, which team will embrace the contributors (artists, inhabitants, students) of the creation-research axis of the project. It will be the time for the researcher-artists of the team (LISAA, literature, visual arts and music) to put into practice the Research-Creation method, by developing interactive and immersive” works, related to the themes of climate change and to the variations of the notion of “ collective sensitive spaces”. These researches have been experimenting in this manner for some time, notably with the project of an interactive scale-model developed at the LVMT under the supervision of Olivier Bonin. Two students will be trained in formatting these corpora.

Creation-research : a creative present for a creative future (of the city)

A research writer (supervision Virginie Tahar, LISAA / project I-Site « E3S ») and a tandem of composers (supervision Guillaume Dupetit, LISAA) will be fully associated with the research in a creation-research  process, and this will be the most innovative part of it. The UPEM as well as the I-SITE are well placed for such an implementation (see 2. Context).

Science fiction as a genre seems particularly convenient to this type of approach because it overlaps both literary imagination and the state of scientific knowledge at a given time, from which the writer produces speculation about the future. Moreover, literature and sound creation already overlap in many ways: prosody, rhapsody, sung poetry, slam or rappin’. Through their implementation within the urban space, their setting in the territory make them major objects of a possible reflection around a global social organization of the city in the future. The dynamic spaces of urban music and literature are today considered as real places of social cohesion (Kaiser, 2016).

Our goal is to combine literature and sound creation as part of a research project by immersing a writer and a composer in the research team, around a radio fiction project. The experience is to open the horizon for methodological innovations, new modes of reflection and new perspectives of creation by introducing a reflexive dimension in our research practice which comes to meet the processes of art. Martin Laliberté (LISAA) and Azadeh Nilchiani (LISAA, LabEx ARTS-H2H) will form a pair of composers. There will be a public open call (year 2) for a creative writing residency in partnership with the Maison des Ecrivains et de la Littérature (MEL) (see 3. Implementation). A collaboration with C. Cuny-Robert in the Labex FU and Ecole d’Urbanisme de Paris (EUP), whom MA students are also involved in a similar approach, will be developed: a radio storyteller is invited in their courses and help them to write an urban story as a way to explore possible urban futures and concepts and to use fiction as a prospective methodology (Concertation year 1, actions with the artists year 2-3).

      Literary fictions produced by the writer and the sound fictions by the composers basically facilitate the access and the dissemination of the knowledge to non-scholarly audiences. But besides this popularisation, our hypothesis is that the artist is a potential researcher, a « chercheur pas comme les autres » (Renucci, Réol, 2015), and that the production of fiction can be itself a production of knowledge, a singular way of thinking that can feed the reflection of researchers back. Finally, the work produced will contribute to the cultural literacy on urban future life and adaptation to climate change, considering that France is still little provided with cultural objects dealing with these issues.

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