Date of Degree

6-2021

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Political Science

Advisor

Dr. Susan Buck-Morss

Subject Categories

Continental Philosophy | Political Theory

Keywords

urban development, neoliberalism, urban culture, Walter Benjamin, New York City, land-use policy

Abstract

This thesis provides a history of the development policies around the phone booth in New York City as a “dialectical image” to understand the use of urban culture as a means of achieving political ends. First, I lay out a cultural history of public communication devices in their relation to the political and material changes in New York City since the late 19th century. By doing so, this thesis explains how the cultural significance of the phone booth opens essential points of connection between notions of autonomy, uses of technology in the public sphere, and the relation between politics and urban cultural life. Tracking the history of public communications devices, I will argue that the contemporary incarnation of the phone booth, the LinkNYC Kiosk, reveals important problems around the relation between land-use and capital, the capacity for New Yorkers to have autonomy in their city, and the limitations of technological progress to achieving social and political improvements. Second, I use Walter Benjamin and Jean Baudrillard’s works on technology and consumer capitalism to argue that the current use of the Kiosk opens an understanding of the “prophylactic” ideology in the subjects of contemporary New York City. This prophylaxis creates the conditions for subjects to construct a sense of naturalized safety amongst the homogenized, oversaturated materials in redeveloped neighborhoods. The reliance of the subject upon commodities, familiar signs, and objects is used to construct an understanding of the way people perceive the world and therefore think about the environment, social processes, and political changes that go on around them. Finally, I conclude with two sections on how to use the method of “dialectical imaging” to unravel the abstract political and historical conditions in the realized New York City, provide a method to undo the way of seeing constructed in contemporary New York City, and, I argue, that the usage of this method is necessary for recapturing urban space for politically and culturally democratic ends.

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