New publication! On rhythmanalysis in Saigon

We are very happy to share news of the publication of Marie Gibert’s paper on rhythmanalysis in Saigon (online first) in Environment and Planning C!

Full citation:

Gibert-Flutre Marie, « Rhythmanalysis: Rethinking the Politics of Everyday Negotiations in Ordinary Public Spaces », Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, 2021, Online first. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/23996544211020014?icid=int.sj-full-text.citing-articles.1

A rundown of the paper

What it argues

Marie works with the notion of “regimes of publicity” to assess property, political legitimacy and social norms to ask how a place-based focus on the neighbourhood level in Ho Chi Minh City can derive new understandings of the power of small actors. Drawing on this framework, she argues that the “publicity of a place in Vietnam is mainly forged through small-scale urban appropriations by a city’s residents”.

Where

A local market in ward 14 of the pericentral Phû Nhuận district, primarily between June and November 2017.

Methods

Working with Henri Lefebvre’s ideas of rhythmanalysis, this research uses a mixed-methods approach involving (1) a preliminary draft of the data- collection protocol, (2) on-site physical surveys, (3) systematic temporal observations over the course of a full day (including photography), (4) the production of a timeline representing these observations visually created with UrbanTempo, a package Marie designed in the R programming language and software environment, and (5) in-depth interviews.

Findings

Land conflicts arise from historically unplanned urbanization process of HCMC: unclear tenancy status and dwellers who hold on to mixed administrative titles. A second source is the contemporary increase in land pressure and prices. Third, a non-participatory decision-making process and tight control of the local population, coupled with a looser, more flexible and tolerant local administrative process, creates an environment of emergent, multiple local informal negotiations outside the official framework of the law.

With the rhythmanalysis, Marie’s timeline reveals the daily activities of the street, and local trader-trader negotiations over use of space – shared space time and timebanking are parts of this negotiation.

From the data, the study finds:

“a strong sense of local territoriality and a vibrant social life at the neighbourhood scale. We see a sophisticated urban ballet performed on a daily basis, with very few encroachments of space or overt clashes despite the proliferation of activities. Local streets form a complex socio-spatial apparatus at the interface of public and private life, of the built environment and open space, of anonymity and acquaintance, of movement and parking, of the metropolitan and local scales, of the physical and social dimensions. (9)

The findings raise questions about how one might understand the invisible orchestration underlying daily rhythms in the neighbourhood. Amongst other findings,

  • “The real ‘masters of time’ were found to be the local landlords, who exist at the interface between the local authorities and other users who seek to benefit from valuable access, be it only temporary.”
  • “Beyond owning space, these landlords manage an informal ‘time market’, arbitrating on the value of the different timeslots to be let out daily to interested renters.”
  • “Rhythmanalysis can be seen as a tool to shed light on the everyday power negotiations that nuance the overarching power of the party-state.”
  • “The struggle to access valued timeslots, not only the space itself, is an additional and necessary piece of the puzzle: everyday negotiations pertaining to time are the key to the ordering of rhythms.”

Research Recommendations

  • The study of time can allow for ground-up understandings of power and facilitation of access to public space, in authoritarian regimes
  • Understanding the “temporal ordering of activities” provides insight into who transgresses metropolitan assets and amenities, and how
  • Studies of the urban can go beyond studying the “most exceptional and thus visible forms”, to give nuance to “textured explanations for the ‘becoming’ of ordinary public spaces in Asia, rather than attributing it merely to the process of metropolitan convergence”
  • Genuinely cosmopolitan analysis of urban form would do well to include perspectives from the ground up
  • Research on Vietnam, which tends to take macroeconomic or top-down lenses of governance, can instead pay “close attention to variegated types of public space at a time of major metropolitan transformations”

We encourage you to read the paper and share it with others – use it in class, or to study a different neighbourhood. How does this method of rhythmanalysis work to finetune observational skills? What does it miss? How could the approach be modified to embrace a more emergent, flexible approach to research or “data”?

Marie can be contacted at marie.gibert@univ-paris-diderot.fr, or get in touch with the SEANNET group with our contact form.

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