Society for Urban, National and Transnational/Global Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Rebecca Free (Goucher College)
Marseille is a city that is both exceptionally fluid regarding distinctions between private and public space, and a place where the political implications of these distinctions are especially sharply drawn. The city famously lacks a clearly bounded affluent center and landmark heritage monuments. Postwar public housing units were dispersed rather than limited to the periphery. Marseille also has an especially high percentage of private property ownership and gated communities relative to other French cities, with some arguing that this has led to heightened anomie and an increasingly individualized experience of daily life. Today, there are high poverty zones in the center and a long history of political conflict opposing municipal efforts to “reclaim” parts of the city for development, and resident associations that contest evictions and unsafe conditions. Marseillais theatre artists engage with these themes by making the urban landscape a key component in site-specific, participatory performances, whether in peripheral “outer-city” neighborhoods or the downtown shopping district. This paper examines two site-specific performances that address everyday uses of public space. We argue that to understand the political agency of these collaborative claims to public space, one must examine their manipulation of temporality. Drawing on concepts from performance scholarship, this paper explores the relational, participatory, and site-specific dimensions of urban performances, devoting particular attention to the “durational signature” of two works. Attention to the temporal frame in these portraits of the city reveals how these works both express and act upon the dynamic place meanings of Marseille’s urban landscape.