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“The idea of anonymity has been lost in contemporary cities”

Interview with Marta Segarra
Segarra, Professor of French Literature and Gender Studies, discusses the loss of anonymity in contemporary cities because of overexposure to security. She also speaks of the city’s invisible inhabitants, the vagabonds living amongst us.

[Catalan > English | Duration: 00:07:28]

Shared Spaces recorded this conversation with Marta Segarra in February 2014 when she visited the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB) to give a lecture titled “Room, House, Street” as part of the “Open City” cycle of debates. Segarra says that the idea of anonymity has been lost in contemporary cities. She believes that, owing to the fact that we want to feel more secure and thus to have more control over what is happening, the “idea of public space is changing today because individuals are more and more exposed in it”. Taking the notion of security understood as “immunity”, the concept coined by Derrida, we create autoimmune responses, a “whole series of reactions that jeopardise us more than they protect us, or that have both results at once because they protect us so much they jeopardise us”.

She also spoke of the city’s invisible inhabitants, the vagabonds living amongst us, whom we see but do not mention. Far from living in a city that is different from ours, as we sometimes think, we coexist in a shared space to the extent that their private space is in public space.
In deciding her favourite public space, Segarra opts for the wharves by the River Seine since “they take you back through a tunnel of time. They have the quality of an intermediate space, an au borde de space, on the boundary between water and city, which gives it a dangerous, ambiguous, very beautiful feeling”. This is the traditional space of Paris’s homeless people (clochards) and now young people of the banlieues also congregate here since, without money to pay for leisure activities, they use them as a space of entertainment. This, for her, is “a space that is a sort of quintessence of Paris, of all the city’s problems, but also all its beauty and openness”.


Ferran Muñoz Jofre.
Translation: Julie Wark.