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Session Overview
RS12_05: Making Sense of Belonging: Nature, Culture and Space
Thursday, 22/Aug/2019:
11:00am - 12:30pm

Session Chair: Laura Centemeri, CNRS
Location: GM.334
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Geoffrey Manton, Third Floor 4 Rosamond Street West Off Oxford Road

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Back To Simmel: A Renewed Approach To Third-Party Reproduction

Catarina Delaunay

CICS.NOVA – Interdisciplinary Centre for Social Sciences, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal

This paper addresses the attitudes of couples using Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) towards the third party involved in their parental project – either a surrogate or gamete donor – through Simmelian concepts (“door”, “bridge”, “stranger”, “third party”). I base my analysis on 66 in-depth interviews with different ART actors (from beneficiaries to professionals) in France and Portugal, focusing in particular on 19 interviews with heterosexual and homosexual couples who used third-party reproduction in Europe and the United States. Neither gamete donors nor surrogates belong to the unit formed by the recipient couple, but they do bring reproductive capacities (oocytes, sperm, uterus) into it that were not initially there. Like strangers, they engender distinctive combinations of both closeness and distance, involvement and indifference. The third-party donor intrudes as a supernumerary into the heterosexual or lesbian couple considered as a bounded group, where all parental positions are already occupied. Chosen almost at random, the anonymous donor becomes connected to the recipient couple via medical staff, but he/she is not “bound up organically” with either spouse. Heterosexual and lesbian couples close the door to the third party: they do not wish to know his/her identity and avoid any situation that could entail proximity and thus lead to discomfort or disruption within the family. Conversely, gay couples wish to connect initially-separated parties and build a bridge with the surrogate, overcoming both spatial and emotional separation. They develop friendship bonds and family ties with the surrogate by making their relationship visible and concrete, going far beyond the practical purpose behind its original creation. Simmel’s distinctive concepts and theoretical contributions are both original and fecund for rethinking third-party reproduction.

In-between the Visual and the Subtle. From Simmel’s Concept of Spatial Boundaries to Contemporary State Bordering

Ulrike Kaden

Universität Leipzig & Macquarie University, Sydney

Only few sociological-theoretical approaches to state borders exist. An essential contribution is without doubt Georg Simmel’s essay ‘The Sociology of Space’ (Simmel 1908). In this essay, Simmel takes a social-constructivist perspective on spatial boundaries and highlights their ‘sociological function’ in differentiating spheres of power and justice. Simmel’s study of spatial boundaries stands out because it plays close attention to the interrelation between the material and the symbolical, between the visual and the subtle. It provides an idea of state borders as artificial and arbitrary, while, simoultaneously, indicating their importance in reproducing and reinforcing senses of belonging. The paper draws on Simmel’s concept of spatial boundaries, including his perspective on political borders as ‘geometrical lines between neighbours’, to gain a better understanding of contemporary state bordering practices. It explores the role of ‘the spatial’ in boundary-drawing processes, and discusses how the reproduction of state borders is linked to essentialist notions of space. More specifically, the paper takes an interest in analysing the moments of tension inherent to state bordering: Far from evident, the shift, extension, or conjunction of state borders indicates the conflictual nature of boundary-drawing. Here, the paper demonstrates how Simmel’s approach offers a promising perspective on how contemporary state bordering processes facilitate the imagination of bounded spaces, and engage in the production of ‘difference’.

Nature and Culture : Simmelian Reading of the greening of cities and its functions.

Philippe Boudes

Agrocampus Ouest, France

While this communication focuses on the growing interest for cities' vegetalization, it recalls the actuality of Georg Simmel to think contemporary environmental and cultural stakes. Some writings of this German philosopher and sociologist enlighten the use of natural objects, here greenways, in urban systems nevertheless rooted in a modernity recommending the artificial and the technical.

Once exposed the functions played by such urban green infrastructures - with french and european examples -, their Simmelian characterization is discussed: his developments exclude greenways from the technical field and make them natural objects or “cultivated nature”. This allows to relate in detail how Simmel comes to define the cultural process and the specific role played by human creations in what he names the “tragedy of culture”. However, we can propose a Simmelian reading of the use of nature in the cultural process as a palliative to this tragedy. Greenways are part of this nature and are one of the markers of the limits of technology and of the major role that natural elements take in our modernity.

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