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Accepted Paper:

Studied indifference: urban traffic and the intentionally limited encounter  
Vered Amit (Concordia University)

Paper short abstract:

I draw on observations of local venues in Montreal to consider the ways in which cultivated indifference can enable the public expression of varied forms of self-presentation and engagement as well as the factors that may elicit a reinterpretation of this indifference as incivility rather than tolerance.

Paper long abstract:

Anonymity and indifference are often invoked in portrayals of contemporary urban life. But these circumstances or attitudes are more likely to be cited as negative or unfortunate metropolitan characteristics than as potentially productive vehicles for fashioning urban lives. Yet consider for a moment how many urban situations would become problematic, potentially even inflammatory, without the marshaling of a certain measure of indifference. At the same time, however, as numerous commentators have observed, urban settings that are thoroughly characterized by apathy or facelessness can also become alienating. In this essay, I draw on observations of several localized public venues in Montreal to consider when and in what ways, carefully cultivated indifference can support the burgeoning of a variety of different forms of self-presentation and engagement. For example, a small local park affords a wide range of regular uses (play, dance, conversation, solitary reading, parties, movies, music shows, dog runs, ice skating and much more) by a variety of users (families, teenagers, summer camps, community groups, local businesses, readers, sun tanners, recreational athletes and so on). This variety is at least, in part, enabled by the willingness of individuals and groups to work around and past each other but in some situations this kind of studied indifference can come to be viewed as incivility rather than as tolerance. In this paper I therefore also consider the circumstances in which indifference shades into incivility, and the sorts of responses this reinterpretation may elicit.

Panel P120
Individuality and the making of urban lives
  Session 1