Friday, May 27, 2011

Meaghan Morris "Things to do with Shopping Centers" - summary

In 'Things to do with Shopping centers" cultural researcher Meaghan Morris starts off by relating to Michel de Certeau's notions about pedestrian consumption of space. Morris quotes de Certeau who talked about the action of urban walking as a practice which takes place in a regulated and controlled space but also eludes it. For de Certeau walking is a practice which "activates" the urban space but also constitutes it.  On the one hand Morris criticizes de Certeau arguing that his notions are not compatible with  the Australian suburban space but on the other hand she does wish to adopt his view point of the pedestrian. Unlike de Certeau, Meaghan Morris holds that the pedestrian is not some abstract entity but rather a positioned social player. Therefore the pedestrian experience, whether in the urban, suburban or shopping center space, is differentiated and changes between men and women, class, ethnicity etc.

Morris argues against the prevalent take on shopping centers that sees them as essentially the same. She does not deny that they hold some basic similarity and a degree of common readability, however she offers the examine a shopping center through its distinct history and geographical position which shape the shopping center itself and the experience it offers. On other words, instead of analyzing an abstract notion of shopping centers she reads the semiotics of specific locations and the unique sense of place that they offer.

The shopping center, Morris argues, has something paradoxical about it. On the one hand it's monolithically present. On the other hand, it is never really conclusively defined for its various uses and reactions are part of it. This double quality is herself part of the conscious lure of the shopping center.   

Morris wishes to step aside for the sociological or ethnographic stance towards the shopping center, and to adopt the common man's (in her case woman) position and experience. For her the shopping center is a site of intercrossing practices, and thus a complex and varied space of experience which take into account that crowds are never homogenic. The shopping mall creates an illusion of timelessness, but on the other hand its history and the source of its appeal as well as denouncement.

Morris describes 3 types of shopping centers and focuses on what she calls the community type shopping center  - Green Hills. The Green Hills shopping center does have some standard components to its history, but Morris shows are it construction was situated in a certain historical discourse (the demise of the local suburb). Constructing the center gave the town, which has lost its initial reason for existing (coal industry), a unique sense of place and identity.

Too Soon Too Late: History in Popular Culture (Theories of Contemporary Culture)

Meaghan Morris "Things to do with Shopping Centers" in "Too Soon Too Late: History in Popular Culture" (1998)


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