'Oh Comrade, What Times Those Were!' History, Capital Punishment and the Urban Square
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From the perspective of traditional Western histories of the urban realm, public squares have been seen to represent a privileged site of urban containment expressive of a community's highest values of individual freedom, social inclusion and cultural refinement. But such views can be misleading. For what is omitted from the scope of these conventional historical visions and their ideal and conforming subjects of public spatial discourse, is an entire array of other and darker narratives that equally speak of personal choice, collective participation and cultural value. Capital punishment reflects such an example, a practice that once comprised an integral part of the political, social and cultural landscape of a Western city's squares and streets. Drawing from Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish and its implications on how we might begin to re-read the history of the urban square, the paper seeks to explore those practices and modes of rationality that underpinned the once-public spectacle of executions and torture as a vital condition of urban life. In particular, this discussion will question the assumptions of an historical tradition that continues to reduce our understanding of the city and its open spaces of public appearance and action to an idealistic and illusory reality of the urban realm and its narrow framing of collective conduct, necessity and significance.
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