Place Acts: Immigrant Placemaking in Milwaukee and Chicago
Arijit Sen, Associate Professor of Architecture and Urban Studies, University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee
Discussant: Andrew A. Johnson, Anthrolopogy, Princeton University
In 2012, inspired by the Wisconsin Idea, “a philosophy that holds that university research should be applied to solve problems and improve health, quality of life, the environment, and agriculture for all citizens of the state,” Sen started a public history and community engaged humanities field school in Milwaukee’s urban neighborhoods. Research teams at the Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures field school included community members, nationally recognized scholars and multi-disciplinary teams of students who converged every summer to collaborate, collect, analyze and disseminate stories of neighborhood history and urban heritage. By being able to draw upon expert and local knowledge they successfully collected stories of people not heard in official histories and documented buildings and landscapes never mentioned in disciplinary canons.
This experience and Sen's previous fieldwork around immigrant spaces in Chicago led him to focus on the dynamic engagement between the human body and its surroundings as a legible index of culture and placemaking. The term, Place Acts — adapted from Austin’s illocutionary Speech Acts — focuses on the mutually constitutive relationship between place, activities and the human body, underscoring the performative nature of placemaking. Place Acts are fraught with political, ideological, economic, and symbolic conflicts—but only because of the people who are engaged in it. Sen will narrate three vignettes of place acts from Milwaukee and Chicago in order to demonstrate how embodied practices within everyday spaces can open up new forms of belonging and community.
The question, how immigrants belong, has always animated American imagination and perhaps the current era is a particularly vitriolic moment. The place act stories argue that the answer to this vexing question requires us to shift the way we read and interpret how humans inhabit, occupy, and encounter space.
Arijit Sen is an architect and a vernacular architecture historian who is mulling on a manuscript titled “Place Acts in Urban Flatlands.” Sen writes, teaches and studies urban cultural landscapes of immigrants in North America. His academic and research background is in architectural history, social, cultural and behavioral analysis of the built environment, and American cultural landscape studies. Currently an Associate Professor of Architecture and Urban Studies at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee with an honorary appointment with the Department of Art History at the University of Wisconsin Madison, Sen cofounded the multi-campus based Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures area of doctoral research on cultural landscapes. He has coedited Landscapes of Mobility: Culture, Politics and Placemaking (with Jennifer Johung, Ashgate Publishers, 2013) and Making Place: Space and Embodiment in the City (with Lisa Silverman, Indiana University Press, 2014).