Friday, January 16, 2015

0278 - The importance of building.

One of the theories about the social role of enclosures, namely ditched enclosures, is the importance of the building process. Since Evens that the focus on the importance of building itself became a matter of discussion regarding the interpretation of the social role of enclosures. The general idea was that the main social role of the project was performed during the building process, rather than after. Some criticizing of this centered perspective in the building process has been done (for instance Whittle in a recent paper), but the criticism is more about the “centered” than about the “perspective”. In fact, the focus on the building process of enclosures, ditched or walled, is something to be taken into consideration in the understanding of their social role. Let me give you a contemporary example to explain this point.
You are all familiar with the Amish communities in America. And some of you are familiar with their traditions. Some of them have been displayed by the cinema or by television programs. They tend to show the importance of community work. One example is that presented by the Hollywood film (I think is called The Witness) with Harrison Ford. There is a couple that marries and the community joins up to build them a barn. 

When the barn was being build, all the community was there, working together, reinforcing there social bonds and identity, performing their traditions, communicating and perpetuating their world views. It was a social event of structural importance for the community as a whole; after being built, the barn was useful only to the married couple. So, the building process was socially and ideologically meaningful for the community and once the structure was finished it was only economically meaningful for a specific family.  This exemplifies, I think, the social importance of building.
The building processes are essential to understand the social role of enclosures. However, that doesn’t mean that we have to imagine, as for our example of the Amish barn, that we have a first construction phase of communal interest followed by a use phase of restricted interest. The long temporalities of some ditched enclosures and the evidences of continued constructions (new ditches, recutting of ditch filling, sometimes during long chronologies, like in Perdigões) show that there is not an easy separation between a period of building and a period of use.

The merit of this approach to building processes is precisely that: building is already using in social and symbolic terms. In fact, the social, ideological, economic role of building stars in the moment of its idealization and design and continues during building/using phases. A perspective that have been absent from the traditional theoretical approaches to enclosures in Portugal (and in Iberia).

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