Session 5 - Places and spaces of safety

Places and spaces of safety

Dr. Muzayin Nazaruddin (University of Tartu) 
Contesting the ‘disaster prone area’: the case of local communities on the slopes of Mt. Merapi, Indonesia
The paper discusses the discursive and practical contestations of disaster prone areas and human safety between the Indonesian government and the local people who live on the the slopes of Mt. Merapi, the most active volcano in Indonesia. Combining cultural and ecosemiotic frameworks, this study is focused on the dynamic interplays between the self (internal) and the other (external) landscape perceptions, paying special attention to the power relations performed in such dynamic interrelations. The empirical part of the paper is based on qualitative fieldworks in 2013 and 2019 on the local communities on the slopes of Mt. Merapi. This study finds that the interpretations of Mt. Merapi activities are full of contestations and conflicts, especially between the locals and the government, each of  which  rely  on  different  sign  systems.  On  the  one  hand,  the  government  has mapped the landscape and defined the human safety based on their remote visual perception to the volcano, especially applying modern sciences and technological tools, which simultaneously function as displays of their exclusive power to explain the activities of the volcano. Following the 2010 explosive eruption, they have expanded the map of disaster prone areas and decided some pre-existed hamlets within the highest slopes as the prohibited lands for human settlement. Consequently, they offered the locals who previously lived on those highest hamlets to be relocated to the new housing on the lower slopes. On the other hand, the locals perceive the hazard as well as the safety of their own live based on specific sign systems, i.e. environmental, magical, and economic sign systems, which have been developed through a long period of adaptation, enabling them to perceive, communicate, and dwell their instable environment. In such kind of deep interrelation, the large parts of nature, especially the volcano and its periodic eruptions, have been included as integral parts of culture (self). The safety of their life is determined by their capability to communicate and understand the activities of the volcano which should be based on their daily practices and interactions with the surrounding environment. Through such everyday spatial practices they resisted the conceived space formed scientifically by the government.

Prof. dr. Sigrid Ruby (Justus-Liebig-Universitaet Giessen)
Domesticity and domestication as politics of safety
In times of the Corona pandemic people around the world are asked, if not compelled to
stay at home. The personal house or home, the domestic interior and the family are defined as safe spaces, impenetrable to the virus and its perils. However, this supposedly sheltering sphere seems lacking in iconic imagery, maybe due to the fact that it is considered private or to the specifics of contemporary visual culture and media. In contrast, pre-modern depictions of the interior and domestic life, dating from the 15th century onwards, appear to demonstrate and shape a collective interest in the house as a place of safety as well as a scene of action, drama, and insecurity. The representation of spatial relations and the demarcation of gender roles were closely intertwined processes, suggesting specific spheres for women and men as essential to collective security. The paper will present close readings of exemplary Early Modern paintings that give insight to the domestic interior and spectacularize it as a showplace of safety as well as drama. My analytic focus will lie on the visual comparison or analogization of the house with the female body and – accordingly – on the iconography of the Annunciation, which I consider an archetypical image of safety (or security?) via domestication.

Roos van Strien (Independent scholar)  
Brace for Impact: how perceptions of safety influenced architecture and urban planning in the cities Belfast and Oslo
Cities have used architecture and spatial techniques to establish a sense of safety for its citizens throughout history. The last two decades, the mundane and vibrant environment of the city has been a target for multiple terrorist attacks. As a result, many cities started to implement security measures in public space that, in order generate positive urban effects and establish a sense of safety, are often wrapped up in ornamental features such as benches and flower pots. However, it is not always the most aesthetically pleasing or integrated measure that evokes the biggest sense of security. By comparing the spatial responses to contemporary terror threats of the cities Belfast and Oslo, this paper will show how perceptions of safety are shaped by a broader historical, societal and cultural context, and how safety discourses can influence the architecture and urban planning of a city. This comparison shows on the one hand how the prevalence of visible militarized urban security measures, is necessary to establish a sense of security in Belfast. The long period of conflict and violence resulted in a lasting feeling of insecurity, fear and mistrust among the citizens, for which these hard measures seemed to be the only solution. Oslo on the other hand, responded to the only terrorist attack on Norwegian soil by Anders Breivik in 2015, by using the Norwegian values of trust, transparency and democracy as a foundation for their method of designing-in security measures in the existing urban fabric. Comparing the approaches of both cities herewith reveals how the same goal, namely to evoke a sense of safety amongst citizens, can be reached by contrasting spatial interventions, depending on a country’s cultural perception of safety.