By Francesca Biancani, University of Bologna
In modern cities, flows of people, capital, and desires intermingled and structured a new spatial order. Straight streets, airy boulevards, agreeable parks, coffee houses, and taverns constituted the backdrop of a new type of sociability linked to the emergence of a middle class endowed with purchasing power and increased mobility through technological advancements (macadamization, street lighting, public transportation, etc.).
A panoptic regime, organized along axes of class and gender informed the urban landscape. The city was now conceived as a space built to be seen and scrutinized by the gaze of the flâneur, the male bourgeois prototype strolling around a clean, orderly, and mappable city. A constant tension between such a disciplinarian urge and the multiplication of occasions for human contacts and interactions between sexes and social classes defined the order of the modern city. Together with the demarcation of spaces to which potentially non-conformist and subversive subjectivities and practices were relegated- the poor in the slums-, the new urban order was evident in new performative acts of social life- the choreographies and display of public life in the streets, promenades, parks, and theaters of the metropolis, in its department stores, and hotels. Here, social interactions between the sexes were carefully coded and “domesticated,” and transgression, to a certain extent, condoned and therefore normalized.
Post Card showing Clot Bey Street in Cairo, 1915. Photography by Au Carto-Sport, Max H. Rudmann.