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Kathryn Tabb, TBD
Joy Knoblauch, When is Social Distance? Simmel, Park, Bogardus, Hall, or After
In the United States, the term social distancing was suddenly everywhere in early March of 2020. In a piece for the architecture and urbanism community, Stephen Legg called social distancing “the breakout vocabulary of the 'outbreak narrative'.” But what does the term mean and what strategies or ideologies does it reflect? Rather than ask how far social distance goes, I will consider a few historical moments when social distance has been and is used to think anew and redeploy social tactics. Historians have started to contextualize COVID-19 within the history of spatial practices to prevent infection. These are important histories of epidemic. But there is something ugly about the term social distance, as pointed out by a recent article by Lily Scherlis covering the racial and class history of the term. As a historian of architecture, I will situate what Scherlis lays out in light of spatial and urban practices. Rather than ask where the term comes from, I will trace moments in the history of the term that are applicable as we think about caring for the cities of the near future. I will particualrly draw insights from Georg Simmel circa 1908, the Chicago School of Sociology and Robert Ezra Park of the 1920s, Edward T. Hall's distinction between “social distance” and intimate distance in the 1960s, and from the use of the term circa 2004-2009 for pandemic planning. In so doing, I'll ask when the term has refered to the elites keeping themselves apart from society and whenit has signaled a spatial practice that threatened to rupture public social bonds.