CAL Lecture: Jeanne Haffner, "Mapping the Social: Aerial Vision and the 'New Science' of Social Space"

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 ( 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm )

Location: Morton 324

"Mapping the Social: Aerial Vision and the 'New Science' of Social Space"
By Jeanne Haffner, (Lecturer, History of Science, Harvard University)

In the aftermath of World War I, French social scientists working in a wide variety of academic fields utilized the technique of aerial photography to capture a holistic view (vue d'ensemble) of various objects of investigation − from the relationship between human habitation and the surrounding topography to the basic necessity for human happiness. At the same time, architects such as Eugène Beaudouin and Marcel Lods used aerial photos to design a new form of housing that would later become known as the grands ensembles, usually defined as large, publicly-funded housing complexes built on the outskirts (banlieues) of cities across France from the 1950s to the present. This presentation will explore the emergence of these two trends − the use of aerial photography in social scientific research on the one hand, and in social housing initiatives on the other − and discuss what happened when they collided during World War II and the following decades.

Jeanne Haffner's research, writing, and teaching combine science and technology studies, environmental history, and urban planning history and theory. Her first book, The View from Above: The Science of Social Space (MIT Press, 2013), which was supported by a grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, explores the impact of aerial vision in the social sciences and urban planning in mid-twentieth-century France, and demonstrates the role of these state-sponsored, military techniques in the emergence of a spatially-oriented critique of capitalism within the French New Left in the 1960s and 1970s. Currently, she teaches on urban and environmental concepts and crises in the United States and Europe as a lecturer on the History of Science at Harvard University, and is also an affiliate of Harvard's metaLAB, a center for the digital humanities. Her second book, tentatively titled The Environment Built, examines the interrelationship between social housing and nascent ideas about "environment" in Europe and the United States in the 1960s and 1970s.