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The preservationist paradox: modernism, environmentalism and the politics of spatial division

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According to Bruno Latour, the imposition of crude classificatory schemes onto complex entities has two main effects: firstly, the classifications lead social actors to sift the world into the schemes’ simple categories; secondly, underlying relations subvert the schemes’ functioning, resulting in the production of transgressive ‘hybrids’. Thus, classification and relation interact and this interaction shapes both the practice of classification and the world that is classified. In this paper, we examine the interaction between a scheme of spatial classification and the spaces that are enrolled within the scheme. We show that a division between urban and rural areas was put in place in post-war England in order to protect a ‘vulnerable’ rural nature from urban advance. However, as soon as it was imposed, this division was transgressed by complex socio-economic processes. We assess the response to this transgression by considering the activities of the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), an environmental group that played some considerable part in constructing the urban–rural divide in the first place. We show that the CPRE has responded to the ‘paradox of preservationism’ by placing urban–rural divisions in the context of ‘ecological’ relationships. We illustrate this ‘ecologization’ of the modernist divide using the example of housing and we argue that the CPRE's ecological approach illustrates how a new alignment between ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ may herald a new and more sophisticated form of spatial classification.
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Keywords: CPRE urban–rural divisions; classification; environmentalism; sustainability

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2003-09-01

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