If you’re looking for me in late June, I’ll be in New Orleans at the 5th International Deleuze Studies Conference. Here’s the abstract for the paper I’ll be presenting:
Affect and Urban Branding in Seattle’s South Lake Union Neighborhood
One of the largest urban redevelopment projects in the United States is currently under construction near the northern edge of Seattle’s central business district. Over the last ten years, the South Lake Union (SLU) neighborhood – developed by Vulcan, Inc., a real estate company founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen – has grown from a sleepy light industrial neighborhood to the home of Amazon.com, a burgeoning center for biotechnology companies, and a dynamic residential neighborhood that has managed to flourish despite the economic collapse of 2008. In concert with the wholesale reshaping of sixty acres of urban land, Vulcan has also undertaken a comprehensive advertising and branding campaign, which is centralized in the small yet architecturally significant South Lake Union Discovery Center (SLUDC). Under the tagline “Rethink Urban,” The SLUDC proffers information about the neighborhood’s history, Vulcan’s vision for its future, as well as central design tenets, such as sustainable infrastructure and construction. It essentially doubles as a crash course in modern urbanism and a sales center for the neighborhood. This paper presents SLU as a “plane of organization” that strives not only to shape the built environment but the activities and subjectivities therein.
This essay argues that social semiotic approaches – which lie at the forefront of language-oriented cultural studies research – can be enriched by considering Deleuze’s (and Guattari’s) concepts of affect and subjectivity. Rather than exploring how one might be persuaded to relocate to SLU by the rhetoric of the textual, visual, and auditory aspects of branding and the character of the place itself, I argue for a materialist approach that renders the consumer of these images as fundamentally changed and reconstituted as a potential SLU resident. This exploration follows the pattern of empirical social semiotics research as well as Deleuze’s writings on cinema, both of which rely on a large corpus of visual evidence to understand both the intentions of the designers and the affects and notions produced through reception.