Polytechnic University of Valencia Congress, 24th ISUF 2017 - City and Territory in the Globalization Age

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Self-organisation and meaning of urban structures: case study of Jewish communities in central Poland in pre-war times.
Malgorzata Hanzl

Last modified: 11-05-2018


In spatial, social and cultural pluralism, the questions of human intentionality and socio-spatial emergence remain central to social theory (Portugali 2000, p.142). The correlation between individual preferences, values and intentions, and actual behaviour and actions, is subject to Portugali’s theory of self-organisation (2000). Compared to Gidden’s structuralism, which focuses on society and groups, the point of departure for Portugali (2000) are individuals and their personal choices. The key feature in how complex systems `self-organise', is that they `interpret', the information that comes from the environment (Portugali 2006). The current study explores the urban environment formerly inhabited, and largely constructed, by Jews in two central Polish districts: Mazovia and Lodz, before the tragedy of the Holocaust. While the Jewish presence lasted from the 11th century until the outbreak of World War II, the most intensive development took place in the 19th century, together with the civilisation changes introduced by industrialisation. Embracing the everyday habits of Jewish citizens endows the neighbourhood structures they once inhabited with long gone meanings, the information layer which once helped organise everyday life. The main thesis reveals that Jewish communities in pre-war Poland represented an example of a self-organising society, one which could be considered a prototype of contemporary postmodern cultural complexity. The mapping of this complexity at the scale of a neighbourhood is a challenge, a method for which is addressed in the current paper. The above considerations are in line with the empirical studies of the relations between Jews and Poles, especially in large cities, where more complex socio-cultural processes could have occurred.


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