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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"We are damaged" : planning and biopower in Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1880-2010 Rutland, Ted William


This dissertation examines how modern urban planning has sought to manage human life in the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Covering the period between 1880 and 2010, the dissertation examines a series of key moments and initiatives in the history of urban planning in Halifax. Drawing on archival research, semi-structured interviews, and social theory, it examines how planning sought to protect, improve, or otherwise alter the condition of human life; how power was implicated and exercised in these initiatives; and how acts of violence were committed against certain individuals or groups in the paradoxical name of safeguarding “life.” Drawing centrally on Foucault’s analysis of biopower, this dissertation argues that the seemingly paradoxical character of modern planning – its stated commitment to protecting or improving life, on the one hand, and its observe capacity to damage life, on the other – can be connected to the particular configurations of knowledge and power through which life is managed in modernity. Consistent with Foucault’s analysis, life is shown to be perceived by urban planning in relation to certain norms, and those who are perceived to betray these norms are liable to be exempted from the benefits of planning, compelled to bear its costs, or both. Across a series of initiatives, from the construction of “model tenements” in the early 1900s to the mobilization of public “participation” in the 1970s, planning is shown to operate within a divided, bifurcated conception of human life. Damaged lives, and a damaged city, are often a consequence of such divisions. In contrast to analyses that attribute the damage caused by modern planning to a deviation from its proper (or possible) role as a guardian of life, this dissertation concludes that damage is often integral to precisely the latter role, and it argues for a deeper interrogation of the configurations of knowledge and power that planning has come to serve.

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