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Having depicted the book's epistemological and disciplinary background, we can now introduce its goals and contents in a detailed way. The crucial thing to realise is that, insofar as a hermeneutic approach proves to be more conducive to creativity than the conventional one, it becomes crucial to set out the conditions that improve attitudes and aptitudes towards re-contextualisation of cognitive schemata, which is the basic exercise of hermeneutics. Some of these conditions relate to the personal sphere and are concerned with intellectual factors (skills/competences/training), psychological factors (perceptive propensities), emotional factors (the pleasure of relaxing, maybe transgressing conventions, exposing oneself to new experiences and making new syntheses), material factors (corporeality and spatiality), and finally the more strictly rational dimension (deliberate purposes and the established relationship between means and ends). These topics have been explored over many years in the conventional approach[1] and, though deserving of further investigation, are not the subject of this work, except to point out that exposing them to a hermeneutical approach changes their system of reference on both theoretical and empirical realms.

Rather, this volume sets out to examine the milieu conditions which we believe influence the attitudes and abilities to practise the hermeneutic exercise. Or rather, since the hermeneutic practice is in any case performed, even when subjects believe they are operating exclusively in line with conventional learning procedures, it is possible to argue that the anthology sets out to examine the milieu conditions that influence aptitudes consciously and at the same time affectively to adopt a hermeneutical approach to learning, on the assumption that this approach possesses a creative potential which is significantly superior to that of the cognitivist one.

In this epistemological context, 'milieu' is not understood as one side of a dialectic concerning distinction/connection between the individual and the environment. Rather, developing Durkheim's seminal contribution, it is emphatically understood in the way Deleuze and Guattari (1986) portrayed it, namely as the space of the middle, where things pick up speed and into which one is thrown, battling with the competitive need for creativity from one's position as merely one part of an infinite assemblage that includes not just individual bodies and their environment, but significantly all the various strata of emergences that are generated when individual bodies and environments flow within and against each other. From this viewpoint the adopted notion of milieu is consistent with Camagni's notion of “local milieu”, according to which it is “a set of territorial relationships encompassing in a coherent way a production system, different economic and social actors, a specific culture and a representation system, and generating a dynamic collective learning process” (Camagni, 1991, p. 130). What this work aims to achieve is to ascertain how those “territorial relationships” actually work in generating such “a dynamic collective learning process”, by emphasizing that, whilst the term “territorial” encompasses both the social and the spatial dimension, analysis of the role of this latter dimension remains substantially unachieved. The fact that Durkheim himself, while repeatedly maintaining that the spatial configuration of objects within the milieu is of crucial importance in fostering generative power, did not explain how it actually works further induces us to examine this intriguing issue. If we succeed in providing a 'satisficing' explanation, it will open up a critical aspect on the normative dimension, in the sense that appropriate spatial policies might shape the milieu's generative effect.

Arguably, our overriding and indeed all-encompassing purpose is to contribute to the work various authors are pursuing with a view to (re)constructing a theory of spatial policies in the knowledge age, in the awareness that the approaches deployed in the industrial era, on which many urban planning and design practices are still belatedly based, have not only become obsolete, but have also lost most of their social legitimacy (for example, Cusinato, 2012; Soja, 1989; Young, 2008; Zukin, 1982, 2010). By questioning such practices, we are interested in reinstating social legitimacy to them, but only once the various attempts at engineering, directing, politically and economically guiding and at the same time dissimulating such engineering, are discussed. We shall do this by matching the measurable aspects of milieu which Durkheim pointed as crucial, such as social volume, relational density and physical configuration, with the symbolic and also preconscious ones, variously seen as landscapes, lawscapes, nomotopes, nomospheres or indeed atmospheres (Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, 2013), and focussing on how atmospheric handling can turn out to be both benign and desired.

Lastly, a few words about the title chosen for this book. Tackling the subject of

“knowledge-creating milieus” is an ambitious undertaking, for at least two reasons. Firstly, because the concept of milieu, however intuitive and widely it is now used in regional science, is still analytically elusive. More usual notions in mainstream economics, such as agglomeration, cluster, industrial district[2] and also region would sound more familiar than 'milieu', thanks to their better analytical foundations and empirical evidence, but they do not render (and rather refuse any contamination with) the generative role this notion is endowed with (cf. Buttimer, 1971). Although clear that it is employed to represent a system of local conditions which are generative of specific social effects, the process whereby it yields these effects is not so clear. Our work puts forward the hypothesis that the answer lies where Durkheim located it—in the relationship between 'volume', 'density' and 'space'—but especially where he left it inconclusive—that is, with reference to the role of spatiality and its symbolisation at the collective dimension. Secondly, our undertaking is ambitious in that it formulates the hypothesis that the milieu also possesses specific knowledge-generating capacities. Since cognitive experience is bound to pass through the minds of individuals (unless we believe, with Durkheim, in the existence of a collective consciousness), it follows either that certain conditions in the milieu foster individual learning—but in this case it would be inappropriate to speak of 'the creation of knowledge'—or that something happens at the collective level where learning is concerned. And it is in this precise direction that our work points, suggesting that such conditions contribute to the formation and spread of attitudes and aptitudes for learning in ways which are not only more effective in terms of creativity than the individualistically considered ones, but new and different from them. The analogy with the Saussurian pair parole and langue is evident: while the parole can only stem from individual acts, the langue forms and evolves at the collective level and imposes its rules on the speech of individuals: it is only in the play-margin between the steady rule of the langue and the erratic tendency of paroles that novelties arise in the langue, which in turn reflect on paroles. Here, we are interested in exploring that generative play-margin, also in its spatial dimension: what elements it is made of, and how these work in giving rise to knowledge-creating potential.

  • [1] For a review, Ochse (1990)
  • [2] A' la Porter (1998).
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