Leah Triber '15
The Politics of Place and the Freeing of Political Discussion: The Scarcity of Public Space and the Searching for Political Discourse in Bethlehem, PA
Major/minor: Double Major in Political Science and History
Hometown: Bethlehem, PA
Project mentor: Dr. Khristina Haddad
Drawing largely from the works of Hannah Arendt, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Eisenstein, David Harvey, and Sara Ahmed, we developed a theoretical framework to better understand the dynamics of public space and their effect on political discourse. We argue that public space can be used as a tool for political action, and conversely, without such a space democratic life atrophies. Using Bethlehem as our case study, we aim to study the ways space is arranged and to determine what kinds of interactions these spaces facilitate. Another important facet of our research deals with the study of recent social movements from across the world, where we determined the role public space played in these movements.
- Briefly describe your SOAR project.
Our project may have a long title, but it really has a simple question at its core: What happens to political discourse when there is no space to extend it? The Occupy Movement, back in the fall of 2011, showed how the spaces around us are ones dedicated to consumerism and civic disengagement; a reflection of the increasing public-private partnership that is a product of a neoliberal economy. We came to the conclusion that we should use Bethlehem as our case study because we both have lived here our entire lives but more significantly, because Bethlehem is undergoing, and has been for some time, a long transition from an industrial city to a service city. How did the new spatial arrangements incorporate political discussion, if it did at all? And what were the consequences of this lack of political discourse? In other words, did the spatial configuration, namely urbanization, but also new urbanization and gentrification have an impact on what bodies could come into what spaces? Was there a political economy to stopping the physical movement of the political body as opposed the non-political body in Bethlehem?
- What motivated you to participate in SOAR?
After taking Dr. Haddad’s utopias class in the Fall of 2013, I became intrigued in how spatial configurations have a subconscious effect on how we perceive the world and our place in it. How could space be arranged in such a way as to not be a political actor? Is this field of action promoted in our daily lives or suppressed? Then, in the spring of 2014, my interest in space was heightened when I took Professor Farbod’s Globalization and Social Movements class. I learned how instrumental space was for the Occupy Movement, how it was space that allowed their message of inequality to break through the American consciousness. By mid-spring, I decided that pursuing a SOAR grant would allow me to develop a solid base of knowledge about space from a political and social theory and historical understanding.
- What are the results of your work on this project?
The end result was writing a 50 page research paper. We also developed an appendix that houses some maps and personal interviews we held with residents of Bethlehem considering Bethlehem’s Occupy Wall Street and their thoughts on the development of Bethlehem thus far.
- What are your personal takeaways from the project? And do you plan to continue work on this project after SOAR?
I wish that I would have pursued a SOAR grant or any research grant sooner in my career at Moravian, but even so, I am grateful that I did. What I gained as a student is better research skills and the general experience of pursuing your own research. It felt empowering but intimidating to be able to develop everything of the project on your own albeit with the guiding mind of Dr. Haddad. I read ample amounts of political theory, including The Human Conditionby Hannah Arendt, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere by Jürgen Habermas, and lastly, I read a more contemporary work by Sara Ahmed titled, Queer Phenomenology. Coming away from this SOAR experience, I feel more confident in my research skills such as keeping better organization of notes and reflections of my readings. Taking better notes on texts enabled me to compare, contrast, and connect works with more ease. By reading and working with some influential texts regarding utopias and social space, I am more aware of the kind of work already done in this field as well as some of the questions that are still uncertain regarding utopias. I hope to attend graduate school for the history of political thinking or political science specializing in political and urban theory.
- What clubs/sports/activities/community service are you involved in?
I am involved with the Alliance for Sustainable Communities in the Lehigh Valley, where I serve on the steering committee. I am a member of the Beyond Capitalism Group of Bethlehem and I also work part-time off campus. One of my favorite hobbies apart from reading is baking breads.
- Have you received any awards/recognitions here?
I am in both the political science and history honors societies.
- Briefly, what are your future plans and career goals?
On top of working, I hope to attend graduate school to further my knowledge and specialize in the history of political thinking. I’ve always loved learning history and political science, but it was probably sophomore year that I developed a taste for reading political theory. I find myself wanting and not forcing myself to read theory texts. Apart from theory being exhausting, I love the creativeness behind it. To me, theory explains the world in a way that is liberating because I am always questioned to challenge my normative knowledge of the world. I think it could be a fulfilling and rewarding research career to be able to study how theory comes to structure the normative world we live in through the different intellectual interpretations of events that have unfolded throughout history. I would love to study how utopias have been a challenge to the dominant theory that wins favor in our culture. I’ve also considered urban planning and social work, but increasingly see myself taking the former path.