Mike Owen BenediktssonNov 1, 2022
In the Midst of Things
The Social Lives of Objects in the Public Spaces of New York City
Princeton University Press 2022
How ordinary urban objects influence our behavior, exacerbate inequality, and encourage social change Assumptions about human behavior lie hidden in plain sight all around us, programmed into the design and regulation of the material objects we encounter on a daily basis. In the Midst of Things: The Social Lives of Objects in the Public Spaces of New York City (Princeton UP, 2022) takes an in-depth look at the social lives of five objects commonly found in the public spaces of New York City and its suburbs, revealing how our interactions with such material things are our primary point of contact with the social, political, and economic forces that shape city life.
Drawing on groundbreaking fieldwork and a wealth of original interviews, Mike Owen Benediktsson shows how we are in the midst of things whose profound social role often goes overlooked. A newly built lawn on the Brooklyn waterfront reflects an increasingly common trade-off between the marketplace and the public good. A cement wall on a New Jersey highway speaks to the demise of the postwar American dream. A metal folding chair on a patch of asphalt in Queens exposes the political obstacles to making the city livable. A subway door expresses the simmering conflict between the city and the desires of riders, while a newsstand bears witness to our increasingly impoverished streetscapes. In the Midst of Things demonstrates how the material realm is one of immediacy, control, inequality, and unpredictability, and how these factors frustrate the ability of designers, planners, and regulators to shape human behavior.