Reversing the Immaterial Sense of a Nonplace
This article explores the Brussels metro as a nonplace and considers the impact of blindness on nonplace. In discussing the immateriality of the metro, this article focuses on the experience of metro-time as “waiting and anticipation” and metro-space as “alone-together.” Along with this, the notion of a dialogue with blindness is introduced into this nonplace. We explore the relation between metro and blindness as dialogue: the meeting and aversion of two actors in the particular context of the Brussels metro. In this, the authors identify how the investment of particular agents makes the metro space more malleable. Two strategies are used, one considers the different world in which blind people live and experience spatial environments, thus suggesting the invasion of “another world” into a nonplace. The second strategy considers embodiment and performance, and how contextual features afford new representations and pathways through and into a nonplace. At the core of this work is an argument that illustrates how the dialogue between blindness and public space can reverse the quality of the immaterial sense of a nonplace. The ethnographic work that serves as the background for this article is twofold. First, observation of daily travel on the metro brings an understanding of the general characteristics of the metro system, which includes human interaction/s and performance. Second, through observation and documentation of a group of disability advocates, educators, designers, and planners worked together to create a more accessible metro system for people who are blind and visually impaired. Finally, it is argued that fundamentally, a dialogue with disability reverses the immaterial sense of a nonplace. The potential of blindness in reversing the metro’s nonplace qualities stems from the articulation of a sensory vulnerability in a time where vision has achieved a dominant position. Blindness-as-vulnerability is a significant agent for intra-action in the Brussels metro system, making it a safer environment, a more tactile environment, and one where information is added for the benefit of a particular group and also extending to all people.