ABSTRACT

Public space can be material and lived, or symbolic and imagined, though the boundaries between the two are by no means clear. Subjectivities are produced symbolically, discursively and materially through a network of power relations and practices articulated in space in complex and shifting ways. So too urban encounters are woven across spaces that are visible and invisible, performed, experienced and conducted through words and silences, glances and gazes, regard and disregard, acknowledgements and hostilities, all of which are differently embodied. In this chapter, the focus is on an Orthodox Jewish space of connection and encounter, the ‘eruv’, which, though symbolic, has very powerful material effects. This is a symbolic – and material – space which, though largely invisible, except to those aware of its existence, has in two places in particular – Barnet in North London and Tenafly in the USA – given rise to fierce debate and contestation. These conflicts sharply expose some of the limits of living with difference and normative versions of multiculturalism in the city. Given the eruv’s inherently innocuous characteristics – there is no large visible built structure as in the case of the mosque (Naylor and Ryan 2002: 39-59) – it is all the more interesting that the reordering and redefining of the spaces concerned have been so contested.