When things break
When things break
mending roads, being social
In this chapter, Allen presents the road as a social actor participating in a community traditionally defined exclusively by humans as commuters. Her study centres on when roads are in disrepair or have suffered ‘street-breaking’ (stretbreche), to use the earliest legal wording, whether through the action of wear and tear, weather, vandalism, or neglect. The word ‘break’ offers a conceptually useful critical term for a process that affords environmental reconfiguration and new social grouping even as it refers to rupture within the commuter system. In particular Allen studies the interventions and modifications necessary to maintain paved surfaces and how they were funded—usually through bequests, charitable gifts, and tolls. In this solicitude for surfaces she analyses the interaction of environment with human action: how open fields affect the definition of loitering; how increasing density of urban traffic and enclosed road space structure civic consciousness; and how caring for the road fashions one as a member not only of the local community but also of the realm. The mentalité that emerges out of the collectively shared labour of road care demonstrates how thought organizes itself around and in relation not only to habitual actions but also to the shaped contours of an environment that acts as assertively as humans do.
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