if you read my tale of two books shops post, the second of my four books that i purchased at the ICA is i admit a little more obscure than rewilding and you may think what on earth inpsired you to buy that?! it is explore everything: place hacking the city by bradley garrett. in it he describes joining urban explorers who hack the city by which i mean that they find ways into adandoned buildings, sewers, skyscrapers, disused underground stations. the study itself is an ethnography - i.e. the author joins a group to particpate and observe their culture to research and document it. this is a brilliant way of getting inisde a culture and it doesn't take long before he is utterly compelled by it. a lot of this hacking is illegal so what grabbed me about the book? here's a few things...
i love the word/metaphor of hacking. i appreciate it has a lot of negative connotations especially since the phone scandal. but the original definition of a hack is a solution to a specific computing problem. this quickly got extended to life hacks - creative solutions to problems in everyday life usually exploring the limits of what is possible. but it is particularly the spirit in which it is done that is interesting - there is a sort of ethos or ethic of sharing, openness, and decentralisation. rather than a world where i do my thing to gain competitive advantage and keep it from you, hacking assumes that information should be shared in an open source fashion so that somone else can access it, take it apart to its component pieces and reassemble to make something new and better or repurposed which is then shared with the wider community to make the world a better place. this it seems to me is a fantastic metaphor for mission or theology or the church - making available liturgies and theology and canons to be creatively played with to come up with new and fresh takes on things rather than as boundaries to be defended and kept pure. but in the book hacking is really about viewing a very different city to the one on offer, finding a different map and route through, levering open cracks in its surface to slip through. it reminds me of the work by french philospoher michel de certeau in his masterpiece the practice of everyday life where he contrasts the strategies in place within a system with the tactics that 'readers' or 'poachers' use to make do, to create an alternative route which makes a different meaning to the one imposed in the strategies.
secondly i love the spirit of adventure in the book. i think the author feels alive and discovers a sense of wonder in the world and the city - he says that the one thing urban explorers all share is "the desire to find adventure in everyday life. this is the central foundation of place hacking". now this may just be the rush of adrenaline but i think it's a bit more. a friend and pioneer student at cms, steve, suggests that the gospel can be understood as a call to adventure and he is exploring that - i think he'll like this book. garrett has this lovely word for moments when everything is right and comes together, of epiphany, of "when the seen and unseen, the possible and impossible, the self and community fuse" - the meld! what a great word - i know i have experienced the meld in silence when i have felt at one with the world, at home in my own skin, in god, at peace. the place hacker is trying to get back a sense of what they have lost - a sense of self, place and community. in this sense it is a sort of spirituality i think. it's also a challenge to the way things are, finding cracks in the world, in the staus quo to squeeze open and to disturb notions of property and ownership - which if any of you are familiar with theories of trickster who is a mythological character who remakes the world through mischief is one his or her ruses. in a world where the commons has been almost totally eroded we need people doing this in my view. one way urban explorers describe this is edgework which again is a rather lovely phrase - i recognise this in pioneers who find the edges, the margins the cracks and dwell there in forgotten spaces with forgotten people.
thirdly i love the photography - wow! i don't think urban exploration began as that but the book is full of amazing photos taken in these spaces in the city. here's one from a crane on top of the shard before it was finished!
it's a wonderful ethnography, a brilliant exmple of getting inside another culture to learn its language and codes as a participant observer. for students of mission it might not be the most obvious story of crossing cultures but is worth a read for that as well.