Charlie Hailey


On his book Camps: A Guide to 21st-Century Space

Cover Interview of September 01, 2009

The wide angle

In the book, I argue that camp spaces are an inexorable environment – one that is unique because it is always being built or rebuilt, always becoming.  With this in mind, I began my research trying to understand the localized processes of camping.  I really enjoy camping, whether in the backyard or on an abandoned beach.  Personal experience is an inextricable and important part of the story of camps; but rituals, communities, and memories of camping practice supersede nostalgia and personal narrative.  Camping is place-making.

In the 1990s I went to work for Jersey Devil, a unique group whose members actively participate in building what they design.  They also engage this design-build model more deeply by living on the construction site – a practice that broadened my own lived experience of camp and led to a realization that camp is work.  More precisely, it is a unique combination of living and working.  We site, clear, make, and then break our camps – we accept these often difficult tasks, having been displaced from our normal routine.  I investigated this process of camping as place-making in my first book titled Campsite: Architectures of Duration and Place.  Following this logic, the campsite maintains the practice of everyday life, and ultimately, for some, it is a method for dwelling.

But what about the situations that move between the ordinary and the extraordinary?  What about contemporary situations complicated by politics and globalization, by issues of residency and safety?  What happens in spaces caught between permanence and impermanence?  In Camps I have sought to understand the spaces of camps that might not always be rooted in the particularities of place or in recognizable, or clearly definable, methods of making home or community.  In one section titled “RV Club Camp,” I examine what it means when the U.S.  Census designates as “homeless” a burgeoning population of retirees who have chosen to abandon conventionally grounded home-sites for a full-time life on the nation’s roads.

Camps provide clues to how traditional forms of home, lifestyle, tenure, and strategy have been called into question and how they are changing.  So, what is a camp?  With this query, I overlap Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s important provocation; and while I do briefly cover camp’s biopolitical spaces, I have sought to expand this interrogation to other areas.  In doing so, I certainly raise more questions than I answer: What are the origins of response and action? Why are camps chosen?  How do camps function?

As interrogatory devices, camps track the exchange of paradox.  It has become more difficult to categorically differentiate the temporary from the permanent.  Disaster relief camps are often built on contractual impermanence, and languages of control are sometimes applied to sites that originated out of resistance or necessity.  In spite of these problems, some camps also suggest alternative ways of working sensitively within sites of paradox and ambiguity.