Charlie Hailey


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

Cover Interview of September 01, 2009


In the past few months, news and media outlets have reported on homeless camps, at times linking the resurgence of these sites to economic crisis.  Last February, the Oprah Winfrey show sent correspondents to Sacramento’s tent cities, which had become global symbols of the recession.  In late March, tent cities came up in President Obama’s press conference when a reporter cited a statistic that 1 in 50 children are homeless in the United States.

In some reports, I have sensed a tone of surprise at the degree of self-organization found in many of the tent cities and homeless camps.  But instances like the village concept camps in the Pacific Northwest return to essentials of community and demonstrate possible transitional sites – what architect Mark Lakeman has called “dynamic self-help environments.”  These spaces are “provisional” in the rooted sense of the word, offering necessary provisions, prospectively looking to the near future, and offering a platform (however transitory) for dignity and humanity.

One main goal of Camps is to provide a preliminary context for critical discussion and for rethinking contemporary issues.  I hope to have opened up possibilities for a discipline of “camp studies” – in which camps are not simply vehicles of escape, means to ends, or hasty solutions to problems, but are modes of interrogation themselves.  Put another way, camps should not be viewed passively as mere symptoms of the times – Agamben has warned of exceptions becoming the rule – but should be read actively as beacons, warnings, registers, and signals of problem and possibility.  Small settlements can rapidly expand in scale and population, the open can just as easily become closed, and eccentric locations afforded by camp’s flexibility offer escape but also result in marginalization and invisibility.  Such a discipline must persistently ask “what is a camp?”

© 2009 Charlie Hailey