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To Preserve is to Change: A Sociology of Historic Preservation

Thu, Mar 24    6:30pm

Since 1984, I have continuously studied the movement to preserve the Otaru Canal in Otaru, Japan. Based on my 38 years of fieldwork, this lecture chronicles a major movement that shaped the preservation policy in Japan. I show that the preservation movement was neither conservative nor an obstacle. Rather, the movement sought to promote changes in which the residents’ “place” would continue to be theirs. As such, the word “preservation” does not mean the prevention of growth, but rather its control. Preservation allows for and can even promote change. I argue that preservation activists claimed that the Otaru Canal and the surrounding built environment must be saved because the loss of that environment would alter the character of the community. It was not the memories that they tried to preserve; it was the lived environment that forms the basis of their very existence. The materiality of society and the sociality of material mattered. Preservationists tried to make changes that would ensure that Otaru itself did not change. In short, to preserve was to change.

Saburo Horikawa is a professor of sociology at Hosei University in Tokyo, Japan. He received his Ph.D. in sociology from Keio University in Tokyo. In 2018, his thirty-three years of fieldwork in Otaru, Japan culminated in the publication of Machinami Hozon Undō no Ronri to Kiketsu from the University of Tokyo Press, which has won three major academic awards, including the City Planning Institute of Japan’s highly distinguished “Ishikawa Prize.” The English version of this book, Why Place Matters, was published in 2021 by Springer. Dr. Horikawa has lectured at such institutions as Harvard, SUNY Stony Brook, and the Sainsbury Institute in England and is currently an Associate in Research at the Reischauer Institute, Harvard, and a Visiting Professor at Nanjing University in China. He is now working on a book project titled “Place, Preservation and Politics: A U.S.-Japan Comparison.”

Free and open to the public.

Organized as part of the Preservation Lecture Series, an initiative of the Historic Preservation Program at Columbia GSAPP.

Image Caption: Shachi-hoko (thresher whale antefix, 1890) and the new high-rise apartment building in Otaru, Japan. Photo © 2008 by Saburo Horikawa.