The Real Fake
Authenticity and the Production of Space
by Maria Francesca Piazzoni
Pub Date 16 Oct 2018
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Thames Town—an English-like village built in Shanghai—is many places at once: a successful tourist destination, an affluent residential cluster, a city of migrant workers, and a ghost town. The Real Fake explores how the users of Thames Town transform a themed space into something more than a “fake place.” Piazzoni understands authenticity as a dynamic relationship between people, places, and meanings that enables urban transformations. She argues that authenticity underlies the social and physical production of space through both top-down and bottom-up dynamics. The systems of moral and aesthetic judgments that people associate with “the authentic” materialize in the village. Authenticity excludes some users as it inhibits access and usage especially to the migrant poor. And yet, ideas of the authentic also encourage everyday, spontaneous appropriations of space that explicitly break the village rules. Most scholars criticize theming, arguing that it produces a fake, exclusionary, and controlling city. Piazzoni complicates this view by focusing on how people negotiate a sense of authenticity in an explicitly “fake” environment. Heritage studies tell us that we authenticate places through affective and embodied experiences, as evidenced by the data collected in Thames Town. Although the exclusionary character of theming remains unquestionable, it is precisely the experience of “fakeness” that allows Thames Tow’s users to develop a sense of place.