social space

"The paranoid person takes up too much social space" (Donna Haraway)

In The Production of Space, Henri Lefebvre reclaims space as a primarily social problematic. For Lefebvre, the proliferation of this and/or that space, eg. literary space, ideological space, the space of the dream etc. is a general consequence of of the concept of mental space (p.3) through the epistemologico-philosophical thinking of western Logos (in both science and philosophy). (see philosophical space ) Lefebvre unmasks this mode of thought as a powerful ideological tendency, expressing the dominant ideas of the dominant class, through the concept of abstract space.

The very proliferation of descriptions and sectionings of space is for Lefebvre an example of the endless division of labor within present-day society. Lefebvre sees spatial practice as the projection onto a (spatial) field of all aspects, elements and moments of social practice. (p.8) If he uses terms of language or contemporary theory, he is also at pains to recontextualize them as produced by a social subject. For example, he believes that a coded language (of space) may be said to have existed on the practical basis of a specific relationship between town, country and political territory, a language based on classical perspective and Euclidean space, and that that system collapsed in the twentieth century. But, he adds, if spatial codes have existed, each characterizing a particular spatial/social practice, and if these codifications have been produced along with the space corresponding to them, then the job of theory is to elucidate their rise, their role, and their demise. (p.17)

The task is thus a dialectical one, and both things in space and discourse on space do no more than supply clues to this productive process which subsumes signifying processes without being reducible to them. (p. 37) (see also representation)

Norbert Elias describes the "pacified social spaces" which are created as a result of the monopoly of force by the state. With the protection of individuals from sudden attack, these societies allow for a greater increase in functional dependencies and differentiation, although "a continuous, uniform pressure is exerted on individual life by the physical violence stored behind the scenes of everyday life." ( The Civilizing Process, p.450) This pressure is exerted primarily through self-control. (see superego)

The nation-state has historically operated with coercive practices designed to forge its subjects into a single, homogeneous national community. Thus the nation-state becomes "a compact and isomorphic organization of territory, ethnos (or people), and governmental apparatus." (Appadurai)

Late nineteenth century discussions of space often took on a geopolitical and imperialist tone. Eg Friedrich Ratzel's 1896 article "The Laws of the Spatial Growth of States" as Kern points out, at that time, "no one argued that smallness was a source of national greatness." (p.228)

One of the major concerns of ethnology has been to delineate signifying spaces in the world, societies identified with cultures conceived as complete wholes, universes of meaning. (see ritual) Nowadays, it is unreasonable to think of culture strictly in localized terms, to view it as the natural property of spatially circumscribed populations. Globalization has radically pulled culture apart from place. This deterritorialization -- weakening the ties between culture and place -- has been accompanied by new forms of reterritorialization in new cultural contexts.

"Consumers are poor substitutes for citizens." Benjamin Barber, in Jihad vs McWorld, argues that the public space of civil society, which he identifies with the democratic nation-state, is equally under attack by the globalizing world of the market as it is by the localizing attacks of fundamentalisms.

(see public / private )