For this week we continued to think about our bodies in space. We accrued more language with which to describe the ways we assume some spaces to be natural and neutral, but how they are actually a series of social and political decisions / processes. To help us with this we were introduced to Henri Lefebvre and the Situationist International.
Henri Lefebvre, arguing against Cartesianism and capitalism (and more!) undoes notions of space as static, universal, and a series of related mathematical systems that were developed to break space into fixed units which could be mapped over the land (abstract space). He claims that space makes up the fabric of social life and is socially produced. The production of space occurs through both social practices and material conditions. This means that space is contingent upon and shaped by innovations such as maps, and everyday routines like finding a parking spot. Politics and ideology affect these innovations, as much as these innovations shape and affect us. Thus, politics and ideology are embedded in the very objects that assist us being who are are and ‘being-in-the-world’.
Space structures and is structured by a great array of social relations, including gender, sexuality, race, age, language and disability. Therefore, the embodied lived experience is key for Lefebrve, which he doesn’t name as phenomenology in the text but it’s what he’s doing by being focused on how spaces and bodies co-produce each other via lived experience.
After this introduction, we unpacked Lefebvre’s tripartite/three-fold production of space schema to understand how space is socially produced. It is important that this is not an abstract or simply theoretical schema! This is reality!
- spatial practice – perceived space
- representations of space – conceived space
- representational space – lived space
As an answer to this capitalist system, Lefebvre proposes the idea of differential space – a counter-space. This space has the potential to dissolve the social relations of abstract space/the space of power and generate new heterogeneous relations that accentuate difference and are more in line with the specificities of experience, especially of those not in power, those resisting. This is, in a way, the space of the Other. I would suggest that this is our responsibility — to engage in activities to give rise to these spaces and to maintain and reproduce these spaces.
Another answer to the capitalist system and a suited application of Lefebvre’s theories is The Situationist International (SI). As part of the SI manifesto, we focused on more concepts —alienation, the flaneur, psychogeography, dérive and détournement, to lead us into a discussion on how to critically analyze and participate in our environments.
I stressed that to inhabit and orient yourself towards a space that is not normally sanctioned for you, it takes a lot of courage and a lot of work — but by doing so you change the reproduction of that space. That is to say, if you inhabit a space not meant for your body, you are putting a chink in the performance that makes that space what it is. So the hope that reproduction fails is the hope of new lines to emerge, new impressions to be made, and even new bodies to burgeon. The image of new lines emerging reminds us of desire lines, which are new lines that are made by bodies that are not supposed to be in a particular space, move in that space, but do so, and over time, make new impressions and new spaces. In some ways, this is what the Situationists were trying to do, and what psychogeography can attune us to.
Questions to Consider
- Lefebvre argues that the knowledge of space must proceed from observation and experience, and then can be theorized, not theorized first. Are you doing this in your work for the class? Remember this for your last assignment.
- Explain with examples —psychogeography, dérive, and détournement.
- While engaging in a dérive there must be no destination but rather an exploration of the terrain. Guy Debord says it’s crucial to note that this is not a matter of chance. Why do you think Debord is so adamant about saying it’s not about chance?
- Sara Ahmed in Queer Phenomenology (2006) has the notion of the reorientation device (pg.61-62), which is using an object that is typically for a specific task, one that genders or classes or races you, and using that object towards political means. As an example, we discussed the potential of the classroom to be re-oriented to be more in line with the course themes. What are some of the ways we can do this? (E.g., re-thinking the projector. As was brought up —the projector functions within specific modes of power and enacts the hierarchy between the person in control and the people under control.)