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production of space

  The social production of the spaces within which social life takes place. The term derives from the writings of the French Marxist philosopher Henri Lefebvre (1901-91), who explored the concept in a number of texts, most notably in La production de l\'espace (1991; see Kofman and Lebas, 1996, for an intellectual biography). This book is a dense and complex text which has been subject to many different readings — there is no single route through its passages — but it is the single most important source for understanding Lefebvre\'s ideas about social space. He was writing within a broadly humanist tradition of historical materialism, and for this reason he was deeply critical of the ascendancy of anti-humanism in the 1960s and 1970s, and in particular the rise of structuralism, structural Marxism and post-structuralism within the intellectual firmament of French culture. He took particular exception to their use of spatial metaphors by means of which, so he said, \'the philosophico-epistemological notion of space is fetishized and the mental realm comes to envelop the social and physical one\'. This is a contentious claim; post-structuralism does not conceive of the relationship between discursivity and materiality in such idealist terms (see Gibson-Graham, 1966, pp. 74-5; 81-2). Still, in place of these spatial metaphors Lefebvre proposed a concept of socially produced space — spatiality — as a way of registering both \'mental space\' and \'material space\'.

Lefebvre\'s argument drew critically and creatively on Marx, Hegel and Nietzsche. He provided what could be called an historical geography of the present — an argumentation-sketch intended to illuminate the present landscape and its conjunctures in new and unsettling ways — which was, in effect, a critical account of \'the rise of the West\' that was particularly sensitive to the modalities of violence that were involved in the formation and extension of capitalism both inside and outside Europe (though Lefebvre himself said remarkably little in any detail about the production of space under colonialism). He mapped the trajectory of capitalism not only in terms of class struggle and capital accumulation — meat and drink to conventional Marxian accounts — but also as the inscription of masculine power (\'phallic brutality\') on social life and social space. This involved Lefebvre in a subterranean critique of psychoanalytic theory that nonetheless activated many of its central concerns (Gregory, 1997): so much so, in fact, that Blum and Nast (1996) argue that his sketch is not founded on the primacy of class struggle at all \'but on the construction of alterity itself\' through a projected phallocentrism.

In outline, Lefebvre sketched an historical series of representations of space, each connected to a specific mode of production, through which social space had been progressively \'de-corporealized\': the advance of capitalism thus depended not only on a logic of accumulation but also on a logic of visualization through which human spatiality bore less and less relation to the human body (see the first figure; cf. Gregory, 1994). This was not intended to be a detailed historico-geographical reconstruction, of course, but its architecture has been criticized on grounds other than the purely empirical. Blum and Nast (1996) argue that its activating logic is shot through with a masculinism and a heterosexism in which the paternal is identified with the operative logic of history — \'activity is that which materially inscribes the body in history\' and which is equated with \'the phallic\' — so that feminine bodies are rendered \'passive\' and \'invisible\'. Pile (1996, pp. 146-75; 211-17) concedes the force of these objections, but believes that even as Lefebvre sets these \'masculinist presumptions\' in motion he also struggles to negate them through \'an explicit critique of masculine space, ruled by the deathly phallus\'. Certainly, the temporary terminus of Lefebvre\'s narrative was the installation of an abstract space — which he described as a \'visual-geometric-phallic space\' — in which \'space had no social existence independent of an aggressive and repressive visualization\' (see vision and visuality). Abstract space was at once symptomatic of and constitutive of capitalist modernity: it was a fragmented, differentiated and aggressively expanding social space, whose contradictions disclosed the unstable constitution of globalization. Moving back to a more familiar materialist terrain, Lefebvre argued that the state played a crucial role in attempting to manage the contradictions of abstract space by provisionally \'fixing\' territorial configurations that could underwrite landscapes of capital accumulation. The production of abstract space was thus also a process of the production of spatial scale, articulating the relations between globalization, territorialization and urbanization (see Brenner, 1997, and territoriality). In the course of these hierarchical productions, which were also deformations, Lefebvre argued that abstract space \'colonized\' everyday life and atrophied its roots in an older, historically sedimented concrete space (see also Lefebvre, 1971, 1992; cf. critical theory).

{img src=show_image.php?name=bkhumgeofig55.gif }

production of space 1: The production of space (Gregory, 1993; after Lefebvre)

As indicated in the second figure, Lefebvre suggested that this process of colonization had been effected through: (i) multiple spatial practices of bureaucratization and commodification, which relied on the production and extension of spatial grids of power (an unstable process of territorialization and reterritorialization in both political and economic registers); and (ii) representations of space which were produced through discourses of urban and regional planning and spatial science, and strategies of spectacle and surveillance. In the wake of the popular uprisings and student protests in France in May 1968, and the interventions of the situationists with whom he had been closely associated, Lefebvre hoped that a counter-movement would emerge to resist the colonization of concrete space and to reclaim the spaces of everyday life. He believed that such a movement would work through (iii) spaces of representation, whose countervailing productions would be informed by a series of insurgent counter-discourses, including Lefebvre\'s own \'metaphilosophy\', and critical practices in the arts, which would feed into a series of spontaneous struggles (\'festivals\'). Spaces of representation had their origin in the concrete spaces of everyday life — in the memories and residues of an older, \'authentic\' human existence inscribed within the taken-for-granted world — and many of them depended on restoring an essential connective between human spatiality and the human body (see also Lefebvre, 1973, 1992).

{img src=show_image.php?name=bkhumgeofig56.gif }

production of space 2: The colonization of concrete space (Gregory, 1993)

Although Lefebvre\'s major theses were written in the 1960s and early 1970s, many commentators have insisted on their continuing and contemporary significance. Indeed, so prescient were Lefebvre\'s ideas about the production of space to both Dear (1997) and Soja (1989) that they claimed them for a critical postmodernism, though there have been dissenting voices (Gregory, 1994; Kofman and Lebas, 1996). These tussles are much less important than Lefebvre\'s central thesis about the production of space, which Dear (1997) glosses thus: \'Space is, in a manner of speaking, nature\'s way of preventing everything from happening in the same place.\' If this one-liner is taken literally, it opens up two avenues of inquiry in human geography. The first concerns the relations between \'space\' and \'place\'. Following Lefebvre, Merrifield (1993) treats space and place as different aspects of a dialectical unity within which \'space\' is constituted through and conceptualized as a \'rootless, fluid reality of material flows\' that congeals and fixes itself in \'place\'. Soja (1996), however, noted that Lefebvre rarely used the concept of \'place\' in his writings since — so he said — its richest meaning is conveyed through the dense constellation crystallized around lived space, everyday life and concrete space. Instead of a dialectic between space and place, therefore, Soja proposed what he called a trialectics of spatiality that transcends the oppositions between \'material\' and \'mental\' spaces that had so forcefully attracted Lefebvre\'s attention and which, in Soja\'s terms, embeds the subversive production of \'spaces of representation\' in the insurgent possibilities of a third space, a differential space within which ordinary people might freely claim what Lefebvre called \'the right to difference\'. (See also place/space tensions.) The second avenue concerns the \'place\' of nature within Lefebvre\'s corpus and thus the connections between the production of space and the production of nature. This problematic was much less developed in Lefebvre\'s writings. While he concedes that the production of abstract space has been achieved through the domination of nature — a commonplace of conventional historical materialism — he said remarkably little about the orderings of nature and the emancipatory \'politics of nature\' that should also presumably have their place within any \'third space\'. For in the end, Smith (1998, p. 67) declares, \'it is spatialized nature rather than naturalized space that provides the banal substance of everyday life, and the fruition of Lefebvre\'s ambition — politically and intellectually — requires an adjustment to the politics of the production of nature\'.

Lefebvre\'s ideas are an immensely provocative source for thinking about the politics and productions of space, but it remains to be seen how far they will succeed in informing empirical research and political practice (cf. Allen and Pryke, 1994), and how well they will survive a renewed critique from a human geography seemingly increasingly sympathetic to post-structuralism. (DG)

References Allen, J. and Pryke, M. 1994: The production of service space. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 12: 453-75. Blum, V. and Nast, H. 1996: Where\'s the difference? The heterosexualization of alterity in Henri Lefebvre and Jacques Lacan. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 14: 559-80. Brenner, N. 1997: Global, fragmented, hierarchical: Henri Lefebvre\'s geographies of globalization. Public culture 10 (1): 135-67. Dear, M. 1997: Postmodern bloodlines. In G. Benko and U. Strohmayer, eds, Space and social theory: interpreting modernity and postmodernity. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 49-71. Gibson-Graham, J.K. 1966: The end of capitalism (as we knew it): a feminist critique of political economy. Cambridge, MA and Oxford: Blackwell. Gregory, D. 1994: Geographical imaginations. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. Gregory, D. 1997: Lefebvre, Lacan and the production of space. In G. Benko and U. Strohmayer, eds, Space and social theory: interpreting modernity and postmodernity. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 203-31. Kofman, E. and Lebas, E. 1996: Lost in transposition: Time, space and the city. Editorial introduction to H. Lefebvre, Writing on cities. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 3-60. Lefebvre, H. 1970: La révolution urbaine. Paris: Gallimard. Lefebvre, H. 1971: Everyday life in the modern world. New York: Harper. Lefebvre, H. 1972: Espace et politique. Paris: Anthropos [reprinted in Lefebvre, 1996]. Lefebvre, H. 1973: The survival of capitalism. London: Allison and Busby. Lefebvre, H. 1991: The production of space. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell (orig. pub. in French as La production de l\'espace, 1974). Lefebvre, H. 1992: Critique of everyday life. London: Verso. Lefebvre, H. 1996: Writings on cities. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. Merrifield, A. 1993: Place and space: a Lefebvrean reconciliation. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 18: 516-31. Pile, S. 1996: The body and the city: psychoanalysis, space and subjectivity. London and New York: Routledge. Smith, N. 1998: Antinomies of space and nature in Henri Lefebvre\'s The Production of Space. In A. Light and J. Smith, eds, Philosophy and Geography, vol. II: The production of public space. London and Boulder, CO: Rowman and Littlefield, 49-69. Soja, E. 1989: Postmodern geographies: the reassertion of space in critical social theory. London: Verso. Soja, E. 1996: Thirdspace: journeys to Los Angeles and other real-and-imagined places. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Suggested Reading Blum and Nast (1996). Gregory (1994), ch. 6; Lefebvre (1991). Soja (1996), ch. 1.



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