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spatial structure

  The orderings through which space is implicated in the operation and outcome of cultural-natural processes. \'Ordering\' has several different meanings that have been activated in different and overlapping phases in the history of Anglo-American human geography since the Second World War.

In the course of the post-war critique of regional geography it was claimed that \'spatial relations\' were \'the only ones that mattered\' to a properly constituted, nominally scientific geography, and that geographical inquiry should be directed towards the search for an intrinsically spatial order to the world. For F.K. Schaefer (1953) this necessarily involved the discovery of spatial patterns — \'morphological laws\' (see morphology) — while to William Bunge (1962) the project of a theoretical geography turned on a dualism between \'spatial process\' (\'movements over the earth\'s surface\') and \'spatial structure\' (\'the resulting arrangement of phenomena on the earth\'s surface\'). Although Bunge thus widened Schaefer\'s prospectus, he none the less strongly agreed that \'spatial structure\' could be defined \'most sharply by interpreting “structure” as “geometrical”\': from which it followed, so he said, that \'the science of space [geography] finds the logic of space [geometry] a sharp tool\'. The revival of this classical geometric tradition (cf. chorography) was a central feature of locational analysis in human geography and the constitution of geography as a spatial science (Haggett, 1965; Harvey, 1969). From this perspective \'spatial structure\' was often translated into purely formal conceptions of sequences in mathematical or statistical spaces rather than concrete outcomes of causal mechanisms or substantive processes. Within this tradition, \'ordering\' implied spatial orders in geometrical-mathematical-statistical domains characterized by degrees of symmetry, regularity and predictability.

In the second phase, in contrast, there was a movement towards the assignment of substantive rather than surrogate processes to the production and reproduction of particular spatial structures. In the course of this intellectual transition — the critique of spatial science — spatial structure came to be seen as literally superficial: either as a \'codification\' by the human subject or as a \'reflection\' of human society. Explanations of spatial structure were sought within the compositional approach of the various humanities and social sciences (most commonly psychology, cultural anthropology, political economy and sociology). Within human geography, therefore, the debates of most moment came to pivot around whether social life ought to be conceived in terms of either the human subject or the structures of society, a dualism that was traced both within and between humanistic geography and Marxist geography in particular. To simplify, the temporary result was two human geographies, one preoccupied with intentions and meanings and another preoccupied with systems and structures. At best, spatial structuring was marginal to these exchanges; at worst, it was condemned as an irrelevant distraction that ran the real risk of confusing \'deeply social\' relations with merely \'geometrical\' ones (see spatial fetishism). From this perspective, \'ordering\' had intrinsically social connotations: no matter how varied and various cultural landscapes seemed to be on the surface, they could be \'structured\' by appealing to various \'depth models\' that disclosed the ordering capacities of human subjects and social structures.

During the third phase many of the attempts that were made to overcome the dualism between \'agency\' and \'structure\' — a dualism which reappeared in many other fields — made the substantive connections between social relations and spatial structures a central focus for inquiry not only within human geography but across the spectrum of the humanities and social sciences (Gregory and Urry, 1985; Gregory, 1994, ch. 2). Human geographers who were drawn to the development of structuration theory, for example, often continued to invoke concepts of spatial structure to capture the interpenetrations of \'presence\' and \'absence\' within the conduct of social life: both the time-space routines traced by individuals in their daily lives (see time-geography) and the stretching of social relations over time and space (see time-space distanciation) were seen as structured — or \'ordered\' — through the \'binding\' of time and space into the conduct of social life. These contributions intersected with the emergence of \'postmodern geographies\' and the continued development of historico-geographical materialism, which, in similar ways, also insisted on the \'reassertion of space in critical social theory\' and refined concepts of spatialization and spatiality to capture what Soja (1989) identified (in the case of late twentieth-century Los Angeles) as \'an economic order, an instrumental nodal structure, an essentially exploitative spatial division of labour\' (p. 248; see also postmodernism).

During the present, nominally fourth phase, the emphasis on \'structure\' and \'order\' that runs through the previous three paragraphs has come to be seen as unduly restrictive by a number of human geographers and others (see space, human geography and). They have been prompted by post-structuralism and/ or actor-network theory to reconceptualize spatial structure not as an \'order\' but as an ordering. This subsumes the claim advanced by structuration theory in particular that the structures of social life are not installed through the realization of some abstract, transcendental Order or Structure: that they are instead rooted in the flow of everyday life as a stream of situated practices and performances. But the emphasis on \'ordering\' directs analytical attention towards \'foldings\' of time and space into the operation of cultural-natural processes in contingent, fluid and sensuous ways. This implies, crucially, both a recognition of the ways in which practices and performances evade and exceed the symmetrical and/or logical orders proposed by mainstream social theory and human geography (\'the problem of order\') and also a recognition of couplings and engagements between human and non-human actors (or \'actants\'; see human agency) such that \'the “material” and the “social” intertwine and interact in all manner of promiscuous combinations\' (Thrift, 1996, p. 24). From this perspective, and in contradistinction to those views that treat \'order\' or \'structure\' as a thing rather than a process, ordering becomes

not something fixed but a mobile process full of uncertainty, heterogeneity and contradiction. Just as the process of social ordering creates positions of uncertainty, so those positions of uncertainty are implicated in processes of ordering and re-ordering. Ordering and disordering go together, as do centres and margins, in ways that are tangled, uncertain and topologically complex. (Hetherington, 1997a, p. 7; see also Hetherington, 1997b; cf. heterotopia; third space)The sense that runs through these last sentences of fluidity and promiscuity — of orderings that cannot be reduced to any single Order — is of vital importance not only for the analysis of \'heterogeneous engineerings\' and \'impure geographies\' but also for the activation of an emancipatory and empowering politics of space (see also space, human geography and). (DG)

References Bunge, W. 1962: Theoretical geography. Lund: C.W.K. Gleerup. Gregory, D. and Urry, J., eds, 1985: Social relations and spatial structures. London: Macmillan. Gregory, D. 1994: Geographical imaginations. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. Haggett, P. 1965: Locational analysis in human geography. London: Edward Arnold. Harvey, D. 1969: Explanation in Geography. London: Edward Arnold. Hetherington, K. 1997a: The badlands of modernity: heterotopia and social ordering. London and New York: Routledge. Hetherington, K. 1997b: In place of geometry: the materiality of place. In K. Hetherington and R. Munro, eds, Ideas of difference: social spaces and the labour of division. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 183-99. Schaefer, F.K. 1953: Exceptionalism in geography: a methodological examination. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 43: 226-49. Soja, E. 1989: Postmodern geographies: the reassertion of space in critical social theory. London and New York: Verso. Thrift, N. 1996: Spatial formations. London: Sage.

Suggested Reading Barnes, T. and Gregory, D. 1997: Space, spatiality and spatial structure. In T. Barnes and D. Gregory, eds, Reading human geography: the poetics and politics of inquiry. London: Arnold, 232-43. Hetherington (1997b).



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