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subject formation, geographies of

  Subject formations ground our understanding of who we are, as well as our knowledge claims. All geography presumes some theory of subjectivity; even \'objective\' spatial science rests on a theory of subjectivity as a foundation for \'objective\' knowledge. But different theories of the subject provoke different geographical narratives (and vice versa). Harvey reads the subject of capitalism through \'the interlocking concepts of money, society, time and space\' (Castree, 1995, p. 287), and Marxist assumptions about class identification have prompted studies of homeownership, residential segregation, and suburbanization, many aimed at understanding the dissolution of class consciousness in Anglo-American countries in the twentieth century. humanistic geography, with its emphasis on the ethical responsibility for human agency, invites studies of the social construction of meanings in different landscapes, and the inauthenticity/ authenticity of particular landscapes. Until recently, much of social geography involved locating stable, coherently formed identities (such as ethnicity or race) in particular places; this was the objective of social area analysis. The influences of identity politics and post-structuralism from the mid-1980s led geographers to be attentive to a wider range of identifications (e.g. gender, sexuality, disability) and problems of overgeneralization. Within feminist geography, for example, there is now more sensitivity to how the experiences of different groups of women vary. From the perspective of post-structural theories of the subject, this focus on multiplicity is not enough; identity politics (which receive partial credit for the proliferation of politicized identifications) is criticized for taking the fact and stability of identities for granted and for failing to problematize the processes through which identities are created and differentiated.

Debates about the human subject are vast; they lie at the heart of twentieth-century western philosophy; they are difficult to summarize (see Pile and Thrift, 1995, for one attempt). One organizational device is to distinguish between humanist and anti-humanist conceptions of subjectivity (Soper, 1986; see anti-humanism). In geography this distinction is often articulated through debates about agency and structure (see structuration theory). Emphasizing agency, humanist/phenomenological versions of subject formation take identity as given in experience. \'Man\' (some feminists argue that the gendering of this term is by no means incidental; see masculinism; phallocentrism) is at the centre of the world and, in order to be fully human, has the ethical responsibility to act autonomously, to claim his agency (e.g. Ley and Samuels, 1978; see ethics, geography and). Anti-humanists decentre the subject insofar as they interpret subjectivity as a regulatory idea and question the capacity and the authority of individuals to direct their actions self-consciously and autonomously. In the most influential anti-humanist structuralist account of subjectivity, Althusser argued that subjectivity, especially notions of individuality and citizenship, are ideological constructs (see ideology; structural Marxism). In geography this argument often has been read as economistic, but in cultural studies, particularly film studies, Althusser is credited with exactly the opposite, for opening a realm for ideology separate from the economy. Drawing on psychoanalysis, Althusser posited a more psychologically complex subject for Marxist theory.

There is considerable variation among poststructuralist theories of subject formation, but they have two broad characteristics: they view subject formation as an effect of power relations, and posit the boundaries that define identity as intertwined with processes of disidentification, such that the effect of identification is a fragile and contradictory achievement. To give a sense of the former, in Foucault\'s post-structuralist anti-humanist history of western subjectivity, subject positions are seen to be constructed within and through discourse. He argues that, from the eighteenth century, discourses of sexuality and individual rights have altered our perceptions of subjectivity and society, and have acted as media of disciplinary control. They introduced new identities (e.g., the homosexual, the pervert, the hysterical woman), territorialized bodily pleasures as sexual, and brought the individual into new relations with the social through biopower.

The intertwined processes of identification and disidentification work differently in different theories. Psychoanalytical theories have offered rich resources for thinking about the difficulties of recognizing difference, traced from a young child\'s initial difficulties of registering sexual difference from a loved parent. From the perspective of post-colonialism, theorists such as Homi Bhabha have drawn on Freud\'s notion of the fetish (which functions as a mechanism for both recognizing and disavowing sexual difference) as a way of interpreting the ambivalences of colonial discourse and relations between colonized and colonizer. The concept of abjection, which describes the process by which what is reviled in oneself is denied and relocated in another, offers another means for theorizing stigmatizing discourses of Orientalism, racism, ablism and heterosexism. If psychoanalytic theories draw our attention to the processes whereby what is unbearable or disallowed in oneself and our loved ones is cast outside and used to stigmatize others (but imperfectly: our identity is constantly haunted and destabilized by what is disavowed or abject), deconstruction offers a reverse perspective, of the way in which identity is always defined in relation to and inhabited by what it is not (the constitutive outside). Recognizing the exclusions that found every identity and the necessity of keeping this process of boundary construction in view have been important ideas for recent theorizing about citizenship and radical democracy (see also private and public spheres).

Anti-humanist accounts have been criticized for closing off the possibilities and responsibilities of agency, rights, ethics, and politics. Four responses suggest the opposite. First, discourses are polyvalent; they structure identities without determining them. The identity of \'homosexual\' can become a resource for persons thus identified when they demand rights in the name of this identity. So too, the meaning of the term \'queer\' has been reworked, from a stigmatizing identity to a critique of heteronormativity (see queer theory). Second, individuals are subject to multiple discourses and subject positions and it is at the disjuncture between various subject positions that agency can be located (Smith, 1988). Third, Butler\'s theory of performativity, which posits identities as performative repetitions of an ideal, opens possibilities for variation and change through repetition, ones that are closed off by positions that see identities as stable. A fourth response is that psychoanalytic theories that explore the effects of the unconscious widen responsibilities insofar as they call into question our responsibilities for actions of which we are not conscious, such as racism and heterosexism (Culler, 1997).

A key area of contemporary theorizing explores the possibilities for new processes of subject formation whereby we come to understand ourselves and others without creating stigmatized others and hierarchies of difference (in which some groups are seen to be superior to others), that is, a critical multiculturalism. The concepts of cyborg and hybridity are two ways of disrupting ideas of pure identities and rigid boundaries. Theorists of radical democracy, such as Mouffe, are sceptical about such a possibility and place emphasis instead on a continual questioning of the process of boundary construction that must, they argue, necessarily exclude. To evade these exclusions is impossible but we can insist on a public sphere in which the lines that discriminate inclusion from exclusion are contestable.

If theories of the subject have always informed geography, what is perhaps new is the extent to which geography is now woven into theories of the subject. Where one is located is constitutive of (and not incidental to) perceptions of self. Thus for Foucault (1990) the designs of European schools and homes are both reflective of and instrumental in creating the sexualized nuclear family. And one may see oneself differently in different places; Blunt (1994) has argued that nineteenth-century British bourgeois women travellers were defined predominantly in terms of (a rather frail) femininity at home, but in their travels, in Africa for example, their gendered identity receded (and their health improved), and their race and class positions came to the fore. The constructions of coherent places and identities are intertwined social processes; Anderson (1991) describes how the construction of Chinatown as a stigmatized place apart from the rest of Vancouver was instrumental in cohering a white British Columbian identity. Non-essentialist readings of identity, in which identities are conceived as the outcome of power-laden social (not natural) processes, have thus been read back into the production of space (Massey, 1994; Sibley, 1995; Natter and Jones, 1997). Places are conceived as open-ended sites of social contestation, and spatial politics involve attending to the moments of closure whereby the identities of places are stabilized and particular social groups claim a natural right to that space. This can involve a dense layering of different identities; Anderson (1996) reworks her earlier argument by considering how gender discourses underwrote discourses of nation and race in early twentieth-century British Columbia.

Geographies are also at the centre of recent efforts to think about new subject formations of hybridity and flexible borders. Spatial metaphors of nomad, mobility, travel, borderland, third space, and paradoxical space have been used to conceptualize these subjectivities. In some of these discussions, geography functions only as metaphor, but the prevalence of geographical terminology in discussions of identity also reflects processes of transnationalism and globalization, and increasingly complex geographies of subject formation, which may lead to pluri-local identifications (distributed across and located in different places) or, ironically, the intensification of localized identities (Watts, 1991).

Theories of identity have led geographers to rethink methodology and theory (see nonrepresentational theory). Calls for reflexivity reflect the understanding that knowledge is a social construct contingent on social location; theories of the unconscious indicate the limits of self-reflexivity (Rose, 1997). Theories of mobile, fragmented identities have encouraged different mapping and writing strategies (Massey, 1997; Pred, 1997). (GP)

References Anderson, K. 1991: Vancouver\'s Chinatown: racial discourse in Canada, 1875-1980. Montreal: McGill-Queen\'s University Press. Anderson, K. 1996: Engendering race research. In N. Duncan, ed., BodySpace. London: Routledge, 197-211. Blunt, A. 1994: Travel, gender, and imperialism: Mary Kingsley and West Africa. New York: Guilford. Castree, N. 1995: On theory\'s subject and subject\'s theory: Harvey, capital, and the limits to classical Marxism. Environment and Planning A 27: 269-97. Culler, J. 1997: Literary theory: a very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Foucault, M. 1990: The history of sexuality, volume 1: An introduction, trans. R. Hurley. New York: Vintage Books. Ley, D. and Samuels, M., eds, 1978: Humanistic geography: prospects and problems. Chicago: Maaroufa. Massey, D. 1994: Space, place and gender. Oxford: Polity. Massey, D. 1997: Spatial disruptions. In S. Golding, ed., The eight technologies of otherness. London: Routledge, 218-25. Natter, W. and J.P. Jones III 1997: Identity, space, and other uncertainties. In G. Benko and U. Strohmayer, eds, Social theory: interpreting modernity and postmodernity. Oxford: Blackwell, 141-61. Pile, S. and Thrift, N, eds, 1995: Mapping the subject: geographies of cultural transformation. London: Routledge. Pred, A. 1997: Re-presenting the extended present moment of danger: a meditation on hypermodernity, identity and the montage form. In G. Benko and U. Strohmayer, eds, Social theory: interpreting modernity and postmodernity. Oxford: Blackwell, 117-40. Rose, G. 1997: Situating knowledges: positionality, reflexivities and other tactics. Progress in Human Geography 21: 305-20. Sibley, D. 1995: Geographies of exclusion. London: Routledge. Smith, P. 1988: Discerning the subject. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Soper, K. 1986: Humanism and anti-humanism: problems in modern European thought. London: Hutchinson. Watts, M. 1991: Mapping meaning, denoting difference, imagining identity: dialectical images and postmodern geographies. Geografiska Annaler 73B: 7-16.

Suggested Reading Culler (1997). Pile and Thrift (1995).



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