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time-space compression

  \'Processes that so revolutionize the objective qualities of space and time that we are forced to alter, sometimes in quite radical ways, how we represent the world to ourselves\' (Harvey, 1989). Consistent with his vision of historico-geographical materialism, Harvey treats time-space compression primarily as the product of what Marx (and other nineteenth-century writers) identified as the compulsion to \'annihilate space by time\' under capitalism, shaped by the rules of commodity production and capital accumulation. Harvey explained that he deliberately used the word \'compression\' because \'a strong case can be made that the history of capitalism has been characterized by speed-up in the pace of life, while so overcoming barriers that the world sometimes seems to collapse in upon us\'. As this suggests, the concept of time-space compression is intended to have an experiential dimension that is missing from concepts of time-space convergence and time-space distanciation. Harvey pays particular attention to the ways in which time-space compression dislocates the habitus that gives social life its (precarious) coherence: implicated in a crisis of representation, its consequences are alarming, disturbing, threatening; a \'maelstrom\' and a \'tiger\', time-space compression under the sign of capitalist modernity induces \'foreboding\', \'shock\', a \'sense of collapse\' and, ultimately, \'terror\' that translates into a \'crisis of identity\' (Harvey, 1989, 1990, 1996, pp. 242-7).

Harvey\'s description of the experience of time-space compression in these terms conjures up the sublime. The sense of being overwhelmed by the scale and sheer power of the world was a persistent motif in modern Western aesthetics in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: in the sublime \'we are forcibly reminded of the limits of our dwarfish imaginations and admonished that the world as infinite totality is not ours to know\' (Eagleton, 1990, p. 89). The sublime reappears in late twentieth-century postmodern thought, wherein the Marxist critic F. Jameson (1991) memorably despairs at \'the suppression of distance\' and the \'perceptual barrage of immediacy from which all sheltering layers and intervening mediations have been removed\'.

This synoptic account radicalizes an argument proposed by the conservative critic Daniel Bell in The cultural contradictions of capitalism (1978). In his view, \'physical distance\' was \'compressed\' by new systems of transportation and communication at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and what he called \'aesthetic distance\' was in its turn compressed by a corresponding stress on \'immediacy, impact, sensation and simultaneity\' that he took to be characteristic and indeed constitutive of the cultural formations of modernism. Harvey\'s account takes this two steps further, by (i) wiring such crises of representation to basal crises of capital accumulation; and (ii) reading the cultural formations of postmodernism as symptoms of the heightened intensity of a new round of time-space compression produced by a regime of flexible accumulation at the close of the twentieth century (see Gregory, 1994, pp. 406-14).

These are undoubtedly suggestive theses, and it is vitally important to understand that Harvey intends the concept of time-space compression as a contribution to more than academic debate: it is also a political construct, whose implications extend far beyond a radical critique of postmodernism and postmodernity into a series of propositions about political struggle and political organization in the face of the exploitations and oppressions of contemporary capitalist globalization (Harvey, 1995). And it is on both these grounds — political and intellectual — that his original formulation has been subject to critical attention, extension and reformulation by other scholars. Analytically it is possible to distinguish two lines of engagement, but these distinctions are matters of convenience and it will be obvious that each stream braids into the other. On one side is a series of reflections on Harvey\'s representation of time-space compression. In particular, why do so many intellectuals like Harvey feel threatened when their \'normal\' maps of the world fail them? Is their \'cartographic anxiety\' symptomatic of a challenge to the supremacy of an all-seeing masculinist subject-position and its ability to render space as transparent and fully knowable (\'mappable\')? (Deutsche, 1996; see also O\'Tuathail, 1996). On the other side is a series of arguments about Harvey\'s explanation of time-space compression. In particular, is it possible to understand time-space solely in terms of class relations and capitalism? How is it possible to reinstate the multiple and compound geographies of time-space compression that seem to disappear from Harvey\'s account? (see Gregory, 1994, pp. 413-14). These twin streams are articulated around the pivotal metaphor of \'compression\': what does it imply, and what does it leave unsaid and unseen?

Major interventions include the following:

(1) Time-space compression cannot be reduced to the logic of capital accumulation and the circulation of money. To be sure, capital circulation is a highly significant structural dimension of contemporary time-space compression, but it is not the only one (Massey, 1993). In the longer term, time-space compression has been instrumental in the production of systems of colonialism and imperialism — in articulating political and cultural as well as economic relations between metropolitan societies and colonial societies, and in the formation of transnational public spheres — in ways that are not reducible to the imperatives of capital accumulation. They are also inextricably connected to global questions of geopolitics (O\'Tuathail, 1996) and transculturation.(2) Time-space compression is socially differentiated. Thus Massey (1993) insisted that groups and individuals are differentially positioned in relation to flows and circulations: some people are able to intervene in the process of time-space compression and so shape its direction and intensity, while others are marginalized and even excluded. Massey acknowledged the importance of subject-positions constituted through class relations, consistent with the emphasis of Harvey\'s theorization, but drew attention to the ways in which subject-positions were also constituted through relations of gender, sexuality and \'race\'. Her comments conjured up a comprehensive grid of agency and affect, of position and power, which she called \'the power-geometry of time-space compression\'. But to Bridge (1997) the concept of a power-geometry remained \'strangely elusive\', and he provided a more detailed series of topological theorizations drawing on social exchange theory, social network analysis and actor-network theory that could, so he said, provide a more substantial access to the connections between positionality and subjectivity .(3) Harvey\'s treatment of time-space compression undertheorizes not only social relations but also social practices. Kirsh (1995) argued that the original metaphor of time-space compression drew attention away from the social processes and practices involved in the colonization of \'lived space\' by \'abstract space\'. In particular, the technologies that sustained the annihilation of space are also implicated in the production of new kinds of social space (cf. production of space). actor-network theory was again advertised as a means of disclosing what Kirsch called \'the technics of spatialization\'. In a parallel series of essays that centred on the technical tranformations in the circulation of money that lie at the heart of Harvey\'s own theses, Thrift successfully established that \'new forms of electronic detachment have produced new forms of social involvement\': that contemporary processes of time-space compression still depend on the intimacy of interpersonal contact (Thrift, 1997).(4) Time-space compression treats place as passive: the physical metaphor of time-space compression thematizes places as bounded sites whose \'essential identity\' is crushed and \'hollowed out\' by the powerful forces of time-space compression. Gibson-Graham (1996) suggested that this scenario erects a \'rape script\' that \'normalizes an act of non-reciprocal penetration\': all non-capitalist forms are construed as \'sites of potential invasion, envelopment, accumulation\', victims waiting their violation by capitalist globalization. This evidently militates against the very politics that Harvey is concerned to advance (but cf. Harvey, 1996, pp. 291-326).(DG) References Bell, D. 1978: The cultural consequences of capitalism. New York: Basic Books. Bridge, G. 1997: Mapping the terrain of time-space compression: power networks in everyday life. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 15: 611-26. Deutsche, R. 1996: Boys town. In her Evictions: art and spatial politics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 203-44. Eagleton, T. 1990: The ideology of the aesthetic. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. Gibson-Graham, J.-K. 1996: Querying globalization. In J.-K. Gibson-Graham, The end of capitalism (as we knew it): a feminist critique of political economy. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 120-47. Gregory, D. 1994: Geographical imaginations. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. Harvey, D. 1989: The condition of postmodernity: an enquiry into the origins of cultural change. Oxford: Blackwell. Harvey, D. 1990: Between space and time: reflections on the geographical imagination. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 80: 418-4 34. Harvey, D. 1995: Globalization in question. Rethinking Marxism 8 (4): 1-17. Harvey, D. 1996: Justice, nature and the geography of difference. Cambridge, MA and Oxford: Blackwell. Jameson, F. 1991: Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism. London: Verso; Durham: Duke University Press. Kirsch, S. 1995: The incredible shrinking world? Technology and the production of space. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 13: 529-55. Massey, D. 1993: Power-geometry and a progressive sense of place. In J. Bird, B. Curtis, T. Putnam, G. Roberston and L. Ticker, eds, Mapping the futures: local cultures, global change. London: Routledge, 59-69. O\'Tuathail, G. 1996: Visions and vertigo. Postmodernity and the writing of global space. In his Critical geopolitics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 225-56. Thrift, N.J. 1995: A hyperactive world. In R.J. Johnston, P.J. Taylor and M.J. Watts, eds, Geographies of global change: remapping the world in the late twentieth century. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 18-35. Thrift, N.J. 1997: New urban eras and old technological fears: reconfiguring the good will of electronic things. In A. Leyshon and N.J. Thrift, Money/Space: geographies of monetary transformation. London: Routledge, 323-54.

Suggested Reading Harvey (1989), chs 15-17. Massey (1993). Thrift (1995).



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