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  Transgression involves the interrogation of boundaries, crossing lines that are not meant to be crossed, the infraction of binary structures that organize psyches, bodies, geographic spaces and social orders into high and low, inside and outside, normal and deviant. Writings by Bakhtin (1968), Foucault (1977) and Stallybrass and White (1986) have been particularly influential in foregrounding transgression as an analytical category .

Stallybrass and White (1986) theorize transgression in relation to the identity formation of the bourgeois classes in Renaissance Europe (see subject formation, geographies of) through the interplay of psychic, cultural, social and political processes. Identities are constructed in relation to categories of disidentification: \'cultural identity is inseparable from its limits, it is always a boundary phenomenon and its order is always constructed around the figures of its territorial edge\' (Stallybrass and White, 1986, p. 200). But what is explicitly excluded from European bourgeois identity produces new objects of desire. The political and psychic imperative to denigrate and expel the low or outsider is in conflict with the desire for this Other (see Orientalism). This \'constitutive ambivalence\' toward the low or the Other creates the conditions for transgression: for the bourgeoisie and middle classes, transgression can be a ritual or symbolic practice that allows them temporary access to their taboo desires, a \'delirious expenditure of the symbolic capital accrued (through the regulation of the body and the decathexis of habitus) in the successful struggle of bourgeois hegemony\' (Stallybrass and White, 1986, p. 201). Hence Stallybrass and White\'s phrase, \'the poetics\' of transgression, and Eagleton\'s characterization of some forms of transgression (e.g. carnivals) as \'licensed\' release (1981, p. 148).

Transgression also has a radical potential; this is to criticize and potentially denaturalize the existing social order by offering a \'temporary retextualizing of the social formation that exposes its “fictive” foundations\' (Eagleton, 1981, p. 149). Hebdige (1979) posits two ways of incorporating trangressions that threaten to transform the social order: the commodification of the transgressive activity and labelling the transgressive group as deviant. Cresswell (1996) demonstrates the use of both of these strategies through case studies of graffiti artists in New York, anti-nuclear protest at Greenham Common and trespass at Stonehenge.

Geographic metaphors (boundaries, borders) are integral to the meaning of transgression, but the geographies of transgression go beyond this. At the micro-scale, Stallybrass and White (1986) argue that the body is a privileged site of transgression; the grotesque, polluted and deviant body is often the site for articulating transgression (body, geography and). Geographic spaces are also coded in terms of social binaries (e.g. safe/unsafe; private/ public; clean/polluted) and transgressions of established socio-spatial orderings (matter out of place) are highly visible and can be especially disruptive. Cresswell argues that, in contrast to resistance (which implies intentionality), transgression is distinguished by its effects — be it the temporary release of sublimated desire, or rendering visible and open to criticism existing binarized hierarchies of bodies, spaces and cultures. (GP)

References Bahktin, M. 1968: Rabelais and his world, trans. H. Iswolsky. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Cresswell, T. 1996: In place/out of place; geography, ideology and transgression. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Eagleton, T. 1981: Walter Benjamin: Towards a revolutionary criticism. London: Verso. Foucault, M. 1977: Language/counter-memory/practice, ed., D.F. Bouchard, trans. D.F. Bouchard and S. Simon. Ithaca: University Cornell Press. Hebdige, D. 1979: Subculture: The meaning of style. London : Routledge. Stallybrass, P. and White, A. 1986: The Politics and Poetics of Transgression. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.



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