To answer the polemical questioncan be space political, we first must understand the meanings of the words;space and politics.
Meanings become ingrained in society, words are used withno conscious thought about what they may mean but just based on assumptions onthe way it is used. Once we truly understand the intricacy of the words we canbegin to explore how they are intertwined into every aspect of today’s society.Through the rest of this essay I am going to try and answer the question ‘canspace be political?’ using the analysis of two main areas of spatiality;ideological and physical. Firstly, examining the philosophical arguments behindspatial and political ideologies through the works of Henri Lefebvre and FredricJameson.
Using their writings, I want to uncover the relationships of socialityas well as see if they begin to shape our political landscape. Next, I will analysethe physical manifestation of space, building upon the philosophical idealsresearched and the ways politics begins to define the urbanisation of differentcities. Using architecture to explore how politics affects the spatial relationsof the urban and how different architectural ideologies have negotiated or opposedthe dominant means of production. By exploring these two areas the complexityof space as a political idea should unravel allowing us to greater understandthe extent to which space is political.The meaning of politicshas always been a topic of great intrigue to many theorists, Fredric Jamesondefines it with two meanings ‘One is politics as the specialised, local thing,the empirical activity… about people in power and their techniques and specifictasks… the other is politics in the global sense, of the founding andtransformation… of society as a whole, of the collective… the larger acceptationof the word politics seems non-empirical, on the grounds that one cannot see vastentities like society itself.
‘1 Theway Jameson chooses to define the word shows off the complexity of the elementsthat make up the political sphere; the particular and the general. They may be verydifferent but they both require each other in a unique relationship. He goes onto describe it as an allegorical relationship, that the empirical institutionsof the urban become a metaphor for the invisible substance of society as awhole. Space and spatiality once again has been a subject for endless discoursethroughout history.
Great minds from many different fields, such as philosophy,mathematics, physics, have greatly disputed the definition and interpretationof space. In his book Production of Space Lefebvre began to define themultidimensionality of space into three ways of thinking. Perceived space, referringto the actions of life in a space. Conceived space, which focuses on the conceptualisedspace of planners and representational space, referring to the actual livedspace of inhabitation. Representational space is the combination of perceivedand conceived space formed through allegorical relationships of all areas of culturaland social life.2Now understandingthe ways that the words politics and space have become to be defined I canstart examining role of space within the discipline of the political. Lefebvre revolutionisedthe idea of spatiality as a multidisciplinary instrument.
For a long time, itwas purely thought of as a geometric concept, however with the concept of thespatial turn started by Lefebvre, a concept that changed the way space was thoughtof. Space is no longer viewed as a static or inert background action, but as a strugglethat shapes ideas, beliefs, principles, and values. Modern spatial theoristsunderstand space as dynamic, relational, and agentive and believe it isintertwined with embodiment and lived experience, touching every part of socialand cultural life. As a philosophical concept, using space as a metaphorical ideagives us a glimpse into the different ways theoretical thinkers use spatialityto conceptualise the political. As Mustafa Dikec sums up ‘…differentunderstandings of space and spatiality inform particular conceptualisations ofpolitics.
What this tells us is that ‘space’ is not employed merely for thesake of simplicity or convenience. It does a good deal of theoretical work, itis far from unique in its political implications; indeed, there are multiple spatiality’sat work in different conceptualisations of politics.’3This begins to broaden Lefebvre’s tri axial idea suggesting that each spatial dimensionaffects the philosophies in politics in a particular way and that it is theproportions of relationships within and between each dimension that creates thecomplexities of the different philosophical ideas about the political.
By usingthese layering relationships an allegorical spatial language is developed. Dikeccontinues to suggest that using this metaphorical language space becomes a modeof political thinking, allowing different understandings of the topic. He argues’that political thinking is informed by spatial thinking, even if the attemptis not to elucidate the nature of space or to account for spatial experience.’ Laclaustates ‘…the essence of politics is rooted in antagonism…’. The basis of antagonismis reliant upon the oppositional nature of relationships which manifests itselfin spatial metaphors. However, spatial politics is not necessarily referring tophysical spaces but instead becomes a tool for conceptualising the relationshipswithin political dialog.
Building on the relationalnature of politics and space, politics is about realising a collective goal orideology through change. It is a series of individual local elements comingtogether to fulfil the ideal, the bigger, global picture. While the overallfulfilment of the collective ideal is the obvious final aim it wouldn’t bepossible without the participation of the smaller elements. In this way it runsparallel to ideas about individual spaces building up to create the biggerurban picture.
Each individual space has its own purpose and yet it also metaphoricallyhas a collective ideal to fulfil so that society can prosper. This idea thatsociety has all these individual pieces working autonomously and cooperativelyin a complex pattern, informing how it behaves and changes is a commonphilosophical belief called structuralism. Structuralism plays a big role in theideas of many spatial theorists.
The way the invisible structure of societyabides by unspoken rules creates distinct cultural differences in how societyacts within a physical space. You can tell a lot about society in the way itinteracts with a physical space, reading the abstract but allegorical spatiallanguage. Culture is based on a collective obedience using the same set ofunspoken rules which allows you to identify different cultures using spatiallanguage. This in turn creates a link between the political and the spatial asthey both have a basis in culture although politics is focused on the changingenvironment of culture while space is focused on the way relationships can beused to create a dialog with society. Moving on from spatiallanguage and looking into the concepts developed by Lefebvre exploring the way thatthe production of space affects society and how the means of production definesthe spatial elements.
Lefebvre challenged traditional notions of space as anabstract arena and passive container, proposing a theory that unified physical,social, and mental conceptions of space by emphasizing its continual productionand reproduction.