To answer the polemical question
can be space political, we first must understand the meanings of the words;
space and politics. Meanings become ingrained in society, words are used with
no conscious thought about what they may mean but just based on assumptions on
the way it is used. Once we truly understand the intricacy of the words we can
begin 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 ‘can
space be political?’ using the analysis of two main areas of spatiality;
ideological and physical. Firstly, examining the philosophical arguments behind
spatial and political ideologies through the works of Henri Lefebvre and Fredric
Jameson. Using their writings, I want to uncover the relationships of sociality
as well as see if they begin to shape our political landscape. Next, I will analyse
the physical manifestation of space, building upon the philosophical ideals
researched and the ways politics begins to define the urbanisation of different
cities. Using architecture to explore how politics affects the spatial relations
of the urban and how different architectural ideologies have negotiated or opposed
the dominant means of production. By exploring these two areas the complexity
of space as a political idea should unravel allowing us to greater understand
the extent to which space is political.

The meaning of politics
has always been a topic of great intrigue to many theorists, Fredric Jameson
defines it with two meanings ‘One is politics as the specialised, local thing,
the empirical activity… about people in power and their techniques and specific
tasks… the other is politics in the global sense, of the founding and
transformation… of society as a whole, of the collective… the larger acceptation
of the word politics seems non-empirical, on the grounds that one cannot see vast
entities like society itself.’1 The
way Jameson chooses to define the word shows off the complexity of the elements
that make up the political sphere; the particular and the general. They may be very
different but they both require each other in a unique relationship. He goes on
to describe it as an allegorical relationship, that the empirical institutions
of the urban become a metaphor for the invisible substance of society as a
whole. Space and spatiality once again has been a subject for endless discourse
throughout history. Great minds from many different fields, such as philosophy,
mathematics, physics, have greatly disputed the definition and interpretation
of space. In his book Production of Space Lefebvre began to define the
multidimensionality of space into three ways of thinking. Perceived space, referring
to the actions of life in a space. Conceived space, which focuses on the conceptualised
space of planners and representational space, referring to the actual lived
space of inhabitation. Representational space is the combination of perceived
and conceived space formed through allegorical relationships of all areas of cultural
and social life.2

Now understanding
the ways that the words politics and space have become to be defined I can
start examining role of space within the discipline of the political. Lefebvre revolutionised
the idea of spatiality as a multidisciplinary instrument. For a long time, it
was purely thought of as a geometric concept, however with the concept of the
spatial turn started by Lefebvre, a concept that changed the way space was thought
of. Space is no longer viewed as a static or inert background action, but as a struggle
that shapes ideas, beliefs, principles, and values. Modern spatial theorists
understand space as dynamic, relational, and agentive and believe it is
intertwined with embodiment and lived experience, touching every part of social
and cultural life. As a philosophical concept, using space as a metaphorical idea
gives us a glimpse into the different ways theoretical thinkers use spatiality
to conceptualise the political. As Mustafa Dikec sums up ‘…different
understandings of space and spatiality inform particular conceptualisations of
politics. What this tells us is that ‘space’ is not employed merely for the
sake of simplicity or convenience. It does a good deal of theoretical work, it
is far from unique in its political implications; indeed, there are multiple spatiality’s
at work in different conceptualisations of politics.’3
This begins to broaden Lefebvre’s tri axial idea suggesting that each spatial dimension
affects the philosophies in politics in a particular way and that it is the
proportions of relationships within and between each dimension that creates the
complexities of the different philosophical ideas about the political. By using
these layering relationships an allegorical spatial language is developed. Dikec
continues to suggest that using this metaphorical language space becomes a mode
of political thinking, allowing different understandings of the topic. He argues
‘that political thinking is informed by spatial thinking, even if the attempt
is not to elucidate the nature of space or to account for spatial experience.’ Laclau
states ‘…the essence of politics is rooted in antagonism…’. The basis of antagonism
is reliant upon the oppositional nature of relationships which manifests itself
in spatial metaphors. However, spatial politics is not necessarily referring to
physical spaces but instead becomes a tool for conceptualising the relationships
within political dialog.

Building on the relational
nature of politics and space, politics is about realising a collective goal or
ideology through change. It is a series of individual local elements coming
together to fulfil the ideal, the bigger, global picture. While the overall
fulfilment of the collective ideal is the obvious final aim it wouldn’t be
possible without the participation of the smaller elements. In this way it runs
parallel to ideas about individual spaces building up to create the bigger
urban picture. Each individual space has its own purpose and yet it also metaphorically
has a collective ideal to fulfil so that society can prosper. This idea that
society has all these individual pieces working autonomously and cooperatively
in a complex pattern, informing how it behaves and changes is a common
philosophical belief called structuralism. Structuralism plays a big role in the
ideas of many spatial theorists. The way the invisible structure of society
abides by unspoken rules creates distinct cultural differences in how society
acts within a physical space. You can tell a lot about society in the way it
interacts with a physical space, reading the abstract but allegorical spatial
language. Culture is based on a collective obedience using the same set of
unspoken rules which allows you to identify different cultures using spatial
language. This in turn creates a link between the political and the spatial as
they both have a basis in culture although politics is focused on the changing
environment of culture while space is focused on the way relationships can be
used to create a dialog with society.  

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Moving on from spatial
language and looking into the concepts developed by Lefebvre exploring the way that
the production of space affects society and how the means of production defines
the spatial elements. Lefebvre challenged traditional notions of space as an
abstract arena and passive container, proposing a theory that unified physical,
social, and mental conceptions of space by emphasizing its continual production
and reproduction.


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