Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Some gleanings from browsing around with Lefebvre in mind: Harvey, Foucault, Castells, Acemoglu & Robinson, Lofgren, Thrift, Pundita, Zalman

[UPDATE — May 22, 2014: Edited to make the title more specific and add more gleanings.]

While doing the preceding three posts on Lefebvre’s The Production of Space, I happened across apropos observations while browsing elsewhere. This and ensuing posts — maybe three or four — provide a selection of what I gleaned, in batches. They’re here because of serendipitous happenstance; I just happened to come across these observations — I didn’t try to go through my holdings on Lefebvre or space.

The purpose of my posting about these gleanings is to show that spatial orientations — some Lefebvrian, some less so — crop up all the time, in myriad areas. And in my STA-oriented view, we’d be well-advised to become more sensitive at noticing them and their relations to/with time and action orientations.

The materials I highlight in this first batch, in order of appearance, are from David Harvey, Michel Foucault, Manuel Castells, Daren Acemoglu & James Robinson, Mike Lofgren, Nigel Thrift, Pundita, and Amy Zalman. I’ve grouped them together mostly because the first few are directly linked to Lefebvre, and the latter speak to Lefebvrian points about the organizational nature of the modern state.

* * * * *

Harvey’s observation suggesting a connection between STA and TIMN: Lefebvre’s personal history included being tossed out of the French Communist Party in 1958. According to David Harvey’s “Afterword” in The Production of Space,
“It is hard for most of us to understand what it might mean to be excluded from an organization to which one has belonged for some thirty years. The French Communist Party was not only a political party but the hub of its members' social and daily life (it has sometimes been likened to an extended and very close-knit family structure).” (p. 428)
This resonates not only with STA’s insistence on the significance of spatial/S connections in people’s lives — in this instance Lefebvre’s — but also with TIMN’s insistence on the enduring importance of the tribal/T form. Moreover, Harvey’s observation fits with a point I’ve made elsewhere (e.g., here) that particular experiences — first a disconcerting loss of connections, say through emigration, followed by an attraction to a new set of family-like connections, say in a religious setting — helps explain why some individuals get recruited into extremist groups, and then have difficulty leaving. This is one of the regards in which STA and TIMN fit together.

Lefebvrian resonances in Foucault and Castells: My Part-1 post on Lefebvre’s book noted that his influence extends into the later writings of Michel Foucault and Manuel Castells (not to mention other theorists). A couple of famous quotes I’ve used elsewhere show this:

Foucault builds on the Lefebvrian point that seeing matters in spatial terms is becoming more important than seeing them in temporal terms. Accordingly, Foucault famously (infamously) stated in an article (“Of Other Space,” Diacritics, No. 16, Spring 1986) that:
“The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space. We are in the epoch of simultaneity; we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed. We are at a moment, I believe, when our experience of the world is less that of a long life developing through time than that of a network that connects points and intersections with its own skein.” (p. 24)
And whereas past theorists saw space primarily in terms of the actors, objects, and structures comprising it, and secondarily in terms of the links and flows among them, Castells argues in The Rise of the Network Society (1996) that this ordering should now be reversed. As a result of the information revolution, globalization, dense financial flows, and the rise of internetted global cities, he says that we should view the world in terms of “a space of flows” rather than a “space of places”:
“… a new spatial logic that I label space of flows. I shall oppose to such logic the historically rooted spatial organization of our common experience: the space of places. … [T]he space of flows … is becoming the dominant spatial manifestation of power and function in our societies.” (p. 378)
Both quotes are quite Lefebvrian. Moreover, to repeat what I said at the end of Part 1 on his book, much of what Lefebvre theorized about spatiology appears to prefigure much that I read today in complexity theory, social network analysis, actor-network theory, and systems theory, not to mention global interdependence and world systems theories — all quite remarkable since he wrote the book in 1974.

* * * * *

Acemoglu & Robinson on Turkey’s “deep state”: I happened across two posts about the so-called “deep state”— a term coined years ago, originally for Turkey, to identify a hidden preservationist power structure, consisting mainly of security and intelligence personnel. The concept seems quite Lefebvrian, though he never used the term.

In the first quote, Daren Acemoglu and James Robinson, co-authors of Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty (2012), observe at their blog that
“Though the Ergenekon trial is a clear miscarriage of justice, there should be little doubt that there is a very powerful Turkish deep state that has a history going back more than 100 years, that has been involved in crimes against minorities in the past, that has killed journalists and politicians, that has been at the forefront of murders, repression and countless crimes against humanity in the Kurdish areas of Turkey, and that may have even been involved in military coups.
“So what is the deep state and where do its origins lie?
“By its nature, the deep state is shrouded in secrecy, so we know relatively little about it. …
“In the narrowest sense, the deep state is a decentralized network setup by NATO in the 1950s as a “stay behind” force, similar to Gladio in Italy. This secretive network was often recruited from members of the security forces, particularly those sympathetic to a nationalist, or in fact ultranationalist, agenda.
“The deep state is not unique to Turkey, but it appears to have become during the politically turbulent years of the Cold War in Turkey uniquely powerful and well positioned to play a defining role in the political trajectory of the country.” (source)
In other words, it could be said that the “deep state” is a hidden space, produced by powerful secretive forces, that is both abstract and concrete by design. That seems in tune with Lefebvre’s spatial thinking about the state.

Lofgren on America’s “Deep State”: Elsewhere, Mike Lofgren, author of The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted (2013), applies the concept to America in a long article titled “Anatomy of the Deep State” for
“Yes, there is another government concealed behind the one that is visible at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country according to consistent patterns in season and out, connected to, but only intermittently controlled by, the visible state whose leaders we choose. My analysis of this phenomenon is not an exposé of a secret, conspiratorial cabal; the state within a state is hiding mostly in plain sight, and its operators mainly act in the light of day. Nor can this other government be accurately termed an “establishment.” All complex societies have an establishment, a social network committed to its own enrichment and perpetuation. In terms of its scope, financial resources and sheer global reach, the American hybrid state, the Deep State, is in a class by itself. That said, it is neither omniscient nor invincible. The institution is not so much sinister (although it has highly sinister aspects) as it is relentlessly well entrenched. Far from being invincible, its failures, such as those in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, are routine enough that it is only the Deep State’s protectiveness towards its higher-ranking personnel that allows them to escape the consequences of their frequent ineptitude. …
“The Deep State is the big story of our time. It is the red thread that runs through the war on terrorism, the financialization and deindustrialization of the American economy, the rise of a plutocratic social structure and political dysfunction.” (source)
Again, all quite Lefebvrian, presumably without meaning to be so. However, whereas the original concept as applied to Turkey was mainly about public-sector elites and their cronies, Lofgren’s application appears to be about a hybrid of public and private-sector elites, plus their cronies.

Thrift on the “phantom state”: I also came across the concept of a “phantom state”. It’s not particularly Lefebvrian. But it seems apropos, for it was coined by a leading academic behind the “spatial turn” — Nigel Thrift — and reiterated in his book Spatial Formations (1996), as follows:
“It consists of actor-networks which increasingly rely on money power and communicated power without having to call on the degree of bureaucratic administrative power usually associated with the state form. …
“More and more, it might be argued that, in the modern world, money power and communicative power have been able to replace state authority based on administrative power with a discursive authority which is based in electronic networks in particular 'world cities'. This discursive authority is the stuff of a phantom state whose resonances are increasingly felt by all.” (1996, pp. 252-253)
That’s awkward for me to read. But his phantom-state concept seems worth mentioning, even though it has never caught on as a term. It expresses Castell’s “space of flows” quite well. It is more about private- than public-sector power. And more about transnational networks than state-centric institutions. All of which makes for a contrast to the deep-state concept. It also suggests that there may be some situations in which the two conceivably operate in tandem, others in competition if not conflict.

* * * * *

Pundita’s “iron law of departmentalization” as a creator of “chaos”: Blogger Pundita — no Lefebvrian to my knowledge — did a stimulating Lefebvrianesque post about Robert Michel’s Iron Law of Oligarchy and its applicability to the U.S, government, concluding that the real effect is not so much a strictly organized hierarchy as a muddled “chaos” brought on by the endless proliferation of departments and agencies:
“From all this I'd say there's an Iron Law of Departmentalization, which simply stated is that chaos cancels out oligarchy when departments proliferate like rabbits.” (source, bold in orig.)
Her point resonates marvelously with Lefebvre’s “spatial chaos”, and also sounds like a set-up for a kind of “trial by space” (as discussed in Part 1).

In a second post she sounds even more Lefebvrian when she observes that “no more ‘inside’ and ‘outside’” exists within the U.S. government, because it has become so crisscrossed by one or another “superhighway” of subcontractors, lobbyists, and revolving-door employees:
“There is no more "inside" and "outside" of U.S. government; there's a kind of superhighway running through it, a highway made up of millions of subcontractors -- non-employees, non-civil servants. Yet unlike a highway, which is designed by engineers and consciously built, this highway wasn't engineered; it just happened, as departments proliferated like rabbits and hordes of contractors made up the perennial shortfalls occasioned by the fact that there weren't enough people in the civil service to handle all the designated tasks in government. …
“… So while lobbyists aren't part of government they form a second superhighway, also not planned, not engineered, running through U.S. government. …
“The revolving door. Many people working in government, even in high positions, go back and forth between jobs in the private and public sectors.”
That seems Castellian as well as Lefebvrian, for it views government rather like a “space of flows” (see above).

Then, a few lines later, after criticizing bureaucratic “stove piping” and “silo-ing”, she returns to the “chaos” theme anew:
“All this is in addition to a situation famously associated with bureaucracy known as stovepiping or silo-ing, and which can become very problematical when departments in effect weaponize information they control. …
“… But when the daily grind in a federal bureaucracy amounts to navigating chaos, it's time for an overhaul of the system of government before the chaos knocks us all over the cliff.” (source)
Of all the gleanings I’m going to note, hers seems one of the most Lefebvrian (though not on purpose, I’d suppose).

(Her third post about “The Devil and Departmentalization” examines “how various approaches at improving government stack up against the Iron Law of Departmentalization.” The one she favors — a kind of community-level civil-society mutualism — verges on being a +N solution à la TIMN. That’s interesting to me, but it’s not so apropos of STA, so I’ll leave off.)

Zalman on information strategy: Much as I appreciate Pundita’s points, Amy Zalman makes solid organizational points in a new article about the field of information strategy. She decries the elimination of the old USIA, and argues cogently that, to better cope with information-age trends and the challenges they pose, “Every agency should house an office of informational power”:
“During the Cold War/Industrial Age, it served the United States to have a government agency (the United States Information Agency) dedicated to projecting the American story into isolated areas. Today, we need a new model that reflects the fact that all government actions and activities are potentially communicative, and that this situation poses both risks and opportunities. Every agency should house an office of informational power to develop proactive communications risk strategies, to exploit opportunities for mutual engagement — whether military exercises or agricultural exchanges — and to coordinate with other USG agencies.”
Along the way she makes five bulleted points, one of which is beckoningly spatial in that it refers to “symbolic territory”:
“To be powerful in the Information Age takes different skills than in the Cold War. Using information powerfully today requires the ability to: …
• “Navigate the symbolic territory of adversaries, friends, and key stakeholders. By ‘symbolic territory,’ I mean that landscape of historical memory, stories, images, figures of speech, and metaphors through which people understand and relate their experiences.
That “symbolic territory” corresponds quite well to Lefebvre’s “abstract space”. (Zalman’s article also resonates well with Arquilla’s and my past work on noöpolitik (or noöspolitik; 1999, 2007)).

Lefebvre’s attention to time and action orientations in The Production of Space (3rd of 3)

[UPDATE — May 12, 2014: Here’s the full post I said I’d put here when I first created this slot a couple weeks ago. I’ve deleted the place-holder text that was previously here.]

Part 1 rendered my sense of Lefebvre’s main argument in The Production of Space. Part 2 focused on how he sees the history and science of space, and the categories and distinctions he uses for analyzing social space.

This Part 3 documents what I most want to see: how much his analysis includes time and action orientations, along with space. The more he does so, the better for the verification of STA — both its theoretical potential and its possible practical potential for designing a new approach to cognitive mapping and forensics.

I find that Lefebvre devotes a lot of attention to time, some to action, in interesting ways. This validates my inquiry, though I’m still up-in-the-air what to do about it for STA’s sake.

At the end are some wrap-up comments about Lefebvre’s book — mostly a reminder about the ideas I liked best: spatial codes, spatial chaos, and trial by space; abstract space and counter-space; and his strategic hypothesis based on space; plus, of course, his inclusion of time and action-like orientations in his theorizing about space.

This is another of my unexpectedly long posts — good for storage, but not easy to read. Most readers may be well-advised to skip the long quotes. I’ve tried to put the main points in my text heading the quotes; just peruse that text if you want to hurry.

Explicit inclusion of time orientations

Lefebvre’s emphatic focus is space, but he focuses a lot on time as well. Indeed, he regards time as a co-equal concept in terms of nature, physics, and philosophy. But as for the social world, much as he would like time to be co-equal to space there as well, he argues that time has been “confined”, crushed, and even “murdered” by the modern state and capitalism — hence the ever-growing significance of space, especially abstract space.

Lefebvre observes right up front that time matters — and so does action, though he mostly refers to cognates, such as “energy”, “force”, and “strategy”. This starts with his recognizing the cardinal importance of space, time, and energy in physics and philosophy:
“The 'substance' (to use the old vocabulary of philosophy) of this cosmos or 'world', to which humanity with its consciousness belongs, has properties that can be adequately summed up by means of the three terms mentioned above [energy, space, time]. When we evoke 'energy', we must immediately note that energy has to be deployed within a space. When we evoke 'space', we must immediately indicate what occupies that space and how it does so: the deployment of energy in relation to 'points' and within a time frame. When we evoke 'time', we must immediately say what it is that moves or changes therein. Space considered in isolation is an empty abstraction; likewise energy and time. Although in one sense this 'substance' is hard to conceive of, most of all at the cosmic level, it is also true to say that evidence of its existence stares us in the face: our senses and our thoughts apprehend nothing else.” (p. 12)
Then, while observing that knowledge of social practice cannot be built on a model borrowed from physics (p. 13), he proceeds to analyze the philosophical import of space, time, and action-like concepts in the writings of Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche. According to Lefebvre’s critique, thinking about space and time has been “split” and “broken up” — so he concludes aggressively that his aim is to “detonate” old thinking about the separation of space and time:
“Confrontation of the theses and hypotheses of Hegel, Marx and Nietzsche is just beginning - and only with great difficulty at that. As for philosophical thought and thought about space and time, it is split. On the one hand we have the philosophy of time, of duration, itself broken up into partial considerations and emphases: historical time, social time, mental time, and so on. On the other hand we have epistemo-logical thought, which constructs an abstract space and cogitates about abstract (logico-mathematical) spaces. Most if not all authors ensconce themselves comfortably enough within the terms of mental (and therefore neo-Kantian or neo-Cartesian) space, …
“The aim of this [Lefebvre’s] book is to detonate this state of affairs.” (p. 24)
If I understand Lefebvre correctly, he insists on the “unity” of time and space, but shows that one or the other has tended to prevail in different historical periods. In general (as noted in Part 2), the history of space is always interlaced with the history of time — “the history of space should not be distanced in any way from the history of time” (p. 117). Yet, the two have tended to be kept separate and to alternate in importance. Long ago, there was a period in metaphysics as well as real life when time concepts held priority over space. But in the modern era, the state and capitalism have imposed the dominance of space over time. What Lefebvre seeks is a resurgence of time, plus a new unity, as part of a revolutionary process.

That, in brief, is how I would summarize his take on time and space. Now for some details and long documentary quotes — several of which, an expert on the book would notice, I have split in two, so that I can group the top parts together, and then the bottom parts, the better to highlight Lefebvre’s various somewhat-repetitive paragraphs about past/present versus possible future trends. I like these long quotes; but for the sake of other readers, I’ll try to cover their main points in the head text, enough so that a reader may skip the long quotes.

Lefebvre maintains in various passages that social space and social time should — and long ago did — co-exist in a kind of unity. Accordingly, people cannot live in one without the other — time is “inscribed in space” and “space implies time”. The two are “distinguishable” but “not separable” — “different yet unseverable”. Their “dissociation” is a “late development” that goes against the reality that they can only be “known” and realized through each other — hence, “Unity in difference, the same in the other (and vice versa), are thus made concrete.” In other words, while space may form “the envelope of time”, this does not mean that time can be reduced into space, for “real social time is forever re-emerging complete with its own characteristics and determinants”. Here are the full quotes from which these points are drawn:
“Let everyone look at the space around them. What do they see? Do they see time? They live time, after all; they are in time. Yet all anyone sees is movements. In nature, time is apprehended within space — in the very heart of space: the hour of the day, the season, the elevation of the sun above the horizon, the position of the moon and stars in the heavens, the cold and the heat, the age of each natural being, and so on. … Time was thus inscribed in space, and natural space was merely the lyrical and tragic script of natural time.” (p. 95)
“Time and space are not separable within a texture so conceived: space implies time, and vice versa. These networks are not closed, but open on all sides to the strange and the foreign, to the threatening and the propitious, to friend and foe. As a matter of fact, the abstract distinction between open and closed does not really apply here.” (p. 118)
“Time is distinguishable but not separable from space. … Phenomena which an analytical intelligence associates solely with 'temporality', such as growth, maturation and aging, cannot in fact be dissociated from 'spatiality' (itself an abstraction). Space and time thus appear and manifest themselves as different yet unseverable. Temporal cycles correspond to circular spatial forms of a symmetrical kind. It may even be that linear temporal processes of a repetitive and mechanical character are associated with the constitution of spatial axes (along which a repeated operation may be performed). At all events, the dissociation of spatial and temporal and the social actualization of that dissociation can only be a late development, a corollary of which has been the split between representations of space and representational spaces. It is by taking representational spaces as its starting-point that art seeks to preserve or restore this lost unity.” (p. 175)
“The fact is that space 'in itself is ungraspable, unthinkable, unknowable. Time 'in itself, absolute time, is no less unknowable. But that is the whole point: time is known and actualized in space, becoming a social reality by virtue of a spatial practice. Similarly, space is known only in and through time. Unity in difference, the same in the other (and vice versa), are thus made concrete.” (p. 218)
“Space is the envelope of time. When space is split, time is distanced - but it resists reduction. Within and through space, a certain social time is produced and reproduced; but real social time is forever re-emerging complete with its own characteristics and determinants: repetitions, rhythms, cycles, activities. The attempt to conceive of a space isolated from time entails a further contradiction, as embodied in efforts to introduce time into space by force, to rule time from space — time in the process being confined to prescribed uses and subjected to a variety of prohibitions.” (pp. 339-340)
Lefebvre associates the rise of “the temporal” — the priority of time over space — with Hegel above all. But in Lefebvre’s view, “[t]his theoretical posture cried out to be overturned” in metaphysics and other sciences. As a result, “these sciences are already the battleground of an immense confrontation between the temporal and the spatial.” But he frets about those critics who would then turn to elevate space over time.
“Knowledge has been built up on the basis of (global) schemata. Once such schemata were atemporal, as in the case of classical metaphysics. After Hegel, however, they became temporal in character, which is to say that they proclaimed the priority of historical becoming, of mental duration, or of socio-economic time, over space. This theoretical posture cried out to be overturned — something that has indeed been attempted, though on indefensible grounds, by those eager to assert a priority of geographical, or demographic, or ecological space over historical time. In point of fact all these sciences are already the battleground of an immense confrontation between the temporal and the spatial.” (p. 415)
In Lefebvre’s view, what mostly explains the dominance of space over time is the development of capitalism. Capitalism has operated, mainly through its treatment of labor, to separate space and time — time has been “vanished”, expelled, and “murdered” — in order to enable capitalism to “master space by producing it”, thereby “reducing time in order to prevent the production of new social relations.” The “spatial practice” of capitalism thus “tends to confine time to productive labour time” — that’s the kind of time that matters most for this system. Here are the corresponding quotes with page references:
“With the advent of modernity time has vanished from social space. It is recorded solely on measuring-instruments, on clocks, that are as isolated and functionally specialized as this time itself. … Economic space subordinates time to itself; political space expels it as threatening and dangerous (to power). The primacy of the economic and above all of the political implies the supremacy of space over time. …
“This manifest expulsion of time is arguably one of the hallmarks of modernity. … Time may have been promoted to the level of ontology by the philosophers, but it has been murdered by society.” (pp. 95–96)
“But with the development of capitalism and its praxis a difficulty arises in the relations between space and time. The capitalist mode of production begins by producing things, and by 'investing' in places. Then the reproduction of social relations becomes problematic, as it plays a part in practice, modifying it in the process. And eventually it becomes necessary to reproduce nature also, and to master space by producing it — that is, the political space of capitalism — while at the same time reducing time in order to prevent the production of new social relations.” (p. 219)
“The standing of time as it relates to this space is problematic, and has yet to be clearly defined. When religion and philosophy took duration under their aegis, time was in effect proclaimed a mental reality. But spatial practice — the practice of a repressive and oppressive space - tends to confine time to productive labour time, and simultaneously to diminish living rhythms by defining them in terms of the rationalized and localized gestures of divided labour.
Clearly time cannot achieve emancipation at one stroke, or en bloc.” (p. 408)
And it’s not just capitalism but also the modern state that is having such effects. According to Lefebvre, “The state is consolidating on a world scale” to a degree that “weighs down on society” and “crushes time”. Thus the state “flattens” society and culture, as it “enforces a logic that puts an end to conflicts and contradictions” and “neutralizes whatever resists it” in harsh ways:
“This is perhaps a convenient moment to consider what has been happening in the second half of the twentieth century, the period to which 'we' are witnesses.
“1 The state is consolidating on a world scale. It weighs down on society (on all societies) in full force; it plans and organizes society 'rationally', with the help of knowledge and technology, imposing analogous, if not homologous, measures irrespective of political ideology, historical background, or the class origins of those in power. The state crushes time by reducing differences to repetitions or circularities) dubbed 'equilibrium', 'feedback', 'self-regulation', and so on). Space in its Hegelian form comes back into its own. This modern state promotes and imposes itself as the stable centre - definitively - of (national) societies and spaces. As both the end and the meaning of history - just as Hegel had forecast — it flattens the social and 'cultural' spheres. It enforces a logic that puts an end to conflicts and contradictions. It neutralizes whatever resists it by castration or crushing. Is this social entropy? Or is it a monstrous excrescence transformed into normality? Whatever the answer, the results lie before us.” (p. 23)
Abstract space plays a key role in all this. According to Lefebvre, “oppressive and repressive powers” use their ideological domination of abstract space in ways that “relegates time to an abstraction of its own — except for labour time” — to assure it serves capitalist production:
“As a space that is fetishized, that reduces possibilities, and cloaks conflicts and differences in illusory coherence and transparency, it clearly operates ideologically. Yet abstract space is the outcome not of an ideology or of false consciousness, but of a practice. Its falsification is self-generated. Conflicts nevertheless manifest themselves on the level, precisely, of knowledge, especially that between space and time. The oppressive and repressive powers of abstract space are clearly revealed in connection with time: this space relegates time to an abstraction of its own — except for labour time, which produces things and surplus value.” (p. 393)
But this domination of time in favor of space should not go on forever, or even much longer. According to Lefebvre’s dialectical analysis, “other forces [are] on the boil, because the rationality of the state … provokes opposition.” He expects “incessant violence” by “seething forces” to rattle “the state and its space,” so much so that the importance of time re-emerges “explosively”* and a “threshold” will be crossed that produces “new social relations” and a re-unification of time and space.
“2 In this same space there are, however, other forces on the boil, because the rationality of the state, of its techniques, plans and programmes, provokes opposition. The violence of power is answered by the violence of subversion. With its wars and revolutions, defeats and victories, confrontation and turbulence, the modern world corresponds precisely to Nietzsche's tragic vision. State-imposed normality makes permanent transgression inevitable. As for time and negativity, whenever they re- emerge, as they must, they do so explosively. This is a new negativity, a tragic negativity which manifests itself as incessant violence. These seething forces are still capable of rattling the lid of the cauldron of the state and its space, for differences can never be totally quieted. Though defeated, they live on, and from time to time they begin fighting ferociously to reassert themselves and transform themselves through struggle.” (p. 23)
“But capitalism is surely approaching a threshold beyond which reproduction will no longer be able to prevent the production, not of things, but of new social relations. What would those relations consist in? Perhaps in the unity, at once familiar and new, of space and time, a unity long misapprehended, split up and superseded by the rash attribution of priority to space over time.” (pp. 218-219)
Abstract space will prove to be a key battleground. Capitalist and statist forces will try to keep time “reduced to constraints placed on the employment of space”. But they will fail in the end, for it is bound to be the case that “time resists any such reduction, re-emerging instead as the supreme form of wealth, as locus and medium of use, and hence of enjoyment.” People will harbor the importance of time in their inner and private lives.
“Time might thus be expected to be quickly reduced to constraints placed on the employment of space: to distances, pathways, itineraries, or modes of transportation. In fact, however, time resists any such reduction, re-emerging instead as the supreme form of wealth, as locus and medium of use, and hence of enjoyment. Abstract space fails in the end to lure time into the realm of externality, of signs and images, of dispersion. Time comes back into its own as privacy, inner life, subjectivity. Also as cycles closely bound up with nature and with use (sleep, hunger, etc.). Within time, the investment of affect, of energy, of 'creativity' opposes a mere passive apprehension of signs and signifiers. Such an investment, the desire to 'do' something, and hence to 'create', can only occur in a space — and through the production of a space. The 'real' appropriation of space, which is incompatible with abstract signs of appropriation serving merely to mask domination, does have certain requirements.” (p. 393)
If I understand Lefebvre correctly, when he elaborates on what he means by the production of space, he means a set of operations that gear actions to an orderly way of using space and time — not just space (pp. 71-73). Thus he wants his analysis — his “science of space” — to lead to a new synthesis of space and time in the future for the sake of “another (possible or impossible) society.”
“What is urgently required here is a clear distinction between an imagined or sought-after 'science of space' on the one hand and real knowledge of the production of space on the other. Such a knowledge, in contrast to the dissection, interpretations and representation of a would-be science of space, may be expected to rediscover time (and in the first place the time of production) in and through space.
“… The real knowledge that we hope to attain would have a retrospective as well as a prospective import. Its implications for history, for example, and for our understanding of time, will become apparent if our hypothesis turns out to be correct. It will help us to grasp how societies generate their (social) space and time - their representational spaces and their representations of space. It should also allow us, not to foresee the future, but to bring relevant factors to bear on the future in prospect — on the project, in other words, of another space and another time in another (possible or impossible) society.” (pp. 91–92)

Implicit inclusion of action orientations

From an STA standpoint, Lefebvre does not give STA’s action component the status that he gives to space and time. In his discussion of physics he recognizes “energy” or “force” (cognates of STA’s action element) as an essential part in a triad along with space and time (e.g., p. 22). But when discussing social space, he refers only to time as a co-equal, as discussed above.

Lefebvre comes closest to STA’s action element when he refers to forces, instruments, and strategies. Indeed, all sorts of “forces” figure in his theorizing: above all, the iconic “forces of production”; but also, various social, political, and economic forces; “forces of good and evil”; creative forces; forces that contend and compete; revolutionary forces; and so forth. He also refers occasionally to instruments and “instrumental space” — e.g., he says that social space, especially abstract space, often “shows itself to be politically instrumental in that it facilitates the control of society” (p. 349). And he is constantly concerned with strategy — with “strategic space” and “spatial strategy”— as it is used by ideological hegemons, but also as it may yet be used by revolutionary forces.

Such forces, instruments, and strategies don’t correspond exactly to my sense of STA’s action element. But they’re related to it, for they imply agency and efficacy, a deliberate effort to conquer nature, a will to power, a quest for control, a volitional view of cause and effect, an unwillingness to bow to fate and accept things as they are. Thus, in Lefebvre’s approach, STA’s action element is more implicit than explicit; it isn’t laid out in ways that make it co-equal to space and time and operate independently of them. But it’s not neglected; it’s there to a degree, embedded.

STA’s action element is evident particularly in Lefebvre’s discussions about strategy, especially future revolutionary strategy. Part 1 laid out some of his views about strategy. But there’s more to say (even as I re-use some quotes from Part 1).

Where space, time, and action coalesce: Lefebvre’s sense of revolutionary strategy

Strategy is where he joins together his analyses of space, time, and action elements, for the sake of pointing the way to revolutionary change. Strategy is where his views of history and science meet, with an eye on the future.

Here are several quotes that caught my eye regarding his disposition toward strategy (though I’m not sure I really understand them). These quotes speak to his concerns about how the state and capitalism tend to use strategy. Note the association of abstract space with ideology, and both of them with strategic space and spatial strategy. Note also his claim that strategic space is used to “force”, “sort”, “classify”, and “separate” people in ways that suit the spatial strategy of the state and capitalism:
“And in point of fact such ideologies relate to space in a most significant way, because they intervene in space in the form of strategias. Their effectiveness in this role - and especially a new development, the fact that worldwide strategies are now seeking to generate a global space, their own space, and to set it up as an absolute - is another reason, and by no means an insignificant one, for developing a new concept of space.” (p. 10)
“We also forget that there is a total object, namely absolute political space - that strategic space which seeks to impose itself as reality despite the fact that it is an abstraction, albeit one endowed with enormous powers because it is the locus and medium of Power.” (p. 94)
“Each spatial strategy has several aims: as many aims as abstract space — manipulated and manipulative — has 'properties'. Strategic space makes it possible simultaneously to force worrisome groups, the workers among others, out towards the periphery; to make available spaces near the centres scarcer, so increasing their value; to organize the centre as locus of decision, wealth, power and information; to find allies for the hegemonic class within the middle strata and within the 'elite'; to plan production and flows from the spatial point of view; and so on.
“The space of this social practice becomes a space that sorts — a space that classifies in the service of a class. The strategy of classification distributes the various social strata and classes (other than the one that exercises hegemony) across the available territory, keeping them separate and prohibiting all contacts - these being replaced by the signs (or images) of contact.” (p. 385)
To oppose this system — to benefit from the coming “spatial chaos” and “trial by space” (see Part 1) — Lefebvre recommends his “strategic hypothesis based on space” (p. 63). It would bring “disassociated aspects” back together, in both theory and practice, in order to achieve “the mobilization of differences in a single movement” around the world:
“[I]ts basic principle and objective is the bringing-together of dissociated aspects, the unification of disparate tendencies and factors. Inasmuch as it tries to take the planetary experiment in which humanity is engaged for what it is - that is to say, a series of separate and distinct assays of the world's space - this hypothesis sets itself up in clear opposition to the homogenizing efforts of the state, of political power, of the world market, and of the commodity world — tendencies which find their practical expression through and in abstract space. It implies the mobilization of differences in a single movement (including differences of natural origin, each of which ecology tends to emphasize in isolation): differences of regime, country, location, ethnic group, natural resources, and so on.” (pp. 63-64)
To this end, he makes what I gather is his single most famous, most quoted statement:
“'Change life! 'Change society!' These precepts mean nothing without the production of an appropriate space.” (p. 58)
Placing it in context with other quotes about changing life helps illuminate its importance — and shows that what matters to Lefebvre is not only changing political, economic, and cultural life in general, but also “everyday life” down to its most mundane and intimate details. This can only be accomplished through radical spatial changes, for “A revolution that does not produce a new space has not realized its full potential.” Just altering a society’s “ideological superstructures, institutions or political apparatuses” will not suffice, because “new social relationships call for a new space” to be created. What Lefebvre seeks is “total revolution”:
“A revolution that does not produce a new space has not realized its full potential; indeed it has failed in that it has not changed life itself, but has merely changed ideological superstructures, institutions or political apparatuses. A social transformation, to be truly revolutionary in character, must manifest a creative capacity in its effects on daily life, on language and on space — though its impact need not occur at the same rate, or with equal force, in each of these areas.” (p. 54)
“'Change life! 'Change society!' These precepts mean nothing without the production of an appropriate space. ... [N]ew social relationships call for a new space, and vice versa. … So long as everyday life remains in thrall to abstract space, with it's very concrete constraints; … the project of ‘changing life’ remains no more than a political rallying cry to be taken up or abandoned according to the mood off the moment.” (pp. 58–59)
“A total revolution — material, economic, social, political, psychic, cultural, erotic, etc. — seems to be in the offing, as though already immanent to the present. To change life, however, we must first change space. Absolute revolution is our self-image and our mirage — as seen through the mirror of absolute (political) space.” (p. 190)
Those are evocative exhortations. All in keeping with his fundamental view that “each mode of production has its own particular space,” and thus “the shift from one mode to another must entail the production of a new space.” (p. 46) Fully in keeping as well with his view that “Space is becoming the principal stake of goal-directed actions and struggles.” (p. 410) As he says in the quote immediately above, “To change life … we must first change space.” (p, 190)

Accordingly, if I read correctly, what he expects is “a transitional period between the mode of production of things in space and the mode of production of space.” The result would be a Marxist kind of revolution that spells a “withering-away” of the state and capitalism:
“We may therefore justifiably speak of a transitional period between the mode of production of things in space and the mode of production of space. The production of things was fostered by capitalism and controlled by the bourgeoisie and its political creation, the state. The production of space brings other things in its train, among them the withering-away of the private ownership of space, and, simultaneously, of the political state that dominates spaces. This implies a shift from domination to appropriation, and the primacy of use over exchange (the withering-away of exchange value). If these events do not occur, the worst surely will — as suggested by a number of 'scenarios of the unacceptable' scripted by the futurologists.” (p. 410)
What Lefebvre wants, then, is the creation of a radical new “mode of production” that realizes “the collective management of space” (p. 103, 422; as noted in Part 1). He does not describe it in detail, but it is clearly Marxist (if not communist, even anarchist, not to mention socialist) in origin and intent. Today, it seems reflected in how Occupy!, commonism, and other P2P-oriented undertakings would like to see society reorganized.

In light of what all I’ve learned here, however, I’d suggest that Lefebvre’s proposal implies the collective management not only of space but also of time and action. This would mean that STA implies an ideological as well as analytical framework. That’s not what I have in mind, but it’s interesting to see it implied.

Wrap-up comments

I’ve gained in appreciation for this book. It was a good choice to read and review. My three-part write-up feels jumbled and repetitive, but hopefully it conveys Lefebvre’s key points, at least the ones that interest me from an STA standpoint. He goes farther, I now realize, at recognizing time and action-like orientations than most space-oriented theorists.

Nonetheless, whether and how his distinctions and categories can be useful for my STA efforts, I’m far from sure. At some point, I’d like to be able to draw up a really good typology for helping to assess the spatial (as well as temporal and actional) orientations that define people’s mindsets. I don’t come away from reading Lefebvre with a sense I’ve gained much in that regard. Sure, he points out the importance of global/local, center/periphery, and connected/disconnected distinctions, for example. But so do most writers about spatial orientations.

While finishing this final Part 3, I looked around a bit to see whether Lefebvre persisted in later writings with the ideas I liked most: e.g., spatial codes, spatial chaos, trial by space, abstract space, counter-space, and his strategic hypothesis based on space. Where my search led was mainly to the volume edited by Neil Brenner and Stuart Elden, State, Space, World: Selected Essays by Henri Lefebvre (2009), particularly Ch. 11 titled "Space and the State (1978). That and other chapters provide additional material about spatial chaos (pp. 205, 240, 250), trial by space (pp.198, 206), and collective management of space (pp. 122, 174, 193, 195, 288). Thus it appears that he persisted with some ideas (e.g., those just listed), but not so much with others (e.g., his strategic hypothesis about space).

I also browsed a bit to see what academic experts have said about the presence of time and action concepts in Lefebvre’s The Production of Space. I've yet to find as comprehensive a lay-out as I provide here. But I learned that one scholar in particular, Stuart Elden, notably in his book Understanding Henri Lefebvre: Theory and the Possible (2004), highlights that:
“Lefebvre therefore wished to make two main moves in his work. First to put space up with and alongside time in considerations of social theory, and in doing so correct the vacuity of the Kantian experiential containers. Spatiality is as important as, but must not obscure considerations of, temporality and history: 'space and time appear and manifest themselves as different yet inseparable'. Secondly he wished to use this new critical understanding to examine the (modern) world in which he was writing. This is accomplished through an analysis of how space is produced, and how it is experienced. Space is produced in two ways, as a social formation (mode of production), and as a mental construction (conception).” (2004, p. 185)
Or to put i more succinctly,
“Lefebvre makes two main moves in his work: an assertion of the importance of space in tandem with that of time; and an analysis of the spaces of the modern age” (Elden, 2007; also, 2004, p. 193).
This reassures me about my take. Otherwise, such experts have mostly focused on Lefebvre’s later temporal concept rhythmanalysis, which so far I find less pertinent to STA.

While this series of posts is about space-time action orientations (STA), Parts 1 and 2 noted that Lefebvre was an early proponent of thinking about networks, which interests me for TIMN purposes. This showed up in his book in two ways that still represent rival ways of thinking about networks: one way emphasizes that nothing can be understood fully without taking into account the social and other networks in which an object is embedded; the other emphasizes that network forms of organization are now coming into their own as a form of organization, distinct from say tribes, hierarchical institutions and markets. Lefebvre writes mostly in terms of the former, but mixes in the latter at times too. His analysis of space-time-action dynamics focuses primarily on institutions and markets, but at least he leans toward analyzing networks as well.

By now, I’ve scouted a bit to see whether other analysts have picked up on his network theme. My finding so far is that some have, some haven’t — none of them to the extent I’d like to see. Passing references appear in Elden (2004, esp. p. 236), Brenner and Elden (2009, esp. pp.151, 187-190). Also in the volume edited by Kanishka Goonewardena et al., Space, Difference, Everyday Life: Reading Henri Lefebvre (2008), notably the chapters by Lukasz Stanek (esp. p. 64) and by Sara Nadal-Melsió (esp. p. 170). Doreen Massey’s article “Politics and Space/Time” in New Left Review (1992, esp. pp. 80-81) also has interesting comments about networks and spatial order/chaos, but she keys off other theorists more than Lefebvre. Beyond that, it’s my impression, as written up in a prior blog post (go here, see especially the addendum), that Occupy! activists have had much more to say about space, time, and network matters in often Lefebvrian ways.

That’s all for this series. While reading the book and preparing this post, I happened across various writings on the Web and elsewhere that resonated with my reading of Lefebvre. I’ve compiled too many gleanings to paste here as an addendum, so I’m putting them in a series of follow-up posts next.

- - - - -


* I put an asterisk above where Lefebvre says that time may re-emerge “explosively” as an aspect of radical change, because I’ve wondered whether this might be an oblique nod to French sociologist Georges Gurvitch’s concept of “explosive time”, which he describes as follows in a typology of social time orientations:
“8. Finally, as the eighth and last kind I shall point out explosive time, which dissolves the present as well as the past in the creation of the future immediately transcended. … Such a time is that of collective acts of creation which always play some role in social life but which arise from beneath the surface and become open and dominant during revolutions. … When it is real, explosive time places the global and partial social structures before complicated dilemmas, for it carries the maximum risk and demands the maximum effort to overcome it.” (Gurvitch, 1963, p. 178)
I continue to suppose, but cannot yet verify, that it may well be such a nod, for I’ve learned that Gurvitch and Lefebvre were close intellectual and ideological colleagues. Gurvitch wrote about both social space and time orientations years before Lefebvre did. I’ve long regarded Gurvitch’s analyses as interesting for STA, and I’ve used his explosive-time concept — indeed, that very quote — several times, including at this blog, usually in regard to analyzing time orientations found among terrorists. I’ll probably bring it up again when I review the next book on my list for this STA-oriented series: Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd’s The Time Paradox (2008).

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Lefebvre’s ways of analyzing social space (2nd of 3)

Part 1 rendered my sense of Henri Lefebvre’s main argument in The Production of Space (1991[1974]). This Part 2 examines how he goes about analyzing social space in historical and scientific terms. Part 3 will then look into what I most want to see: how much his analysis includes time and action dimensions, along with space.

I suppose this series about Lefebvre will interest few readers. The topic may seem arcane, and the posts too long. But they’re enabling me to get a better grip on STA (even if it’s not evident yet), and I’d rather place long posts with long quotes here, handy for future reference, than leave the drafts isolated on my home computer. (One way for a reader to ease reading is to skip the quotes, for I’ve embedded key phrases in the text that heads most quotes.)

A nagging concern is that I’ve not read Lefebvre’s book in its entirety. As I noted at the end of Part 1, I’ve read some chapters, but not all — just a little more than enough to learn that he covers the full STA triplex despite his focus on space. Every time I go back to search the book for something, I spot another interesting passage in a chapter I’ve left unread. Some of these passages now appear in Parts 2 and 3. But I wouldn’t be surprised to learn I’ve missed other significant passages, or even themes.

Onward, anyway. It’s an intriguing book, important too. (And a little browsing in a few expert secondary sources does not indicate I’ve left out too much, except for a lot of his Marxism.)

Toward a history of space

Lefebvre aspires to lay out a history and a science of space. As for “the long history of space,” much of the book dwells on how to analyze history from a spatial perspective, an endeavor he locates “between anthropology and political economy”:
“What we are concerned with, then, is the long history of space, even though space is neither a 'subject' nor an 'object' but rather a social reality — that is to say, a set of relations and forms. This history is to be distinguished from an inventory of things in space (or what has recently been called material culture or civilization), as also from ideas and discourse about space. It must account for both representational spaces and representations of space, but above all for their interrelationships and their links with social practice. The history of space thus has its place between anthropology and political economy.” (p. 116)
Much of his historical analysis dwells on philosophical writings by Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche about the concept of space. But his ruminations extend way beyond philosophy: He contrasts natural and artificial (man-made) spaces, tracing how the latter have suborned the former. He compares spatial orientations found in countrysides and cities, and uses the rise of cities like Venice to explain what he means. He characterizes different historical eras, notably the Medieval and capitalist eras, according to how people treated space, often using architecture for evidence. He calls attention to the historical development of “absolute space” (p. 94) and “abstract space” (pp. 123-124) — notions I’m not sure I understand. He disparages the modernist Bauhaus movement for propagating abstract concepts of “global space” (p. 125). Furthermore, as noted in Part 1, he contrasts the Soviet and Chinese communist approaches to space, in order to show that his theory of space is capable of accounting for revolutionary experiences worldwide across history (p. 421). Altogether, that’s a sweeping undertaking.

His complex view of “social space” holds that its history began early on as a mostly “natural space” and then evolved an “absolute space” and increasingly an “abstract space” (if I read him correctly). For example, to make his point about the early significance of natural space, he says, rather complicatedly:
“This [social] space qualifies as a 'thing/not-thing', for it is neither a substantial reality nor a mental reality, it cannot be resolved into abstractions, and it consists neither in a collection of things in space nor in an aggregate of occupied places. Being neither space-as-sign nor an ensemble of signs related to space, it has an actuality other than that of the abstract signs and real things which it includes. The initial basis or foundation of social space is nature — natural or physical space.” (p. 402)
The historical evolution of “absolute space” began in ancient times with rites and ceremonies, along with statues of gods and goddesses (p. 48) — making his point that absolute space is originally fundamentally religious. Later, it is also manifested as “absolute political space” — a “strategic space” that is the “locus and medium of Power” and the space of the state, though it may end up “disappearing into … the world market.”:
“[T]here is a total object, namely absolute political space - that strategic space which seeks to impose itself as reality despite the fact that it is an abstraction, albeit one endowed with enormous powers because it is the locus and medium of Power.” (p. 94)
“Proceeding in the same manner apropos of space, we may wonder whether the state will eventually produce its own space, an absolute political space. Or whether, alternatively, the nation states will one day see their absolute political space disappearing into (and thanks to) the world market.” (p. 220)
Along the way, he raises a compelling observation — that the “adoption of another people's gods always entails the adoption of their space” — that caught my eye (though I can’t tell whether it’s about absolute space or abstract space, or both):
“The adoption of another people's gods always entails the adoption of their space and system of measurement. Thus the erection of the Pantheon in Rome pointed not only to a comprehension of conquered gods but also to a comprehension of spaces now subordinate to the master space, as it were, of the Empire and the world.” (p. 111)
Now, that observation has a contemporary resonance, for it fits conflicts raging today around the world today over whose sacred or secular “gods” should dominate — making his spatiology look all the more insightful.

Next comes the rise of “abstract space” — a key thread throughout the book, yet the one I least understand, though it is obviously important. He says it is “the location and source of abstractions” (p. 348). Thus, it is part of “mental space” (see below), but not in a neutral scientific sense. For he gives it an increasingly “concrete” political edge, especially as he says it is “the space of the bourgeoisie and of capitalism” and “depends on consensus more than any space before it” (p. 57). He also treats it as an “instrumental space” manipulated by all sorts of authorities (p. 51), for it is "a tool of power" (p. 391). Indeed, in an explanation fraught with striking metaphors, he proclaims that, in our modern world, the forces behind abstract space “seem to grind down and crush everything before them, with space performing the function of a plane, a bulldozer or a tank.”
“We already know several things about abstract space. As a product of violence and war, it is political; instituted by a state, it is institutional. On first inspection it appears homogeneous; and indeed it serves those forces which make a tabula rasa of whatever stands in their way, of whatever threatens them — in short, of differences. These forces seem to grind down and crush everything before them, with space performing the function of a plane, a bulldozer or a tank.” (p. 285)
I suppose I get his point — it resembles an old idea that the agents of hegemonic ideologies depend on imposing abstract ideas (or ideational superstructures, or etc.) in ways that shape cultures and behaviors so that people submit without question. But I’m still not sure that’s what he means by “abstract space” — or how much it offers a new view of an old idea, or is even the best term. Moreover, I’m puzzled he never considers Marxism as having an abstract space.

Meanwhile, as indicated in Part 1, his vision leaves plenty of room (space!) for contradictions to arise, especially ones “which are liable eventually to precipitate the downfall of abstract space” (p. 52). Such “contradictory space” mostly arises as “counter-space” and “differential space” (p.52). This occurs following “the dissolution of old relations on the one hand and the generation of new relations on the other.”
“From a less pessimistic standpoint, it can be shown that abstract space harbours specific contradictions. Such spatial contradictions derive in part from the old contradictions thrown up by historical time. These have undergone modifications, however: some are aggravated, others blunted. Amongst them, too, completely fresh contradictions have come into being which are liable eventually to precipitate the downfall of abstract space. The reproduction of the social relations of production within this space inevitably obeys two tendencies: the dissolution of old relations on the one hand and the generation of new relations on the other. Thus, despite — or rather because of — its negativity, abstract space carries within itself the seeds of a new kind of space. I shall call that new space 'differential space', because, inasmuch as abstract space tends towards homogeneity, towards the elimination of existing differences or peculiarities, a new space cannot be born (produced) unless it accentuates differences. It will also restore unity to what abstract space breaks up - to the functions, elements and moments of social practice. It will put an end to those localizations which shatter the integrity of the individual body, the social body, the corpus of human needs, and the corpus of knowledge.” (p. 52)
As a result, he looks forward to “conflicts which foster the explosion of abstract space and the production of a space that is other.”
“The more carefully one examines space, considering it not only with the eyes, not only with the intellect, but also with all the senses, with the total body, the more clearly one becomes aware of the conflicts at work within it, conflicts which foster the explosion of abstract space and the production of a space that is other.” (p. 391)
All of which means he awaits the emergence of revolutionary strategies — new spatial codes (as discussed in Part 1) — that will lead to revolutionary transitions, based on his view that “Space is becoming the principal stake of goal-directed actions and struggles.” (p. 410)

(As indicated up front, my difficulties understanding “absolute space” and “abstract space” might ease if I ever read Chapter 4 (“From Absolute Space to Abstract Space”) and Chapter 5 (“Contradictory Space”). But after glancing at them, I don’t yet see that would help me much with further formulating STA in the future.)

And so, Lefebvre reaches far, wide, and deep in discussing the history of space and its myriad manifestations. More to the point for STA, he shows that the history of space is interlaced with the histories of time and action, such as where he observes that “the history of space should not be distanced in any way from the history of time”:
“… The history of space does not have to choose between 'processes' and 'structures', change and invariability, events and institutions. Its periodizations, moreover, will differ from generally accepted ones. Naturally, the history of space should not be distanced in any way from the history of time (a history clearly distinct from all philosophical theories of time in general). The departure point for this history of space is not to be found in geographical descriptions of natural space, but rather in the study of natural rhythms, and of the modification of those rhythms and their inscription in space by means of human actions, especially work-related actions.” (pp. 117)

Toward a science of space

Along with a history of space, Lefebvre aims to create a science of space — “a unitary theory of physical, mental, and social space” (p. 21) — that can be used to “decode” space. He even suggests calling this science “spatio-analysis” or “spatiology”:
“The theory we need, which fails to come together because the necessary critical moment does not occur, and which therefore falls back into the state of mere bits and pieces of knowledge, might well be called, by analogy, a 'unitary theory': the aim is to discover or construct a theoretical unity between 'fields' which are apprehended separately, just as molecular, electromagnetic and gravitational forces are in phvsics. The fields we are concerned with are, first, the physical — nature, the Cosmos; secondly, the mental, including logical and formal abstractions; and, thirdly, the social. In other words, we are concerned with logico-epistemological space, the space of social practice, the space occupied by sensory phenomena, including products of the imagination such as projects and projections, symbols and Utopias.” (pp. 11-12)
“Social relations, which are concrete abstractions, have no real existence save in and through space. Their underpinning is spatial. In each particular case, the connection between this underpinning and the relations it supports calls for analysis. …
“Propositions of this kind themselves imply and explain a project — namely, the quest for a knowledge at once descriptive, analytic and global. If one had to label such an endeavour, it might be termed 'spatio-analysis' or 'spatiology'.” (p. 404)
Lefebvre does not lay out a precise methodology for analyzing space and spatial orientations. He says his inquiry is exploratory. Yet he offers a vast variety of categories and distinctions. In particular, he distinguishes among physical, mental, and social spaces — what he also calls perceived, conceived, and lived spaces (p. 21, 40). He also distinguishes spatial practices, representations of space, and representational spaces from each other (p. 33). Furthermore, he observes that spaces have form, structure, and function — and may thus be subjected to formal, structural and/or functional analysis (p. 147).

These three conceptual “triads” figure throughout his book. He not only goes into detail about expressions of each one — often architectural — but also addresses whether and how they do or do not work together in particular situations. For example, here’s a quote where he uses the form-function-structure distinction to criticize bureaucracy as “the very epitome of opacity, indecipherability and 'unreadability'”:
“As for social 'realities', here the opposite situation obtains: the distances between forms, functions and structures lengthen rather than diminish. The three tend to become completely detached from one another. Their relationship is obscured and they become indecipherable (or undecodable) as the 'hidden' takes over from the 'readable' in favour of the predominance of the latter in the realm of objects. Thus a particular institution may have a variety of functions which are different - and sometimes opposed - to its apparent forms and avowed structures. One merely has to think of the institutions of 'justice', of the military, or of the police. In other words, the space of objects and the space of institutions are radically divergent in 'modern' society. This is a society in which, to take an extreme example, the bureaucracy is supposed to be, aspires to be, loudly proclaims itself to be, and perhaps even believes itself to be 'readable' and transparent, whereas in fact it is the very epitome of opacity, indecipherability and 'unreadability'. The same goes for all other state and political apparatuses.” (p. 149)
Spatiology as a way to indict bureaucracy — that’s innovative. Indeed, it’s a quote that might appeal to conservative critics of Washington nowadays. And from an Occupy perspective, be applicable to corporatist Wall Street as well as bureaucratic Washington.

His elaborations raise numerous distinctions of a geometric, architectural, geographic, or scalar nature: e.g., between center and periphery, interior and exterior, inside and outside, open and closed, hidden and visible, public and private (or mixed (p. 387)), work and non-work, micro and macro, local and global, global and fragmentary (parcelized) (p. 365), horizontal and vertical, centralized and distributed, hierarchical and networked (p. 349, 351). Other distinctions have a socio-political quality: e.g., between natural and artificial (man-made) spaces, between absolute and abstract spaces, between dominated and appropriated spaces (p. 104), between spaces that feature command from above and those that feature demand from below (p. 115), and between spaces that include and those that reject (or more commonly, do both (p. 99)).

His analysis becomes evermore intricate and illuminating as he discusses relations between spaces: Some may be separated by walls and barriers — and kept so deliberately by powers who prefer keeping spaces isolated and disassociated (e.g., public vs. private), and who use binary distinctions to confound and control people. But for the most part, he calls attention to the existence of spaces within spaces within still more spaces — how they crisscross, overlap, penetrate and interconnect, forming into networks, with blurred and even fluid boundaries, and with old spaces folded into new ones.
“Structural distinctions between binary operations, levels and dimensions must not be allowed to obscure the great dialectical movements that traverse the world-as-totality and help define it.” (p. 218)
“We are thus confronted by an indefinite multitude of spaces, each one piled upon, or perhaps contained within, the next: geographical, economic, demographic, sociological, ecological, political, commercial, national, continental, global. Not to mention nature's (physical) space, the space of (energy) flows, and so on.” (p. 8)
“We are confronted not by one social space but by many — indeed, by an unlimited multiplicity or uncountable set of social spaces which we refer to generically as 'social space'. No space disappears in the course of growth and development: the worldwide does not abolish the local, This is not a consequence of the law of uneven development, but a law in its own right. The intertwinement of social spaces is also a law. Considered in isolation, such spaces are mere abstractions. As concrete abstractions, however, they attain 'real' existence by virtue of networks and pathways, by virtue of bunches or clusters of relationships. …
Social spaces interpenetrate one another and/or superimpose themselves upon one another. They are not things, which have mutually limiting boundaries and which collide because of their contours or as a result of inertia.” (pp. 86-87)
Lefebvre’s approach to scientific analysis thus becomes strategic. For it spans from local to global levels, emphasizing their inseparability. And he shows how particular manifestations of his distinctions and categories get reflected in “spatial codes” that have strategic implications. Accordingly, he critiques formalized barriers and boundaries (e.g., between public and private) that are enforced by dominant spatial codes, as rulers try to keep such spaces “separated, assigned in isolated fashion … specialized” (p. 97). At the same time, he aims to identify new spatial codes that can bring “disassociated” spaces back together for revolutionary purposes (p. 64; also see my Part-1 post). In short, he often criticizes center-periphery relations (p. 149) and the “hierarchical ordering of locations” (p. 349), yet commends the spreading importance of “networks and flows” (p. 351). In retrospect, he’s a kind of early proponent of hierarchies-vs.-networks analysis.

[UPDATE — May 17, 2014: Several new quotes added, plus related text.]


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Reading with STA in mind: Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space (1st of 3)

The framework I’d like to see developed about people's space-time-action orientations (aka STA) continues to have plenty of potential. I’ve written a few posts about it — after all, STA is one of this blog’s two themes. But STA’s potential remains largely unrealized, mainly because I’ve lagged in working on it.

In order to keep STA on track and add a bit of momentum, here is a series of posts (possibly followed by more) built around selected literature reviews. This first post reviews a classic book about social space. Second will be a book about social time. Third will be a book or other writings about the action/agency orientation.

These posts are not so much about the books themselves as about a particular purpose that serves STA: to show that each writing, besides dwelling on its avowed focus (be that space, time, or action), turns to say something about all three STA orientations. Indeed, there is no way for major writings to avoid doing so.

I don’t claim that these writings would be better if they had gone in comprehensive STA-like directions. But I do claim these writings help confirm that space, time, and action orientations operate as a bundle — a set of interrelated cognitive-knowledge elements that no mind and no culture can do without. And I want to urge that you too begin to see so too.

As for this review about Lefebvre’s book, once again I’ve set out to do a single post, and it has morphed into a multi-parter, laden with long quotes. This Part 1 provides a general overview. Part 2 will lay out how Lefebvre analyzes space, Part 3 how he includes time and action orientations. These will be followed by serendipitous posts that will collate and comment on gleanings I happened to notice around the blogosphere and elsewhere while I had Lefebvre in mind.

Highlights of this Part-1 post include his analytical concepts about spatiology, spatial codes, spatial chaos, and trial by space, plus his proposition that the creation and control of social space is the crucial stake in today’s revolutionary struggles and evolutionary transitions.

The book’s significance and argument

French philosopher/sociologist Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space ([1974] 1991) remains a seminal landmark text among postmodern social and literary theorists, philosophers, and sociologists who are caught up in the “spatial turn” in theorizing that began a few decades ago. The book has been a favorite especially among Marxists and anarchists looking for postmodern ways to analyze and strategize about the world. Though he was a controversial and marginal figure during much of his life, his stature and influence have grown hugely since his death in 1991. Those influenced by this book include not only social theorists like Michel Foucault and Manuel Castells, but also young activists who supported Occupy and other pro-democracy movements a few years ago (as discussed here).

As I understand the book, Lefebvre proposes that “space” — particularly “social space” — is not only a cardinal concept that merits far more attention from theorists and strategists, but also that “the production of space” — all kinds of spaces — has become a paramount activity in (and of) advanced societies. Indeed, says he, producing spaces is now a more defining activity of capitalism than producing commodities. Thus Lefebvre is not merely advocating space as a grand analytical concept; he’s forecasting that societies are moving into an era when producing and dominating space is a strategic purpose. Accordingly, a spatial revolution is underway that will subsume the urban revolution, just as it subsumed the earlier industrial and agrarian revolutions (p. 419).

To make his case, Lefebvre maintains that all across history — and now more than before — every work, thing, product, institution, society, market, whatever, operates to generate a social space. This applies to bodies, buildings, companies, towns, cities, states, and markets, as well as to nationalism, capitalism, and other ideologies. Accordingly,
“[E]very society — and hence every mode of production with its subvariants (i.e. all those societies which exemplify the general concept — produces a space, it's own space.” (p. 31)
“The ‘object’ of interest must be expected to shift from things in space to the actual production of space.” (p. 37)
“It is impossible, in fact, to avoid the conclusion that space is assuming an increasingly important role in supposedly 'modern' societies, and that if this role is not already preponderant it very soon will be. Space's hegemony does not operate solely on the 'micro' level, effecting the arrangement of surfaces in a supermarket, for instance, or in a 'neighbourhood' of housing-units; nor does it apply only on the 'macro' level, as though it were responsible merely for the ordering of 'flows' within nations or continents. On the contrary, its effects may be observed on all planes and in all the interconnections between them.” (p. 412)
In this view, space is not simply an empty container, an area or a volume. Social spaces are themselves works, products, and tools, as well as means of production — all at the same time. Thus, what's needed is “an approach which would analyse not things in space but space itself, with a view to uncovering the social relationships embedded in it.” (p. 89).
“(Social) space is not a thing among other things, nor a product among other products: rather, it subsumes things produced, and encompasses their interrelationships in their coexistence and simultaneity — their (relative) order and/or (relative) disorder. It is the outcome of a sequence and set of operations, and thus cannot be reduced to the rank of a simple object. … Itself the outcome of past actions, social space is what permits fresh actions to occur, while suggesting others and prohibiting yet others.” (p. 73)
“Is space indeed a medium? A milieu? An intermediary? It is doubtless all of these, but its role is less and less neutral, more and more active, both as instrument and as goal, as means and as end.” (p. 411)
Lefebvre is thus precociously network-oriented for 1974. For he is keen to show that networks and flows that link and embed things (objects, subjects) are generally more significant than the things themselves:
“Social space contains a great diversity of objects, both natural and social, including the networks and pathways which facilitate the exchange of material things and information. Such 'objects' are thus not only things but also relations.” (p 77)
“[A] space is not a thing but rather a set of relations between things (objects and products).” (p. 83)
“The state and each of its constituent institutions call for spaces — but spaces which they can then organize according to their specific requirements; … Though a product to be used, to be consumed, it is also a means of production; networks of exchange and flows of raw materials and energy fashion space and are determined by it.” (p. 85)
“As it develops, then, the concept of social space becomes broader. It infiltrates, even invades, the concept of production, becoming part — perhaps the essential part — of its content.” (p. 85)
Lefebvre especially viewed capitalism as being networked in concrete, space-filling, space-defining ways. Accordingly, networks amount to the “material underpinning of the world of commodities” — indeed, of capitalism in general — since “The world of commodities would have no 'reality' without such moorings or points of insertion, or without their existing as an ensemble.” (p. 404) Here’s the full quote:
“As for the commodity in general, it is obvious that kilograms of sugar, sacks of coffee beans and metres of fabric cannot do duty as the material underpinning of its existence. The stores and warehouses where these things are kept, where they wait, the ships, trains and trucks that transport them - and hence the routes used - have also to be taken into account. Furthermore, having considered all these objects individually, one still has not properly apprehended the material underpinning of the world of commodities. … It has to be remembered that these objects constitute relatively determinate networks or chains of exchange within a space. The world of commodities would have no 'reality' without such moorings or points of insertion, or without their existing as an ensemble. The same may be said of banks and banking-networks vis-à-vis the capital market and money transfers, and hence vis-à-vis the comparison and balancing of profits and the distribution of surplus value.” (p. 404)
Much of his writing is imbued with the language of Marxist concepts and objectives. I try to slide over it, in order to get at points I like regarding how to analyze spatial orientations, and where he fits time and action orientations into his framework. Yet he notes that his emphasis on space implies ways of thinking and strategizing that pose a serious conceptual challenge for classical Marxism:
“Ideology per se might well be said to consist primarily in a discourse upon social space.” (p. 44)
“If the production of space does indeed correspond to a leap forward in the productive forces (in technology, in knowledge, in the domination of nature), and if therefore this tendency, when pushed to its limit — or, better, when it has overcome its limits — must eventually give rise to a new mode of production which is neither state capitalism nor state socialism, but the collective management of space, the social management of nature, and the transcendence of the contradiction between nature and anti-nature, then clearly we cannot rely solely on the application of the 'classical' categories of Marxist thought.” (pp. 102–103)
“Meanwhile, it is thanks only to the notion of a conflict-laden transition from one mode of production (that of things) to another (that of space) that it is possible to preserve the Marxist thesis of the fundamental role of the forces of production while at the same time liberating this thesis from the ideology of productivity and from the dogma of (quantitative) growth. …
“Space is becoming the principal stake of goal-directed actions and struggles.” (p. 410)

From theory to practice: spatial codes, spatial chaos, trial by space, a strategic hypothesis based on space, and the collective management of space

Against this background, Lefebvre clarifies that his concern is not only with how to analyze space (as discussed further in Part 2), but also how to think about radical change and discern a new “project” for achieving it:
“This book has been informed from beginning to end by a project, though this may at times have been discernible only by reading between the lines. I refer to the project of a different society, a different mode of production, where social practice would be governed by different conceptual determinations.” (p. 419)
Thus Lefebvre focuses on how knowledge and power may serve “hegemony” and how it then utilizes space. Indeed, he says, “The state is consolidating on a world scale” to a degree that “weighs down on society” and “crushes time” (p. 23). Accordingly, the production of space has become a means of control, if not domination, particularly for state capitalism — yet in contradictory ways that may create possibilities for eventual revolutionary change from below:
“[T]his state, born of the hegemony of a class, has as one of its functions — and a more and more significant function — the organization of space, the regularization of its flows, the control of its networks.” (p. 383)
(Social) space is a (social) product. … Many people, finding this claim paradoxical, will want proof. The more so in view of the further claim that the space thus produced also serves as a tool of thought and of action; that in addition to being a means of production it is also a means of control, and hence of domination, of power; yet that, as such, it escapes in part from those who would make use of it.” (p. 26)
What’s important, then, for both analytical and strategic purposes, is to figure out how to read space — how to “decode” space and identify the “spatial codes” that actors use. In particular, he observes that “The ideologically dominant tendency divides space up into parts and parcels” (p. 89); it works to separate all sorts of spaces from each other (e.g., public and private) and treats each as a “passive receptacle” (p. 90).

The way to counter this tendency is to construct a contrary code that will “recapture the unity of dissociated elements”:
“The reconstruction of a spatial 'code' — that is, of a language common to practice and theory, as also to inhabitants, architects and scientists — may be considered from the practical point of view to be an immediate task. The first thing such a code would do is recapture the unity of dissociated elements, breaking down such barriers as that between private and public, and identifying both confluences and oppositions in space that are at present indiscernible. It would thus bring together levels and terms which are isolated by existing spatial practice and by the ideologies underpinning it: … .” (p. 64)
Thus he shows that space is stake both for “the oppressors” who would impose their spatial codes, and for radicals who seek reform or revolution. And what’s emerging, as a result of state behavior is “a spatial chaos” — quite a concept!— from local to global levels:
“The combined result of a very strong political hegemony, a surge in the forces of production, and an inadequate control of markets, is a spatial chaos experienced at the most parochial level just as on a worldwide scale. The bourgeoisie and the capitalist system thus experience great difficulty in mastering what is at once their product and the tool of their mastery, namely space. They find themselves unable to reduce practice (the practicosensory realm, the body, social-spatial practice) to their abstract space, and hence new, spatial, contradictions arise and make themselves felt. Might not the spatial chaos engendered by capitalism, despite the power and rationality of the state, turn out to be the system's Achilles' heel?” (p.63)
To oppose this system and benefit from spatial chaos, Lefebvre recommends a new “strategic hypothesis based on space” that, he reiterates again, would bring “disassociated aspects” back together, in both theory and practice:
“[I]ts basic principle and objective is the bringing-together of dissociated aspects, the unification of disparate tendencies and factors. Inasmuch as it tries to take the planetary experiment in which humanity is engaged for what it is - that is to say, a series of separate and distinct assays of the world's space - this hypothesis sets itself up in clear opposition to the homogenizing efforts of the state, of political power, of the world market, and of the commodity world … It implies the mobilization of differences in a single movement”. (p. 64)
Where all this strategizing eventually leads is to “trial by space” — a powerful point that verges on being apocalyptic, because “no one can avoid trial by space - an ordeal which is the modern world's answer to the judgement of God or the classical conception of fate.” Or, as he elaborates more fully, in a passage I consider poetically articulate and insightful,
“Today everything that derives from history and from historical time must undergo a test. Neither 'cultures' nor the 'consciousness' of peoples, groups or even individuals can escape the loss of identity that is now added to all other besetting terrors. Points and systems of reference inherited from the past are in dissolution. Values, whether or not they have been organized into more or less coherent 'systems', crumble and clash. Sooner or later, the cultivated elites find themselves in the same situation as peoples dispossessed (alienated) through conquest and colonization. These elites find that they have lost their bearings. Why? Because nothing and no one can avoid trial by space - an ordeal which is the modern world's answer to the judgement of God or the classical conception of fate. It is in space, on a worldwide scale, that each idea of 'value' acquires or loses its distinctiveness through confrontation with the other values and ideas that it encounters there. Moreover - and more importantly - groups, classes or fractions of classes cannot constitute themselves, or recognize one another, as 'subjects' unless they generate (or produce) a space. Ideas, representations or values which do not succeed in making their mark on space, and thus generating (or producing) an appropriate morphology, will lose all pith and become mere signs, resolve themselves into abstract descriptions, or mutate into fantasies.” (pp. 416–417)
As Lefebvre keeps pushing on his two key strategic points — reuniting disassociated spaces and generating bottom-up pluralism — he notes the advisability of creating local self-managed autonomous zones outside the control of the state and its attendant networks:
“The only possibility of so altering the operation of the centralized state as to introduce (or reintroduce) a measure of pluralism lies in a challenge to central power from the 'local powers', in the capacity for action of municipal or regional forces linked directly to the territory in question. Inevitably such resistance or counter-action will tend to strengthen or create independent territorial entities capable to some degree of self-management.” (p. 382)
Finally, he addresses “the first and last question”: “How does the theory of space relate to the revolutionary movement as it exists today?” To answer, he contrasts the Soviet and Chinese approaches to space under communism — showing the former to be deeply centralized, the latter more distributed.From this he concludes that “the theory of space is capable of accounting for revolutionary experience worldwide.” And what he hopes for ideally is “The creation (or production) of a planet-wide space as the social foundation of a transformed everyday life open to myriad possibilities — such is the dawn now beginning to break on the far horizon.” (pp. 420-422)

That’s an ambitious agenda. But it’s consistent with a proposition he poses early in his book: “A revolution that does not produce a new space has not realized its full potential” (p. 54). And what he wants from such a revolution is a new system — a new space — characterized not by state capitalism or state socialism but by the “collective management of space” (pp. 102-103). It’s far from clear what he means by that phrase, but it’s not what Marxists have usually sought:
“Since, ex bypothesi, each mode of production has its own particular space, the shift from one mode to another must entail the production of a new space.” (p. 46)
“Revolution was long defined either in terms of a political change at the level of the state or else in terms of the collective or state ownership of the means of production as such (plant, equipment, industrial or agricultural entities). Under either of these definitions, revolution was understood to imply the rational organization of production and the equally rationalized management of society as a whole. In fact, however, both the theory and the project involved here have degenerated into an ideology of growth which, if it is not actually aligned with bourgeois ideology, is closely akin to it.
“Today such limited definitions of revolution no longer suffice. The transformation of society presupposes a collective ownership and management of space founded on the permanent participation of the 'interested parties', with their multiple, varied and even contradictory interests.(p. 422)
That sounds a bit like P2P theory (but not TIMN).

Closing comment

What Lefebvre theorized about social space is illuminating and impressive. It even appears to prefigure much that I read today in complexity theory, social network analysis, actor-network theory, and general systems theory, not to mention global interdependence and world systems theories — all quite remarkable given that he wrote the book in 1974. This will become more evident in Parts 2 and 3.

Building on what’s discussed above, Lefebvre proposes to develop a history and a science of space. That’s what Part 2 will be about. Along the way, he also says a lot about time, and a little about action — all apropos my STA interests. That’s what Part 3 will be about.

- - - - - -

Side notes

The book contains several notions that look interesting, but that I do not understand. One is his concept of “abstract space” — as I will elaborate in Part 2. Another is his point that “Every space is already in place before the appearance in it of actors” (p. 57). I don’t get that at all, not even after re-reading the passage.

Lefebvre offers a fascinating discussion (pp. 152–158) between an Asian/Buddhist and a Westerner about their contrasting approaches to form, structure, and function — with the Buddhist seeming more attuned to network perspectives. I mention this because the next book I’ll review — Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd’s The Time Paradox (2008) — contains a discussion between an Asian and an American about their contrasting approaches to time. Comparing the two discussions is more than I can do at this point; but it’d be illuminating for somebody to do, if it hasn’t already been done. A further reference point to include might be Richard Nisbett’s The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently ... and Why (2004). [UPDATE: For a stimulating summary and review of Nisbett’s book by blogger T. Greer, go here.]

Main sources for this post

This post is based on reading Lefebvre’s book, but not in its entirety. I found what I wanted mostly by reading Chapters 1, 2, and 7. I barely browsed Chapters 3–6 (and hope I didn’t miss anything crucial). The text is online here. The Wikipedia article about Lefebvre is here.


[UPDATE — April 29, 2014: I've made edits to reflect a change in my organization of this series.]

[UPDATE — May 17, 2014: Further edits, mostly to add two new quotes and related text.]