Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Final gleanings from browsing around with Lefebvre in mind: Levin, Khatib & Lust, Weizman, Fields, Berger, Cameron, Turchin, Goffman, Collins, Fortune Society

This is the fourth and final batch of gleanings I collected by happenstance while reading and writing for the three posts about Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space.

Again, the purpose of presenting these snippets is to show that spatial orientations — some Lefebvrian, some not — crop up constantly in myriad areas, maybe just as a metaphor, but often as an analytical concept. From an STA perspective, we should become more sensitive to noticing them, plus their relations to time and action orientations. That’s the idea I’m trying to advance, for the sake of STA.

The snippets in this batch, in order of presentation, are from Yuval Levin, Lina Khatib & Ellen Lust, Eyal Weizman, Jack Fields, J.M. Berger, Charles Cameron, Peter Turchin, Erving Goffman, Randall Collins, and the Fortune Society. Some are from blogs or other sites I often browse; others I’ve never heard of before — I just got routed to them serendipitously, the case with all four batches.

This fourth batch consists mainly of snippets leftover after doing the first three posts in this series, each of which were pulled together around just one or two themes. As a result, this post is thematically jumpier than the prior three, and revolves around multiple themes: e.g., that politics (and military tactics) can create new spaces; that issues can end up in “boxes” that eventually don’t work well; that some spaces become religious or sacred; and that people try to manage impressions through front stage and backstage performances — rampage killers being an example.

* * * * *

Levin on conservatives trying to “create the space in which society can flourish”: Most of the gleanings in these posts are from people who appear to be leftists and centrists. Conservatives do express many major concerns in spatial terms, especially about government being “too big” and “exceeding its boundaries” (conservatives often seem concerned about “boundaries” in many areas of life). But it’s rare to find a conservative referring to “space” per se.

However, it happened several times during a panel where young conservatives discussed the “Future of Conservatism” at the Manhattan Institute, New York City, on March 11 (aired April 19 on C-SPAN). Particularly pertinent for this post is a long statement by conservative writer Yuval Levin, speaking about differences between the Right and the Left in American politics.

According to Levin, the Left prefers centralized, tightly managed orderliness, while the Right prefers decentralization. Thus, says Levin, “The Right’s view tends to be that the role of government is not to manage society but to create the space in which society can flourish.” Here’s the full statement:
“There is a real logic to the Left’s and the Right’s ways of thinking about the role of government in our kind of economy. And there's a real difference between them. Where the Left does tend to think in terms of managing large institutions, of seeing society as a set of systems that are disordered and that require better organization. ... The Right’s view tends to be that the role of government is not to manage society but to create the space in which society can flourish. And what that means — for society to flourish — is actually very chaotic. It looks like chaos. ... That's how innovation happens, but it's also how problem-solving happens, how people confront specific material problems in a local way, one on one, through markets, through local governments, through institutions that bubble up solutions in trial and error ways and pilot programs, not a centralized here's-the-technical answer. I think we're getting back to a place where the difference between those two things is becoming very apparent. ...
“That's why I think conservatives could be better positioned than they now seem to be to address the public’s worries in ways that make sense to voters, because people have a sense that we are living in a society that is decentralized, that offers them a huge number of options, a huge range of options. And younger people in particular like that, and expect that, and want that. You see it in the healthcare debate. The sheer consolidation of large systems that's involved in the Left’s way of thinking is not appealing to a lot of people.
“Now the Right, I think, has not offered a coherent alternative. Conservatives don't really go around saying, well, we have a view of what government does that involves creating a space and allowing people to function in that space, subsidizing their entry if they don't have market power, allowing competition to happen. That's what conservatism is in practice. But rhetorically what conservatism is just isn't that.” (source; my transcription)
That’s not very Lefebvrian — but it’s enough so to warrant including here. Besides, it helps show that, in my view of STA, being Lefebvrian means being attentive to spatial orientations in a grand sense, whether one identifies with Center, Right, or Left — being Lefebvrian doesn’t have to mean just being Leftist.

Khatib & Lust on “help preserve spaces for activism”: In another usage, a new CEIP Policy Brief by Lina Khatib & Ellen Lust, The Transformation of Arab Activism: New Contexts, Domestic Institutions, and Regional Rivalries (May 2014) argues for “preserving space for activists wherever they exist” in Arab societies (p. 1). Their understanding of past episodes of pro-democracy activism against authoritarian regimes shows the importance of social media for creating such space:
“[E]ven in the harshest authoritarian periods, activists carve out, sometimes unexpectedly, socio-political space to make demands. The nature of such public space is largely defined by pre-revolutionary structure. Certainly, social media was a public space that was largely left untouched by the authoritarian regimes. As a result, it emerged as a focal point for mobilization, aimed at garnering support from abroad (particularly in Egypt and Syria), communication within (Yemen), or both.” (pp. 2-3)
Thus they arrive at their primary recommendation for U.S. policy:
“1. Despite greater polarization and hostility towards reform among the region’s most influential actors, the U.S. must help preserve spaces for activism wherever they exist.” (p. 5)
There’s nothing particularly new here, but it helps further illustrate the extent to which spatial thinking has become an accepted part of skillful analytical discourse in policy circles. It, along with the preceding snippet from Levin, and the following one from Weizman, all speak to the significance of efforts to create space (or, in Lefebvrian words, produce space).

Weizman on the IDF’s “walking through walls”: As an old post by Charles Cameron reminded his readers at the Zenpundit blog, “our normal understanding of space” gets turned inside-out when considering Eyal Weizman’s write-up about an IDF operation in a Palestinian city, where the Israeli soldiers steadily blasted their way through walls, floors, and ceilings, not abiding by conventional notions of inside and outside, boundaries and thruways. Says Weizman, “Rather than submit to the authority of conventional spatial boundaries and logic, movement became constitutive of space” — a rather Lefebvrian notion — in a strategy (or is it a tactic?) of “walking through walls”:
“The maneuver conducted by units of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in Nablus in April 2002 was described by its commander, Brigadier General Aviv Kokhavi, as inverse geometry, the reorganization of the urban syntax by means of a series of microtactical actions. During the battle, soldiers moved within the city across hundred-meter-long “overground-tunnels” carved through a dense and contiguous urban fabric. Although several thousand soldiers and several hundred Palestinian guerrilla fighters were maneuvering simultaneously in the city, they were so “saturated” within its fabric that very few would have been visible from an aerial perspective at any given moment. Furthermore, soldiers used none of the streets, roads, alleys, or courtyards that constitute the syntax of the city, and none of the external doors, internal stairwells, and windows that constitute the order of buildings, but rather moved horizontally through party walls, and vertically through holes blasted in ceilings and floors. This form of movement, described by the military as “infestation”, sought to redefine inside as outside, and domestic interiors as thoroughfares. Rather than submit to the authority of conventional spatial boundaries and logic, movement became constitutive of space. The three-dimensional progression through walls, ceilings, and floors across the urban balk reinterpreted, short-circuited, and recomposed both architectural and urban syntax. The IDF’s strategy of “walking through walls” involved a conception of the city as not just the site, but the very medium of warfare — a flexible, almost liquid medium that is forever contingent and in flux.” (source)
This approach to battle, where “movement becomes constitutive off space”, has a postmodern feel to it, as Weizman’s full paper shows (here). It means that the “spatial turn” has extended far beyond philosophy and sociology into military operations. (However, I gather that doubts can be raised about aspects of what the paper relates.)

* * * * *

Fields on “you basically had boxes” for telecomm businesses: Many policy issues get categorized in “boxes” — a spatial orientation — that work well for some time. Then matters evolve and become so complex that a new “out of the box” approach may be required. Here’s an illustration from a discussion about the 1996 telecommunications act, as aired on a C-SPAN2 program: Jack Fields — back then he was a Representative (R-Tex) and Chair of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance — observed that,
“Telecommunications policy had not been reformed since 1934. So there was really a compelling need in 1995 to begin a process of massive telecommunications reform. And at that time you basically had boxes. You had a box for broadcasters, a box for telephone companies, a box for long distance, you know, cable, satellite. And our view was we had to come in and try to eliminate the lines of demarcation and promote competition, believing that with competition there would be innovation, there would be more investment, more consumer choice, more innovation. And, you know, fortunately, I think the result has proven us correct. That that's exactly what's happened.” (source)
How issues are put in boxes does have lots of effects. And as Fields notes, these effects are not only jurisdictional, but may also affect the incentives for competition and innovation.

Berger on the “terrorism box”: Can a “box” become too big to fail — or succeed? A blog post by terrorism expert J.M. Berger recounts a discussion with other experts where a spatial question was posed:
“Do we need a box called terrorism?” (source)
The former FBI agent who raises it argues “against having a special category of government response for terrorism” and prefers “treating terrorism as a violent crime problem”. Berger’s write-up summarizes some basic pros and cons. In favor, for example, is that an emphasis on law enforcement may help limit terrorism’s mystique and rank “small-scale terrorism more appropriately”. But on the negative side, such an approach may underplay how dangerous terrorism can be when it seeks to “upend” a system.

Thus, Berger concludes, “we need a category for terrorism”:
“That doesn't mean we should prioritize terrorism over all other crimes and social issues, far from it. But as we have different categories for assault versus attempted murder, and insubordination versus treason, we need a category for terrorism.”
This argument has been around, in one form or another, for decades. What caught my eye here was its association with “boxes” as used by government policymakers, administrators, bureaucrats, and analysts. Indeed, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created in order to organize all sorts of boxes comprehensively, perhaps more in quantity and rapidity than any other department has had to face. Shades of Pundita’s “law” as noted in the first batch of gleanings? Whether the answer is yes or no, the question that Berger and his colleauges raised still illuminates yet another way in which spatial orientations figure in our thought processes.

* * * * *

Cameron on war, peace, and religion: Some matters are too big to keep in bureaucratic boxes — they spread across all sorts of boundaries, threading through all sorts of issues areas. Religion is generally such a matter, and it arouses its own spatial meanings. Lefebvre thought so; and so did Mircea Eliade in his classic The Sacred and the Profane (1961). Apropos this, Charles Cameron, an expert on millenarian and apocalyptic trends who blogs at Zenpundit, recently fielded some expansive illuminating points about what lies ahead:
“War and peace are getting more, not less, religious as we move from the second into the third millennium.” (source)
“If religion continues to be a major element in terrorism and perhaps other forms of conflict in what remains of this century, we would do well to learn the importance of listening to and addressing the worldview of our interlocutors.” (source; ital. in orig.)
Cameron’s presentation of these propositions is not explicitly spatial, but its implications are, for it means that boxes are being burst and boundaries crossed. He is correct in calling for better attention to understanding other people’s “worldview” — that’s partly what STA can be for.

Turchin on the “sacred value” of core territories: Distinguishing between sacred and secular spaces has become a tradition. And sometimes it’s not about religion, as shown here where social-evolution theorist Peter Turchin, drawing on work by Scott Atran, links “sacred value” to geopolitical behavior in a commentary at his blog Social Evolution Forum:
“States that treat their core territories as sacred and are willing to escalate conflict to defend them, persist in the international arena, while states that treat their core territory in a rational manner are gradually eliminated. As a result, we have what might be called a coevolution of geopolitics and sacred value. Geopolitical assets become sacred values.” (source)
Territoriality is a natural motivation behind human and geopolitical behavior. Turchin fields his (and Atran’s) elaboration mainly to help with understanding the “sacred” importance of Crimea to Russians. But as he notes, it has broad application across many nations. Why some spaces /places are treated as sacred is a good question, and it’s led to a series of follow-up posts at his blog. (What I might add, with TIMN in mind, is that what is deemed sacred may well vary depending on whether people in a society are operating mainly around the tribal, institutional, market, or network form. My preliminary guesstimate is that the more tribal matters get, the more prone people are to be motivated by what’s deemed sacred. Market- and network-oriented people may be less prone to such a tendency.)

* * * * *

Goffman on front stage and backstage performances: A while ago, sociologist Brayden King, blogging at, posted a reminder about the work of Erving Goffman, the social psychologist famed for The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959). Goffman’s theory of impression management — he called it dramaturgy — included a distinction between front stage and backstage that is essentially spatial:
“He laid the foundation for a theory of impression management in that book, claiming that every individual is an actor on a stage performing for an audience. The front stage is where the performance takes place, using various impression management tools to articulate particular images to the audience, and the backstage, he argues, is where the protected self resides. Goffman believed that individuals build a strong barrier between the front and backstage, partly because the individual is vulnerable in the backstage but also in order to preserve the authenticity of the front stage performance.” (source)
While Goffman’s theory is not explicitly Lefebvrian, his frontstage-backstage distinction is significant for understanding people’s spatial orientations. It sure bears on the next two gleanings below.

Collins on “secret life” backstage behind rampage killings: Lefebvre occasionally refers to hidden, concealed, and secret spaces — enough to lead me to perk up at an idea raised by sociologist Randall Collins: beware the ”secret life” inside rampage killers. According to one of his blog posts on this,
“[T]the most distinctive clue that someone is planning a rampage killing is that they lead a secret life of amassing weapons and scripting the massacre.” (source)
A fuller quote from a follow-up post adds the following elaboration, based on an earlier post about rampage killers hiding their “secret life” plans and fantasies “backstage”:
“In a previous post [Clues to Mass Rampage Killers: Deep Backstage, Hidden Arsenal, Clandestine Excitement; posted Sept. 1, 2012], I argued that the most distinctive clue that someone is planning a rampage killing is that they lead a secret life of amassing weapons and scripting the massacre. The point is not that they acquire a lot of guns; many people do that. But mass killers keep them secret; their life becomes obsessed with plans and fantasies of the attack, and energized with the excitement of being able to dupe other people about their secret life. Foremost among those who are duped is their family.” (source)
Collins focuses on the massacre at Sandy Hook. Today, he can add the massacre at Isla Vista.

Fortune Society on how guns feel: STA’s spatial dimension is partly about how people see themselves, as subjects and/or objects, in relation to other subjects/objects in the space that concerns them. This means taking into account their sense of identity, including how big or small, connected or disconnected, etc., they feel. Thus STA’s spatial dimension is partly about how powerful and/or powerless people feel, though that starts to verge into STA’s action element.

As I dug around in a very old draft for an imagined chapter about spatial orientations, I came across a set of snippets that not only speak to that point, but also to Collin’s point above. The snippets are from a survey and report by New York’s Fortune Society, as written up by Jimmy McGinley, in “Made in the U.S.A.; Works Every Time,” New York Times, January 15, 1976, p. 33. The article is about the views of former convicts who used guns in their street crimes, and I’ve extracted remarks that best reflect STA’s spatial dimension:
“There’s a lot to it, when you carry a gun. It made me feel as if I were in command of any situation. It gave me a sense of power, not power but a sense of power. It made me feel that I was larger than I was. I felt like God and that I could determine life and death.”
“There’s a lot of power in a gun. If you feel like you’re nothing, a gun can make you feel like a king.”
“With a gun, I felt like a big shot. I felt superior.”
I’d saved them to go in a draft section about macho-megalomanic terrorists as consummate spatialists who want to project their egos/identities explosively into surrounding spaces, even onto a world stage. I’ve posted about this before (here), but without including these snippets. Now I think they are appropriate to include in this post, especially in light of Collin’s points and confirmatory events in Isla Vista.

* * * * *

That concludes this series. A look at Google stats for this blog indicates little interest in these posts about Lefebvre and social space. But I’m glad I’ve added them to the accumulation here about STA. And I expect to become gladder as I add prospective posts about time and action orientations. So I shall persist. Up next will be a series organized around a book about time orientations.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Further gleanings from browsing around with Lefebvre in mind: Gottesdiener, Bollier, Chapin, Scharmer, Rey, Wanenchak, New Left Project, Pink Noise Rev, Friedman, Sterling, Schneier

Here’s a third batch of gleanings that I collected by happenstance while doing the three posts about Lefebvre’s book The Production of Space.

Again, the purpose is to show that spatial orientations — some Lefebvrian, some not — crop up constantly in myriad areas, usually just as a metaphor but often as an analytical concept. In my STA-biased view, we’d all be well-advised to become more sensitive to noticing them, along with their relations to time and action orientations. I’m not trying to make a complex point — just trying to raise awareness of a fundament, for the sake of advancing with STA.

The materials in this batch, in order of appearance, are from Laura Gottesdiener, David Bollier, Ross Chapin, Otto Scharmer, PJ Rey, Sarah Wanenchak, New Left Project, Pink Noise Rev, Thomas Friedman, Bruce Sterling, and Bruce Schneier. A few of them I regularly follow at their blogs; others I’ve never heard of before — I just got routed to them by links at blogs I do follow, the case for all four batches. I batched these gleanings together for this post, because they raise themes about the rise of the commons and/or the impact of cyberspace.

* * * * *

Gottesdiener on community mattering as much as individualism: As further evidence of the importance of “the American story” that Zalman highlighted (in the first batch), notice a fine remark made by author activist Laura Gottesdiener during a talk about her book A Dream Foreclosed (2013):
“I'll never forget something that my Mom told me … “People who feel powerless gravitate to powerful stories because their own stories are so disempowering.” … So our challenge is to make a story that is more powerful than the current narrative. And just to remember what the current narrative is, it's a belief in competition between individuals as the driving force in history. And I'm certainly not saying that individualism is a bad thing. What I am saying is that if there is no shared community tying these individuals together, we could become no more than distrustful walking manikins who are still wearing our price tags to intimidate the others.” (source)
Her remark is not explicitly Lefebvrian, and it’s mainly about STA’s action element: “people who feel powerless” and need “a story that is more powerful than the current narrative.” Yet, there is a strong spatial content in the contrast she posits between competitive “individualism” as “the current narrative” and “shared community” as the desired narrative. Individualism and community pose different ways of organizing and valuing social space. For that reason, this quote is good as any I’ve seen lately for illustrating that ideological narratives reflect (and depend on) the spatial orientations that are embedded in them — a point Lefebvre made long ago, as noted in Part 1.

Bollier on the commons as not fitting standard “dualities”: Commons-advocate David Bollier also makes a somewhat Lefebvrian point, when he observes that the concept of the commons “scrambles” and “blends” many of the ingrained “dualities” that have come to rule public policy discourse:
“[T]he commons scrambles many of the familiar categories of modern political thought and worldviews. The dualities of public/private, collective/individual and objective/subjective simply do not apply in the commons because the commons blends these concepts into a different kind of social organism. For example, by requiring commoners to interact directly with the more-than-human world, commoning helps us see that we are intimately connected with “nature”; it is not an inert resource and “other.” The point of moving beyond homo economicus is to get beyond its empirically inaccurate, reductionist and politically regressive categories.” (source)
He does not refer explicitly to space here, but I know from other readings that he and his fellow visionaries do indeed regard the commons (and peer-to-peer relations) as an emerging social space of its own, one that will increasingly reshape other social spaces. And the points he makes about “dualities” are thoroughly reminiscent of Lefebvre (as laid out in Part 2 of this series). Bollier criticizes the “collective/individual” duality that bothers Gottesdiener as well.

Chapin on the importance of “pocket neighborhoods”: Answering interview questions, architect activist Ross Chapin advocates that people form into “pocket neighborhoods” and “claim the space around us” as a commons in order to feel at home without fear:
“Can you explain how the commons influences your design for pocket neighborhoods?
“In pocket neighborhoods, a small cluster of households is situated around a shared commons. This small-scale setting is what makes them work. The commons is a “pocket” set apart from cars and traffic, and because of this, it is safe and sociable. …
What do you see as the biggest obstacle to creating a commons-based society right now?
“Simply stated, it’s fear. Until we truly have a sense of “being home” and of “belonging” to a place and a community, there will be an underlying sense of fear. In response, we strike out to claim the space around us, including all the useful resources within reach. This of course, is the existential quandary of our time.” (source)
That’s a thoroughly spatial view. Architects normally think and talk in spatial terms anyway. But tying “pocket neighborhoods” to “the commons” is an apropos touch for this post. His points about easing fear and enhancing belonging also relate to other gleanings in this series, notably Brin’s (in the second batch).

Scharmer on “Capitalism 4.0” and the commons: Speculation abounds these days about prospective new kinds of capitalism — whether called 3.0, 4.0, or something else. Here, MIT-based innovator Otto Scharmer outlines an evolutionary progression from capitalism 1.0 to capitalism 4.0. Apropos this post, he not only brings in “cultivating our commons” but also touches on Lefebvrian notions about overcoming “false dichotomies of the past”, creating new spaces (“sectors”), and expanding actors’ spatial horizons from narrow “ego-system (2.0)” to expansive “eco-system awareness (4.0)”:
“So my first takeaway is this: Traditional right-left polarization keeps the political discourse locked into false dichotomies of the past. …
“So here is another view that frames our current situation in the context of four logics and paradigms of economic thought. They all respond to the basic coordination problem of our modern economies, but in a different way.
1.0: Organizing around centralized power: state and central planning → giving rise to socialist and mercantilist economies (single sector)
2.0: Organizing around decentralized power: markets and competition → giving rise to entrepreneurs and the private sector (two sectors: public, private)
3.0: Organizing around special interest groups: negotiation and dialogue → giving rise to the NGO sector (three sectors, conflicting: public, private, civic)
4.0: Organizing around shared awareness and cultivating our commons → giving rise to co-creative relationships among the three sectors (government, business, civil society) in order to innovate at the scale of the whole system.
“These four logics mirror four different stages of economic development. Each earlier stage is included in the later ones. As economies move from 1.0 to 2.0, 3.0, and now possibly to 4.0, the consciousness of the human economic actors also evolves from traditional (1.0), to ego-system awareness (2.0), to stakeholder awareness (3.0), and to an eco-system awareness (4.0) that we see beginning today.
“The problem of our current economic debate is that we are trying to solve 21st -century problems with 19th- and 20th- century economic thought. That is: our discourse is stuck between "more markets and free enterprise" (2.0) and "more regulation and government" (3.0). In reality, neither of these approaches will suffice.” (source)
Besides being apropos STA, that also sounds a lot like TIMN (as well as P2P theory) — from his initial evolutionary lay-out, to his final advice that problem-solving move beyond old government–vs.–market discourse.

* * * * *

Rey on “information as occupying space”: The growth of cyberspace keeps raising issues about relations between the virtual and the physical. Here, Cyborgology blogger PJ Rey observes that cyberspace is something of a myth, a fantasy — yet the ways that we “imagine information as occupying space” are proving “cognitively necessary.”
“We begin to imagine information as occupying space and then imagine this space as something that can be traversed and experienced, an alternate geography that provides a new path to reach the other person on the line. And though we know we are indulging in a fantasy, we can’t help but take it seriously. Sterling captures this when he writes: “Although it is not exactly ‘real,’ ‘cyberspace’ is a genuine place … This ‘place’ is not ‘real,’ but it is serious, it is earnest.”
The fantasy of cyberspace is “serious” because it is cognitively necessary. It relieves us of the burden of having to parse the seemingly infinite complexity of the systems that make such communication possible.” (source)
Wanenchak on “our space”: Another Cyborgology blogger Sarah Wanenchak writes about “the complex interplay between physical and digital” regarding an on-line harassment incident during a real-world conference. The incident was treated as “an action with symbolic power that had feet solidly in both “spaces” — which were really a single space — from which this person was both physically and symbolically removed.” The incident affected how participants “perceive the spaces they were in.” It prompts her to insist that “This is our space – our space” — in terms of responsibility, obligation, and community.
“It’s also worth noting that, adding to the complex interplay between physical and digital that was a fundamental part of the incident in question, the removal (“blocking”, even) of the person from the physical space was recorded and shared and discussed via social media. People saw it, and they talked about what they saw and how it made them feel and how it made them perceive the spaces they were in. The significance of that can be interpreted as an action with symbolic power that had feet solidly in both “spaces” – which were really a single space – from which this person was both physically and symbolically removed. The sheer complexity of all of this makes it even more important – and potentially more challenging – to consider our actions and their meanings carefully, on all levels. …
“This is our space – our space. Not in the sense of ownership but in the sense of responsibility and obligation. And it’s also our space in the sense of community, something that extends beyond any core group and into the hands of everyone who participates. Something that we all help to create. I think we’re still in the process of figuring out exactly what all of that entails.” (source)
New Left Project on “the territorialised place and the deterritorialised network”: A feed from the P2P Foundation blog led me to this and the next gleaning at sites that are not on my normal browsing list but prove relevant for this post. This article about the Occupy movement points out “its spatialities” — its reliance on occupying real places, e.g., city parks and squares, plus its networked structure, so “horizontal” that it “lacks a centre”, and so skilled at modern communications that is has been able “to globalise and overcome spatial barriers”. The key point is that “These two spatialities, of the territorialised place and the deterritorialised network, can support each other” and thereby enable “multiple simultaneous occupations”.
“For many activists and academics interested in the autonomous movements of recent years, their proliferation has largely been down to their operations within a networked structure. The network is horizontal, embodying the key anti-hierarchical tendency of autonomy. Moreover, it lacks a centre and is thus resistant to external agents who seek to co-opt and dismantle it. Finally, its use of modern communication technologies has allowed it to globalise and overcome spatial barriers.
“However an occupation cannot exist solely on the basis of this deterritorialised network, as some prominent voices have suggested (Hardt and Negri, 2004). Many of the activists are mobilised on the back of place-based struggles, e.g. at the work place, in which they develop strong-tie relations and build the confidence and skills necessary to participate. Moreover, the act of occupying relies on a strong embeddedness in a particular territory, in which activists are forced to put down some roots, if only temporarily. Indeed many occupations can soon become a struggle over the territorial politics of place.
“These two spatialities, of the territorialised place and the deterritorialised network, can support each other. Most occupations tend to rely on online networking to gain broad support and publicise their message. Moreover the space of the occupation can act as a useful meeting point for diverse networks to encounter each other and discuss strategy. The call to “occupy everything”, is rather a strategy of multiple simultaneous occupations, embedded in particular territories, but brought together through a wider network.” (source)
That call for “multiple simultaneous occupations” verges on a call for a swarming strategy.

Pink Noise Rev on “opening new spaces for confrontation”: This collective statement from Pink Noise Rev, which is associated with the “15-M” movement in Spain, reads on the cutting-edge of pro-democracy protest strategizing attuned to the network age. The main (but not only) reference to space is the phrase about “opening new spaces for confrontation”:
“The fact is that since the birth of 15M, we’ve spent more than two years experimenting with radically new modes of mass organization. Crowds capable of synchronizing en masse, to attack or to defend themselves at specific moments and with blinding speed; initiatives that detach from the movement at strategic junctures to then develop on their own, opening new spaces for confrontation; mechanisms capable of mobilising huge sectors of the population when they’re most needed … new forms of mobilisation that have come to stay. We’re rehearsing the mass social self-organisation methods of the future, and we’ve managed to create a scenario for hegemony and social conflict the likes of which we’d never have imagined. An understanding of the organisational models that have led us here is paramount for forging ahead.” (source)
Like the prior gleaning, this too verges on being a statement in favor of swarming, but without using that term.

Friedman on networked “Square People”: In a pair of op-eds, Thomas Friedman fielded a term — “Square People” — to name the new generation of information-age pro-democracy activists who keep mobilizing in city squares and parks around the world. His term harks back to terms that activists have used before, e.g. “Global Square” and “Global Street”, to name the virtual and physical terrain they’re fighting on, and for. What’s pertinent here is that it’s such a spatial term, in tune with the “spatial turn” in postmodern philosophy, sociology, and networked social activism.
“[A] new global political force is aborning, bigger and more important than Davos Men. I call them The Square People.
“They are mostly young, aspiring to a higher standard of living and more liberty, seeking either reform or revolution (depending on their existing government), connected to one another either by massing in squares or through virtual squares or both, and united less by a common program and more by a shared direction they want their societies to go. We’ve seen them now in the squares of Tunis, Cairo, Istanbul, New Delhi, Damascus, Tripoli, Beirut, Sana, Tehran, Moscow, Rio, Tel Aviv and Kiev, as well as in the virtual squares of Saudi Arabia, China and Vietnam.” (source)
“Indeed, “The Square” — as the place for these newly networked political forces to gather, collaborate and pressure for change — is truly disrupting both traditional politics and geopolitics. But the big thing to watch going forward is which Square People can go from disruption to construction — can take the energy and inchoate aspirations of their Square followers and turn them into parties, elections and better governance. …
“This failure to translate their aspirations into parties that could contest elections and then govern is the Achilles’ heel of The Square People — from Tahrir Square to Occupy Wall Street. …
“Without Square People, no change is possible in these countries, but without civil society institutions and inclusive politics, no change is sustainable.” (source)
From a TIMN standpoint, Friedman’s Square People are tantamount to +N People. It’s not at all clear that they are bound to fail if their efforts don’t convert into “parties that could contest elections and then govern”. But that’s a topic for TIMN; I better stick to STA here.

* * * * *

Sterling on “the Stacks”: Silos and stove-pipes are common metaphors for characterizing self-contained vertical hierarchies that have difficulty networking — as Pundita indicated in the first set of gleanings. Here, futurist Bruce Sterling adds the “Stack” as a metaphor to depict corporate social media based on the Internet:
"[There's] a new phenomena that I like to call the Stacks [vertically integrated social media]. And we've got five of them -- Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft. The future of the stacks is basically to take over the internet and render it irrelevant. They're not hostile to the internet -- they're just [looking after] their own situation. And they all think they'll be the one Stack... and render the others irrelevant. And they'll all be rendered irrelevant. That's the future of the Stacks.” (source)
That metaphor may not catch on for long, but it provides further evidence of the significance of spatial thinking — with Friedman’s “Square People” and Sterling’s “Stacks” as a contrast.

Schneier on “feudalism” in cyberspace: Computer security technologist Bruce Schneier has warned for years that government and corporate actors are behaving in cyberspace in ways that add up to a new kind of feudalism. In this instance, he does so by depicting an “epic battle for power in cyberspace.” On one side are government and corporate powers; and “On the other are the distributed and nimble: grassroots movements, dissident groups, hackers, and criminals.” He doesn’t use explicitly spatial terminology, but his key point — “I have previously characterized this model of computing as "feudal"” — is spatially evocative, both as “metaphor” and “model”, and seems potentially inherently Lefebvrian.
“We're in the middle of an epic battle for power in cyberspace. On one side are the traditional, organized, institutional powers such as governments and large multinational corporations. On the other are the distributed and nimble: grassroots movements, dissident groups, hackers, and criminals. Initially, the Internet empowered the second side. It gave them a place to coordinate and communicate efficiently, and made them seem unbeatable. But now, the more traditional institutional powers are winning, and winning big. How these two sides fare in the long term, and the fate of the rest of us who don't fall into either group, is an open question -- and one vitally important to the future of the Internet. …
“I have previously characterized this model of computing as "feudal." Users pledge their allegiance to more powerful companies who, in turn, promise to protect them from both sysadmin duties and security threats. It's a metaphor that's rich in history and in fiction, and a model that's increasingly permeating computing today.
“Medieval feudalism was a hierarchical political system, with obligations in both directions. Lords offered protection, and vassals offered service. The lord-peasant relationship was similar, with a much greater power differential. It was a response to a dangerous world.” (source)
Schneier’s warnings about the advent of postmodern feudalism fit with gleanings in the first batch about the “deep state” and just above about “Stacks” as information-age fiefdoms. His warnings also raise the prospect of conflicts between the Stacks and Square People — or, to put it in TIMN terms, between +I and +N forces. It’s becoming the spatial drama of our time.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

More gleanings from browsing around with Lefebvre in mind: Ricks, Porter, Orwell, McCluhan, Graham, Brin

[UPDATE — May 22, 2014: Edited to make the title more specific and soften some text.]

Here’s a second batch of gleanings garnered by happenstance while doing the three prior posts on Lefebvre’s book The Production of Space.

Again, my purpose is to show that spatial orientations — some Lefebvrian, some less so — crop up all the time, in myriad areas. In my STA-biased view, we’d be well-advised to become more sensitive to noticing them and their relations to/with time and action orientations. I’m not trying to make a complex point here; I’m just trying to raise awareness of a fundament.

The materials I highlight in this batch, in order of appearance, are from Thomas Ricks, Patrick Porter, George Orwell, Marshall McCluhan, Stephen Graham, and David Brin. I’ve clustered them together mainly because they happen to raise related themes about national security strategy.

* * * * *

Ricks on strategy and the blurring of boundaries: Spatial matters always crop up in discussions about strategy — e.g., who’s big/small, who’s near/far, who is/isn’t connected. Strategy is viewed traditionally as the art of relating ends, ways, and means. I’d add that strategy may also be viewed in STA terms: as the art of relating space, time, and action factors — thus analysts and strategists should keep an eye out for how space, time, and action factors figure together in strategic formulations.

While drafting my series about Lefebvre post, I came across an announcement of a new project on The Future of War. It appeared at a blog I admire, observing at unusual length that:
“Taken together, recent changes both in the technological drivers of warfare and the enemies we face have erased the boundaries between what we have traditionally regarded as "war" and "peace," military and civilian, foreign and domestic, and national and international.” (source)
That trends have blurred all sorts of boundaries (a somewhat-Lefebvrian point) is important to include in such a study. But why make this such an emphatic opening point about the entire future of war? It's a mostly mundane point by now. And not so much because Lefebvre raised it forty years ago, but more because Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye did so as well back then.

Their seminal writings — notably Transnational Relations and World Politics (1972), and Power and Interdependence: World Politics in Transition (1977) — illuminated many spatial (and temporal) reconfigurations that were starting to take hold in the 1970s. Accordingly, the old state-centric balance-of-power paradigm was giving way to the rise of “complex global interdependence”: i.e., the global diffusion of power, the erosion of both national sovereignty and international hierarchy, the growth of transnational economics and communications, the internationalization of domestic policy, the blurring and the fusion of domestic and foreign policy, the rise of multilateral diplomacy, and the need to broaden security concepts beyond their military dimensions. All points still worth making today, to a degree.

It is striking that the early 1970s produced such seminal writings about the changing nature of social space (and time) by such far-apart theorists — Lefebvre on the one hand, Keohane and Nye on the other. But it is also dulling that the same observations are constantly repeated and reiterated today. Sure, such ideas and observations, keenly sensed early on, do take decades to unfold, and need to be taken into account. But I fret at seeing them made into a litany; for it may be another sign that American capacity for strategic thinking is getting a little too patterned, even stuck.

Porter on “strategic space” and “the global village myth”: The importance of spatial perceptions for strategy shines more brightly in a blog post by Patrick Porter, advocating that “It’s Time to Abandon the Global Village Myth”:
“The world is increasingly dangerous, we are told, because technology has made it smaller. In this “global village,” the costs of transport and communications have fallen to the point where predators have easy access to our vulnerable points. …
“But the world is not small. Technology may accelerate movement and compress physical space. But it does not necessarily shrink strategic space, the ability to project power affordably across the earth.”
He thus raises concerns that the global-village optic and attendant fears are having adverse, misleading effects on our sense and practice of strategy:
“In the name of taming the dangerous “Global Village,” governments resort to anticipatory war, extraordinary rendition, torture, continual drone strikes and mass surveillance. Instead of containing threats in pursuit of affordable security, the US-led coalition sought to eradicate them in pursuit of absolute security. It set out to destroy rogue regimes, fix broken states, to wipe out terrorism itself. …
“… Fear of the “small world” has driven the United States and other countries to the dangerous attempt not to contain threats, but rather to eradicate them.
“At home, the same fear has thrown off the delicate balance between the principles of security and liberty, damaging habeas corpus and spawning state surveillance that our forbears would find absurd. Crusading for democracy abroad has endangered it at home.”
Indeed, using terrorism as an example, Porter argues that “A closer look shows that the belief in a small world misconceives the security environment.” And his concerns are broader than terrorism, as in a point about “strategic space” that he deems particularly applicable “along Asia’s maritime peripheries”:
“Strategic space is not a politically uncontested thoroughfare of climate and terrain simply to be moved through. (That is not even true of tourism!) Space is a medium into which other humans intrude, through which (and for which) violent political struggle takes place. Amidst the white noise of globalisation rhetoric, this distinction has been lost.”
Thus he concludes with advice to abandon the myth of the global village:
“At the core of the “small world” argument is this myth, that technology mechanically transforms the world independent of human politics and the struggle for power.
“Projecting power affordably over space is now more difficult, not less. This constrains the superpower and its adversaries. It makes us all less powerful, but more secure, than we think. It’s time to abandon the Global Village Myth.”
Porter’s idea of “strategic space” is quite different from Lefebvre’s. Yet they both observe that the world is becoming both larger and smaller, at the same time and in different ways. Porter, somewhat à la Lefebvre, also notices the returning importance of “the wall” in physical as well as digital domains.

Orwell on distance and nationalism: Porter noted that the “global village” concept has a deep history. (A quick Google search reveals statements back into the 1850s about how the world is becoming smaller as a result of one technology advance or another in transportation and/or communications.)

In particular, Porter cites dramatic remarks by George Orwell that were new to me. So I dug up the full quote from Orwell’s Tribune column, “As I please”, May 12 1944:
“Reading recently a batch of rather shallowly optimistic ‘progressive’ books, I was struck by the automatic way in which people go on repeating certain phrases which were fashionable before 1914. Two great favourites are ‘the abolition of distance’ and ‘the disappearance of frontiers’. I do not know how often I have met with the statements that ‘the aeroplane and the radio have abolished distance’ and ‘all parts of the world are now interdependent’.
“Actually, the effect of modern inventions has been to increase nationalism, to make travel enormously more difficult, to cut down the means of communication between one country and another, and to make the various parts of the world less, not more dependent on one another for food and manufactured goods. This is not the result of the war. The same tendencies had been at work ever since 1918, though they were intensified after the World Depression.” (source)
Orwell does not explicitly refer to the “the global village” here, and some points are debatable. Yet he does indeed raise STAish questions about shifts in spatial and temporal orientations — ones that are still being raised by commentators today. Besides, I like his TIMNish reference to increased nationalism, for it’s a variant of tribalism.

McCluhan on allatonceness, the global village, and tribalism: More to the point, for me, Porter’s reference to the “global village” immediately recalls famous remarks by Marshall McCluhan (1967):
“Electric circuitry has overthrown the regime of ‘time’ and ‘space’ and pours upon us instantly and continuously concerns of all other men. It has reconstituted dialogue on a global scale. Its message is Total Change, ending psychic, social, economic, and political parochialism. …
“Ours is a brand-new world of allatonceness. ‘Time’ has ceased, ‘space’ has vanished. We now live in a global village … a simultaneous happening. We are back in acoustic space. We have begun again to structure the primordial feeling, the tribal emotions from which a few centuries of literacy divorce us.” (pp. 16 and 63)
McLuhan popularized the concept global village more than anyone else. And from an STA standpoint, it’s interesting how loaded that quote is with space and time orientations — some of them debatable, but still offering parallels to Lefebvre’s thinking. Notice that McLuhan too expects a revival of tribalism — a further overlap with TIMN.

Graham on space, time, globalization, and tribalization: Browsing around, I also came across a keen paper by Stephen Graham on ”The end of geography or the explosion of place? Conceptualizing space, place and information technology” (1998). Graham writes, citing Gregory Staple’s TeleGeography (1993), that:
“The complex articulations between the local and global dynamics of both material places and electronic spaces have recently been explored by Staple (1993). He believes that the Internet and other communications technologies, far from simply collapsing spatial barriers, actually have a dialectic effect, helping to compress time and space barriers while, concurrently, supporting a localizing, fragmenting logic of `tribalization'. Far from unifying all within a single cyberspace, the Internet, he argues, may actually enhance the commitment of different social and cultural interest groups to particular material places and electronic spaces, thus constituting a `geographical explosion of place' (Staple, 1993: 52). This `new tribalism', exemplified by the use of the Internet to support complex diasporas across the globe, and to draw together multiple, fragmentary special interest groups on a planetary basis, `folds' localities, cities and regions into `the new electronic terrain' (Staple, 1993: 52).” (pp. 174-175)
There it is again, in Graham, as in Orwell and Mcluhan, not to mention in Porter as well: that keen point that the compression of time and space orientations may have contradictory effects. In particular, it may foster tribalism as well as globalism. I’m not sure how Lefebvrian a point that is, but The Production of Space is keen on how global and local forces are interlaced in dialectical ways.

* * * * *

Brin on spatial (and temporal) horizons affecting fear levels: According to Porter, our sense of a smaller world — a global village — makes us more fearful about terrorism and other threats that once seemed far away. Futurist David Brin offered parallel observations at his engaging blog a while back. His emphasis was on the spatial and temporal “horizons” we have and how that affects our level of fear:
“When the ambient fear level is high, as in civil war-riven Lebanon, loyalties are kept close to home. Me against my brother. My brother and me against our cousins. We and our cousins against the world. Alliances merge and are broken quickly, along a sliding scale that appears to be remarkably consistent. The general trend seems to be this: the lower the ambient fear level declines, the more broadly a human being appears willing to define those tribal boundaries, and the more generous he or she is willing to be toward the stranger. …
“My contention is simple, that there exists an inverse correlation between ambient fear levels and the distance -- in terms of space, time and kinship -- of the "horizons” maintained by average members of a given culture.” (source)
Whether or not his points are particularly Lefebvrian, they, like others here, help show that spatial horizons make a difference and crop up in myriad subtle ways. Besides, from a TIMN perspective, I appreciate that Brin too relates his spatial points to feelings about tribal kinship.