[Image: An Iraqi boy squeezes through a gap in a stretch of security barrier erected in Baghdad's Azamiyah neighborhood. Photo via SFGate.]
Michel Foucault outlines the notion of heterotopia on three occasions: first, in his preface to Les Mots et les Choses (The Order of Things) published in 1966, second; during the same year, in a radio broadcast as part of a series on the theme of utopia and literature and finally; in a lecture (Of Other Spaces) presented in 1967.
In his radio talk Michel Foucault reflects on the possibility of studying systematically a range of ‘different spaces’ that somehow challenge or contest the space we all live in. As such he institutes the authority of negotiating heterotopias (as apposed to utopias), the authority of negotiating ‘absolutely other spaces’ (Foucault, 1966).
These absolutely other spaces are categorised - following Foucault’s writing - in stages of ‘otherness’. The way these spaces are curated in a built-up landscape is intrinsically connected to indigenous cultural phenomena particular to the site and the people using it. (Prisons, graveyards, cruise ships, honeymoon suites). However in their spatial performance they are in clear dichotomy with their immediate environment.
In today’s urban environments, sited in network, the notion of place (as described by Marc Augé and Michel de Certeau) has a reduced capacity to designate ’fixedness’ or instigate the notion of an absolute emplacement. When we look at a site, a location, a place, its intrinsic character is defined through relations of proximity connecting a network of information such as climate, program, history and socio-political organisational substrata, as such gaining contextual relevance. Place in itself is thus inevitably relational to its surrounding. Yet in these current environments of connective-ness, where a multitude of indigenous elements start to overlap and intersect, relational proximity start to show signs of an absolute vastness. In the creation of places the relational strategies applied in setting up a contextual relevance surpass the scale of a village, surpass the scale of a city and in most cases surpasses the scale of a continent and with it its cultures.
This inevitably requires a repositioning of the places we live in and the way we assume emplacement.
As the contextual entanglement is more and more subject to the notion of super connections, places in the way they connect to a context, instigate simultaneous qualities of distant and near, dislodged and integrated, connected and disconnected nurturing a holistic field of connected other-spaces as a dessert plateau cracked under radiating solar heat.
This field could instigate a counter-stream against ongoing processes of homogenisation and standardisation as old modern concepts in the production process (of more or less anything). This radiating heat could come from a source of singularisation supporting specific ‘otherness’ yet connected in a maze, establishing a world of individualised clusters yet connected and related in an intra-continental constellation of identities.
Article by Ephraim Joris