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Marc Augé on Non-Place

The section “From Places to Non-Places” in Marc Augé’s book Non-Places:

An Introduction to Supermodernity (1995) covers so much ground and

utilizes such varied forms of discourse that it lends itself well to disparate

schools of thought including anthropology, modern languages,

psychoanalysis, film theory, literary criticism, cultural studies, architecture

and of course, visual studies. Augé’s work is grounded in himself comes from

a structural anthropology background that he shares with based on the

works of Claude Levi-Strauss, Stuart Hall, Marcel Mauss and Émile Durkheim;

however, his references to Western literature, and literary criticism and

philosophy depict a wide breadth of influences including Charles Baudelaire,

Karl Marx and Henri Lefebvre. Use of traditional Continental philosophy

including Marxist critique through the work of Mauss, is crucial in developing

understanding Augé's cosmology of place and non-place. In an earlier

chapter of the same book Augé argues that the formation of cosmologies of

meaning is essential to the ethnologist no matter the object of study;

because of this, Augé can beis useful when researching the contemporary

moment, a moment which is followed by an immanent history that refuses

cosmological totalities through its dispersed and fragmented presentation

(25).
Augé did much of his fieldwork in the southern regions régions of the

Ivory Coast. Having now turned his attention to contemporary French and

European society, Augé’s understanding of anthropology has drawn nearer

to ethnographic study, understood as a functionalist vision of culture

(Conley, 2002). He spent years working in remote communities while the rest

of the world underwent the great cultural schisms of the late 1960’s and

early 70’s. While working with Alladian-speaking tribes speakers in the

Ivory Coast during the great European cultural schisms of the late 1960’s

and early 70’s, Augé developed abstract principles which he believed could

be applicable to more general concerns. Among these is was the concept of

ideo-logic, an over-arching theory which was a synthesis of Althusser and

Marx in that it attempted to indicate the disconnected but mutually

influential nature of religion and economy on a group’s ontological

understanding (Conley, xiii). Ideo-logic was an attempt at developing a

perforated philosophy of being, in contrast to other ethnographers’ attempts

at creating enclosed cosmologies of the observed Other, which could then

become commodified narratives of the exotic, ready for Western

consumption. Augé believed his theory of ideo-logic would allow for a place

from which the individual could critique the alienating effects that mark

consciousness in general through time as a culture’s ontology changes due

to outside influence. (Conley, xiii)

Tom Conley, in his introduction to Augé’s book In the Metro, defines

Augé’s conception of non-place as “a mix of pleasure and uneasiness of self-


suspension.” In physical terms, non-places are characterized as places of

transit, of communication and of commerce, where one can enter and leave

without having left a single trace (Augé, 64). Non-place was not entirely

original to Augé, however; the urban theorist and philosopher Henri Lefebvre

first coined the term in 1970 to denote ”an elsewhere, the non-place that has

no place and seeks a place of its own” (Lefebvre, 1970, 38) however, Augé

takes the term and successfully applies it in examination of a condition of

subjectivity as implicated by non-place .

Augé uses the term supermodernity to define, negatively, an area of

cultural practice that is still reliant on modernist ideas, like a vestigial organ.

For him, society has not gotten free of modernity, as suggested by the use of

the terms postmodernity or after-modernity; instead modernity and

postmodernity coexist in the palimpsest of supermodernity coexist.

Contemporary place, for Augé, is a construction still reliant on the layers of

ritual and industry that defined modernity—what he calls “spires and

chimneys.” Contemporary places continue to exist and be constructed

meaningfully, he says, even while places of a non-traditional anthropological

significance, or non-places, have come into existence, creating a pastiche

assemblage. These non-places are not reliant on, or necessarily integrated

with places, nor do non-places exist entirely separately from other places.

Rather, both of these manifestations (place being essentially modern and

non-place non-modern) exist in a supermodern , palimpsestic reality. This

palimpsest is what allows for new distinctions and discourse


reagrdingregarding the traditional object of anthropological study, the exotic.

At the same time the palimpsest redefines the constitutional identity of

individuals within contemporary society. Augé points out that through the

telescoping of time and the expansion of space, both of which are effects of

excess, the contemporary moment has become the exotic moment of

possibility facing an immanent historicity.

Joel Kuennen