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Social Theory of Space: Architecture and the Production of Self, Culture, and Society

Author(s): John Archer

Source: Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 64, No. 4 (Dec., 2005), pp. 430-
Published by: University of California Press on behalf of the Society of Architectural Historians
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25068197 .
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physics and chemistry (aesthetics), and sociology of Counter-Insurgency," Subaltern Studies II:Writings on South Asian
biology (psychology), History
(ethics). and Society (1983), 1-42.
4. See part 3, "The Territory of the Historian," in Jacques Revel and Lynn 5. Jean-Fran?ois Lyotard, Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime (Stanford,
Hunt, eds., Histories: French Constructions of the Past, trans. Arthur Gold 1994), 133.
hammer et al. (New York, 1995). See also Ranajit Guha, "The Prose of 6.1 use this word as the title of my next book, on built infrastruc
in Guha and Gaya tri Spivak, eds., Selected Subaltern tures and theories of wealth in the history of modernity: "ParaArchitec
Studies (New York, tures: TransNational HaHas
1988), 345-88; orig. pub. as Ranajit Guha, "The Prose and Other Archaeologies of Capital."

Social Theory of Space:

Architecture and the Production of Self, Culture, and Society

University of Minnesota

In 1989, geographer Edward Soja contended that, for at human systems was central to the work of Emile
least a century, time and history had been privileged over Durkheim, who in analyzing the physical spaces of Australian
space in the conduct of Western social science.1 While and Native American cultures demarcated the role of those
Soja's position may have been overstated, it formally recog spaces in the articulation of social relations (such as in clans),
nized intensifying attention to the critical role of space in consciousness, and Durkeim's work set the
cosmology.5 stage
the conduct of society itself. In architectural to follow,
history, too, for much structuralist
approach that?
there has been a growing recognition of the instrumental unlike the phenomenologists' insistence that space isproduced
ity of built space (buildings, cities, landscapes) in such by the person?constantly contended with the danger of
diverse facets of human life as cognition, selfhood, social determinism, that is, understanding specific material envi
and ideological relations, economy, politics, and power. ronments as capable of
inculcating specific beliefs and prac
Inquiries into that complex instrumentality of built space tices.Michel Foucault offered a partial, and
highly influential,
have been ongoing inmany disciplines since the beginning corrective to this in his of not as
problem analysis buildings
of the twentieth with that have instruments of consciousness or as of social rela
century, consequences prescriptive
become critical to the pursuit and understanding of archi tions, but rather as capable of deploying power. Exploring
history. This essay represents a
sampling of some of the manner inwhich specific building types and designs both
the more influential strands of those inquiries. afford and deny specific practices, Foucault underscored the
The role of the material environment in artic of material form in the transmission of
physical, instrumentality
human consciousness, and thus in of power: built became an for fash
ulating making meaning, regimes space apparatus
was a critical factor in the work of both Edmund Husserl
ioning ranks and roles of people in society.6
and Maurice
Merleau-Ponty.2 For these
phenomenologists, Foucault did not entirely resolve the determinist
who were concerned with the manner in which the human dilemma. From a Foucauldian of
perspective, regimes
was in its own of a crucial mat as materialized in built articulate
body right productive space, power, space, primarily
ter was the process by which the specific material fabric of the relations that govern the people who inhabit that space;
space structured
bodily orientation and human conscious
they do not prescribe personal consciousness or
ness. Martin in his discussion of building as a these are and influenced
Heidegger, (although surely shaped by the
process of gathering and presencing, explored the oppor relations of power that obtain). Nevertheless, Foucault's

tunity that architecture afforded people to dwell?with con account affords scant room for
personal agency in the face
siderable spiritual, metaphysical, and corporeal importance of the extent and durability of the architectural apparatus.
being attendant on that word.3 Complementary efforts by Change is possible, but only over considerable spans of time
pragmatists such as George Lakoff andMark Johnson have and/or on a scale. In contrast, Allen Feldman
extended further the understanding of built space (and its has shown in his study of resisters incarcerated by the
relation to the body) as a fundamental instrument in the British inNorthern Ireland that the most rigid of architec
articulation of consciousness, and tural confines do not erase and in fact afford
understanding, identity.4 agency, oppor

Empirical analysis of the instrumentality of built space in tunity to further political ends.7

430 JSAH / 64:4, DECEMBER 2005

Another poststructuralist seeking to understand how ings
to suit the new circumstances, or revision of the habi

space both serves and informs human consciousness, prac tus to suit new conditions. Agency remains very possible,
tice, and society, Pierre Bourdieu approached the problem yet the habitus is durable: the presumption remains that
with amore complex methodology. He not only undertook change
will not occur unless there is a
in circum

ethnographic analysis of correspondences between built stances, or unless the habitus is poorly matched to the envi
space and social practices and beliefs (amethodology long ronment to begin with.
among structuralists), but also
a more The specific role of built space in sustaining (and evolv
sophisticated theorization of the process by which those cor ing) the economic apparatus, especially its role in the accu
respondences came to be sustained in the interests of indi mulation of capital and thus in the production of class
viduals as well as the larger society. To this end, Bourdieu relations, has been the sustained focus of Marxist geogra
offered the notion of the habitus, a set of personally held dis phers, such as David Harvey, who has addressed multiple
positions around which a person's thought and activities are dimensions of the urban fabric in his analysis. These range
Among other things,
the habitus encompasses from its use as a symbolic and material implement for the
two complementary relations between the self and built demarcation of class and the (re)production of capital, to its
space: first, spatial form as an apparatus through which peo as a site of resistance.9 Still, the
potential analysis of build
ple establish identity and articulate social relations; and sec ings per se often has been among the weaker aspects of
ond, the enduring capacity of buildings to sustain, protect, Marxist studies, in part because of the imperative to address
and perpetuate those identities and social relations. More broad-scale relations of class and capital. Here and across

specifically, the habitus is each person's set of cognitive and the social sciences, the term "space" frequently becomes

motivating structures, according

to which that person fash dissociated from material structures and their analysis,
ions knowledge and initiates activity, not least in regard to referring instead to the general nexus of social relations. In
relations between self and built space. Since these relations spite of such considerations, the work of Henri Lefebvre
are predicated on particular configurations of built space (for stands out. Seeking to evolve aMarxist approach adapted

example, a certain room or building type may be reserved to the shifting nature of capitalism itself, he explored both
for a specific class or gender; a building's orientation may historicallyand analytically the role of space in shaping and
conform to a
given cosmology),
one's dispositions
are inex
sustaining human society. He argued that by producing space
tricably anchored there. Thus built space becomes the ref through design and daily practice, humans implement the
erence system within which knowledge is produced and imperatives of economy and ideology; as these imperatives
applied, the physical forms according to which people estab evolve over time, so does the fundamental nature of the
lish and discipline their lives. Built spaces both "shape the space that humans produce. Lefebvre also explored the
dispositions constituting social identity" and naturalize those modes by which people articulate the terms inwhich space
dispositions within society.8 is understood and lived. Thus in analyzing "representational
Bourdieu's approach affords the architectural historian space," that is, "space which the imagination seeks to
a fertile theorization of the often subtle and intimate rela change and appropriate," he not
only construed space as a

tions that obtain between the built environment and human functional apparatus that is necessarily engaged in systems
existence: how such things
type, orientation, plan, vol of meaning, but also proposed those systems of meaning as
ume, scale, enclosure, light, color, and pattern first articu
establishing its very functions.10
late, and then sustain, such dimensions of human life as One of the principal stages that Lefebvre identified in
consciousness, identity, occupation, status, gender, wealth, the historical evolution of space was "differential space," a
class, caste, and
Within a
given social context one's stage that he described in terms of a Hegelian dialectic.
habitus?the set of dispositions that one may hold individ "Differential space" would be possible, and obtain, after the

ually or in common with members of various groups and contradictions of modernist-Enlightenment-capitalist space
strata?is reinforced by recognizing the potentialities and resulted in the demise of the present mode of spatial rela
limits in the built environment that engage those disposi tions. But particulars of such differential space, or of the
tions. Built environment and habitus mutually sustain each play of difference within it, are scarce in Lefebvre's writing.
other, but neither has absolute control over the other. They are found more readily inwritings on gender and race
Changing circumstances (such as evolving technology, or in space. Feminist social history and geography have
the intrusion of new political or economic forces) may, for explored not only the manner in which space is differen
example, undermine the relations sustained by
set of
tially gendered (see, for example, the work of Elizabeth
buildings, thus occasioning either alterations to the build Wilson and Gillian Rose11), but perhaps more importantly


have addressed the differential nature of space according to architecture is thus strengthened and expanded by atten
who is inhabiting itwhen. Such an understanding of space tion to concerns such as those identified here: the contin
as contingent, stressing "the construction of specificity gency of human
consciousness and identity on the
through interrelations," is central to the work of Doreen configuration of the built environment, the capacity of
Massey.12 Instead of understanding space as defined by dis built space to sustain (or confront) belief, the articulation
crete objects and boundaries, her approach opens the door of human difference (or its suppression, or its negation) in
to recognizing the differing ways inwhich people varying in concert with the terms inwhich space is produced, and the
class, and race a site or role of architecture in the furtherance of
gender, age, apprehend given locale, economy, power,
the distinct historiesthat each of them brings to it, and thus and
the different purposes and significances that a given locale Still, architectural history has the potential to engage
may have.13 In a complementary way, bell hooks, in her dis more fully in the historical and critical analysis of the cul
cussions of homeplace and marginality, has delineated both tures in which the objects of its
study reside, indeed in
the manner inwhich black women can utilize certain spaces advancing the understanding of architecture as an integral
to realize a specific social role and
identity, and the manner component of human
existence?personal, social, spiritual,
in which a given space affords differential and metaphysical. Much work in architectural
identities, history has
depending on the race of the inhabitant.14 addressed buildings as only the passive handmaidens of
Finally, Gilles Deleuze and F?lix Guattari offer a the other interests and forces in society. A given building may
oretical meta-apparatus for the
understanding of space be analyzed only as a "reflection" of certain political inter
that, because its standpoint is distanced from the immedi ests, economic imperatives,
personal ambitions, sug
ate context of late-capitalist society (the chapter title ties a practically inert presence. Yet the social theory of
the discussion to the year 1440), presents space as a funda space demonstrates that buildings are at very least the
mental dimension for understanding the evolution and medium and the instruments that give presence and purchase
purposes of society. They divide space into two types, to the broad range of human interests. This affords a set of
"smooth" and "striated," which
commonly intersect, and new opportunities for the architectural historian, in the
revert over time to each other. Smooth spaces are undif form of questions that draw closer to a critical under
ferentiated, like the desert, or nomad space; striated spaces standing of what architecture is. How do buildings (and
incorporate the necessary differentiations that are instru their designers) fashion the very terms inwhich society will
mental to such as borders, lines, and its interests? How does architecture
society, property negotiate complex
streets?all "striations." As much as any of the authors engage (not merely "reflect") the conflicts and challenges
cited above, Deleuze and Guattari confront the nature of of its time? How, and when does architecture trans
space itself: striations, while necessary for also may form the of social relations, as the intro
society, landscape through
bound and disadvantage its citizens; and smooth space, duction of new building types or modalities? In other
it can be libera tory, will
not "suffice to save us." words, how do architects, and builders take an
although designers,
The is to understand human life as a
necessary active, critical role in the of the cul
challenge shaping parameters
series of transformations, or oscillations: "forces at work tures in which they live, and those to follow? How, for
within space continually
striate it," yet the space where this
example, do new building types transform (not "reflect")
ideology, politics, economy, or selfhood? As social theorists
occurs also other forces and emits new smooth
Thus space sustains a process where "life recon of have these are difficult and
spaces." space shown, complex ques
stitutes its stakes, confronts new obstacles, invents new tions; as those same social theorists these
yet demonstrate,

paces, switches adversaries."15 are that can and transform much of the
questions energize
Even in the context of these various
to the discourse of architectural history. Finally, this is not neces
study of space, and others not possible to include here, sarily
a call to undertake more
theory per se; in many

architectural history still is very much about buildings, respects, social theorists have laid promising groundwork
their infrastructure, their
their patrons,
con for us. Rather, it is to propose that the investigations of
struction techniques, types, styles, and the host of consid architectural historians, if informed by these theoretical
erations that have informed the discipline for many stances while closely engaged with the material fabric and
decades. Yet for at least a into the historical context, with structures in spe
century, inquiries spatial working specific
ory also have developed a range of additional concerns that cific places,
can further
a critical understand

pull the study of architecture more broadly into the analy ing of the terms and conditions in which human culture
sis of human life, consciousness, and The of and are conducted.
society. history society

432 JSAH / 64:4, DECEMBER 2005

Notes ford, 71. See also Bourdieu, Outline a trans.
1990), of Theory of Practice,
1. Edward Soja, Postmodern Geographies (London, 1989), 1. Richard Nice (1972; Cambridge, England, 1977).
2. Edmund Husserl, Die Krisis der europ?ischen Wissenschaften und die tran 9. Representative of David Harvey's work are The Urban Experience (Balti
szendentale Ph?nomenologie (The Hague, 1954) (published posthumously); more, 1989), and The Condition ofPostmodemity:An Enquiry into the Origins
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Ph?nom?nologie de la perception (Paris, 1945). of Cultural Change (Cambridge, Mass., and Oxford, 1989). See also Mike
3.Martin Heidegger, "Building Dwelling Thinking" (1951), in Poetry, Lan Davis, City of Quartz (London, 1990), which although not overtly Marxist
guage, Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter (New York, 1971). See also Gaston is likewise critically engaged with the urban fabric.

Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas (1957; Boston, 1969), and 10.Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith
Christian Norberg-Schulz, The Concept ofDwelling (New York, 1985). (Cambridge, Mass., and Oxford, 1991), 39.
4. George Lakoff, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal 11. Elizabeth Wilson, The Sphinx in the City (Berkeley, 1991), and Gillian
about theMind (Chicago, 1987), and George Lakoff andMark Johnson, Phi Rose, Feminism and Geography (Minneapolis, 1993).
losophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge toWestern Thought 12. Doreen Massey, Space, Place, and Gender (Minneapolis, 1994), 7.
(New York, 1999). See also Richard Shusterman, Pragmatist Aesthetics 13. For another theorization of spatial difference, seeMichel Foucault's dis

(Oxford, 1992). cussion of heterotopia in "Of Other Spaces," Diacritics 16 (spring 1986),
5. Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms ofReligious Life, trans. Karen E. 22-27'. See also what several authors have termed "third space": Homi
Fields (1912; New York, 1995); Emile Durkheim andMarcel Mauss, Prim Bhabha, "The Third Space: Interview with Homi Bhabha," in Jonathan
itive Classification, trans, and ed. Rodney Needham (1903; Chicago, 1963). Rutherford, Identity: Community, Culture, Difference (London, 1990),
6.Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan 2 07-21 ;Edward W. Soja, Thirdspace: Journeys toLos Angeles and Other Real
Sheridan (1975; New York, 1979). and-Imagined Places (Cambridge, Mass., 1996); and Paul Roudedge, "The
7. Allen Formations of Violence (Chicago,
Feldman, 1991). See also Nancy Third Space as Critical Engagement," Antipode 28, no. 4 (1996), 399-419.
Fraser's discussion of the notion of "counterpublics" in "Rethinking the Pub 14. bell hooks, Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics (Boston, 1990),
lic Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy," chs. 5, 15.
in Bruce Robbins, ed., The Phantom Public Sphere (Minneapolis, 1993), 1-32. 15. Gilles Deleuze and F?lix Guattari, "1440: The Smooth and the Stri
8. Pierre Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice, trans. Richard Nice (1980; Stan ated," in;4 Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Mas
sumi (Minneapolis, 1987), 500.

Sociology: Bourdieu's Bequest


cre tecture is differentiated

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1931-2002), from other disciplines by two fac
ator of the of practice," was a man.1 He tors: its collective nature?it is and com
"theory practical by cooperatively

aspired to enable intellectuals and ordinary people to petitively enabled, designed, executed, marketed, and
change their practices and he succeeded in doing so. His modified?and by the fact that the client is essential to its

sociology of higher education propelled French students to realization as construction. While any claim to
mount very real barricades inMay 1968, and his sociology is thus at best
problematic, architecture nonetheless

of museums and art

appreciation inspired
curators and
requires the allocation of a kind of power to architects that
artists to assault the metaphoric ones erected the Kant few artists are ever accorded. Aided the core notions of
by by
ian notions of the universally and immediately accessible Bourdieu's sociology of thefield of cultural production (whose
work of art. Readers of the JSAH have encountered his sig terms are hereafter
we can learn how to translate

nature concepts of fields, capitals, and habitus, and have seen architecture's specificity into disciplinary autonomy for
reproductions of his photographs.2 They may not, however, architectural
be aware of the ways that Bourdieu's sociology enables us to Let me first sketch Bourdieu's system for analyzing the
overcome the disciplinary limitations of architectural his overlapping and competing elements, called fields, that con
tory, vestige of its origins in formalist art history, while stitute society, or social space. A field is a universe of social rela

strengthening its distinctive autonomy, that is, the way it tions constituted by the members of the field in accordance
enables us to dismantle our own barricades, and, to use with their own habitus, logic, stakes, capitals, and interests.The
Bourdieu's oft-repeated formula, to find our own object. habitus is a system of dispositions shaped by history (of individu
The particular qualities of the object we study when als and of groups, thus of their experience of society, or social
to other cultural is so obvious to us, and is structured),
compared products space, which which generates actions that
so taken for granted, that they bear reconsidering. so that the structured and the
Archi the social world, structuring are