Like commodity and labor, space has a paradoxical quality of being at the same time, and in many ways, both ‘abstract’ and ‘concrete:’ space appears to be a general means, medium, and milieu of all social practices, and yet it allows accounting for their specificity within the society as a whole.[1]

Arguing for space as a socially created phenomenon with a universal set of logics, as Marx argued for capital and labor, Henri LeFebvre argued for a transdisicplinary theory of space that could describe or construct a theoretical unity between formal or mental representations, natural or cosmic, and social understandings of space. In dialogue among geographers, literary therorists, psychoanalysts, architects, the “indefinite multitude” of spaces called him to pursue mediations. Methodologically and conceptually, space is for Lefebvre a “continuous medium of relationships.” (Stanek 147).  Like Marx’s concepts of commodity and labor, the idea of space is abstracted from social, concrete, “real” practices through commodification, and in this becomes a concrete abstraction. 

Commodification means that the use value, the personal relevance or attachment to a space gives way to exchange values, identifiable by quantity rather than quality. [2] The homogeneity of space was not invented by capitalism, but instrumentalized by it, as “isotropic, boundless, singular, and irreplaceable space” has origins in late antiquity, according to LeFebrve (152).

Under capitalism, fragmentation or segregation is interdependent with totalized homogenization, such that an entirety like global space is rigidly compartmentalized into generic leisure, labor, housing; and that these fragments are hierarchized. The abstract spaces of capitalism can be contrasted with he sacred space of premodern religious societies, and the “differential” spaces of the future. [3]

David Harvey reads Lefebvre to observe the way capital produces space, particularly the inequalities of urban landscapes. The spatial fix for capitalism’s contradictions is that major real estate building projects tie up excess capital (of the capitalist class during an economic downturn when laborers have been overexploited and unable to consume the goods they produce. Such major pieces of infrastructure: convention centers, stadiums, the railway system hinder the future of capital accumulation through innovation, because they are so expensive and difficult to replace.

Under capitalism, both places and spaces must be understood to be materially gerneralized to a certain degree, given interchangeability in a common economic framework. Commodity production is indifferent to the character of a place, thus rendering even beloved particularites equivalent under the priorities and processes of capitalism. It doesn’t matter where a thing is made, it matters what price it will bring on the market, the specialization of which is coextensive with the universe.

Capitalism turns places into spaces. This is not a simple dualistic accounting of history, from sacred bounded place to non-place, the high modern/post modern big box stores, freeways, and genericized architecture of corporate globalization (Auge 1996). These non-places exist precisely to facilitate the movement of goods and people without attachment or localization. 

0 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All