Monday, April 8, 2013

117: Doreen Massey's For Space

Massey's For Space is an attempt to develop a theory of subjectivity/ agency through a postmodern conception of space as geographical, temporal, and relational.  Because of Cresswell, I expected Massey’s construction of “the spatial” as relational flows, especially in counterpoint to Harvey’s construction of place as nodes where the flows of capital get stuck.   

But I didn’t expect her to be so tightly bound with high postmodern thinkers.  Massey draws a great deal from Laclau & Mouffe’s radical democracy and Deleuze’s reconfiguration of subjects from nodes to trajectories; I guess this is what happens when you shift focus from bodies to space as the field where bodies interact.  Of particular interest to me is her search for agency/ construction of radical subjectivity as uniquely spatial, outwardlooking and aware of its own relational constitution.  Space, rather than time, makes agency possible.   

Massey is trying to find a way to move beyond Modernism, which (she says) falsely annihilates space through time, and beyond the extremes of Postmodernism, which falsely annihilates time through space, and to articulate depth with breadth.  Yes, connecting depth with breadth is the project of all cultural theory, but her solution – to focus on space-time as the product of relations/ interactions between heterogeneous elements dissolves binaries like global/ local, place/space, space/time, and thereby makes space for agency.  She does a better job of situating potential agents within an uneven power grid than do Laclau & Mouffe/ other radical democracy theorists, but I do wonder if she’s falsely assuming that everyone would take freedom if given the space to do so - in which case she’s more of a product of the Enlightenment than she cares to admit.  (Not a bad thing to think that all people are fundamentally equal on some level; I’m just sayin…)   

Anyway.  I like that space and social relations are mutually constitutive – the concept is very useful for talking about transportation-based social movements.  She’s also got a nice discussion of how local movements might articulate into larger global struggles that looks a lot like how (radical) transportation movements, by their nature, have to grow.  And she clearly reads.  A lot.

Originally published on 6.17.12.

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