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UNDERSTANDING THE SOCIAL SPACE OF THE CITY THROUGH THE “GOVERNMENT OF THE BODY”

1 Ionescu Daniela

UNDERSTANDING THE SOCIAL SPACE OF THE CITY THROUGH THE “GOVERNMENT OF THE BODY”

A critical reading of the contemporary sociological literature on the centrality of the body in space suggests as point of departure three dimensions of analysis: order or conformity, control and gender. In light of these, the enterprise taken by the present paper occasions an analysis of the space as a means of production, control, and domination (Lefebvre, 1991), as a facilitator of social interactions (Gieryn, 2000) or as a social construction (Low, 1996) while favoring a reflection on the human body as a discursive product of power and knowledge in Foucault’s terms (Foucault, 1984) and opening a debate on Goffman’s body idiom as a “conventionalised discourse” and a “body gloss” (Williams & Bendelow, 2002). At the same time, two analytical steps are taken; on the one hand, towards Bourdieu’s (1984) analysis of the body as possessing a certain cultural capital expressed through specifically directed practices, to be more precise, towards the manner in which the body represented in social space influences the classifications of social status; on the other hand, towards Giddens’s analysis of the body in modernity and consumer culture as a socially reflexive one that “becomes less an extrinsic ‘given’ which functions outside the internally referential systems of late modernity, and is instead reflexively (re)made amidst a puzzling diversity of options and possibilities” (ibid:68). At the same time, an exploration of the body from a gendered perspective is taken by making reference to Young’s phenomenological point of view: an objectified bodily existence leads to the female self-consciousness about the body, stopping a higher spatial mobility (1990). The major task in the description of a constitutive and mutually defining relation between bodies and cities lies in its contextualization in terms of an analysis of the government of the body defined as the process by which humans create their own lives through the body techniques and the everyday practices, ascribed and derived from the social production of corporality and of the social space as an on-going production of spatial relations (Lefebvre, 1991). The space produced serves as a tool of thought and of action; in addition of being a means of production, it is also a means of control, and hence of domination, of power (ibid). In light of these, the enterprise taken by the present paper draws from an analysis of the space as a means of production, control, and domination (Lefebvre, 1991), as a facilitator of


UNDERSTANDING THE SOCIAL SPACE OF THE CITY THROUGH THE “GOVERNMENT OF THE BODY”

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social interactions (Gieryn, 2000) or as a social construction (Low, 1996) favouring a connection between a reasoning of the metropolitan body and various reflections on the human body in its perception through norms, habits and alignments as an object of governmental regulation within the city. In addition, it intends to underline how arrangements such as the architecture and geography assume the role of factors in the process of social constitution of a government of the body. Within the context of an paper intended to analyze the understanding of the social space of the city through the use, managing and perception of the body, this paper, keeping at all time in mind Lefebvre’s concept of social space as outlined above, is going to tackle first of all the relation between the body and the city from a feminist point of view, stressing the analysis of Grosz (2005) and Young (1990); secondly moving further this perspective, centrality of the body in space takes as point of departure three dimensions of analysis: order or conformity (Foucault), control (Mauss, Merleau-Ponty, Goffman). Hence, I intend to bring into attention an emphasis on the body as a discursive product of power and knowledge in Foucault’s terms (Foucault, 1984) while opening a debate on Goffman’s body idiom as a “conventionalised discourse” and a “body gloss” (Williams & Bendelow, 2002) and on Giddens’s “social reflexive” body. An analytical step is taken towards Bourdieu’s (1984) analysis of the body as possessing a certain cultural capital expressed through specifically directed practices, to be more precise, towards the manner in which the body represented in social space influences the classifications of social status. I consider the chosen approaches as the perfect fit for an empirical study based mostly on participant observation that aims at evaluating the use of space of the passer-bys within the city. This enterprise would assume a partition on the influence of the architecture on the body, how the representational space orders and controls, influences the spatial practices of everyday life. A general consensus exists in the debate on embodiment is the active basis of being in the world, and the foundation of self, meaning, culture and society (Williams & Bendelow, 2002) in which the issue of the lived body continues to grow in importance with respect to the active, expressive, ‘mindful’ form of embodiment that serves not only as the existential basis of culture and self, but also of social institutions and society more generally (ibid:208). THE LIVED SOCIAL SPACE The social space of the city facilitates the face-to-face interaction between the passerbys, which leads to the creation of social groups, and eases the possibility of collective actions. An understanding of exchange, conflict and control as incorporating social actions within the social space, a behavior of the space as one within which they develop, give expression to themselves, encounter prohibitions implies a definition within the context of the social


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3 Ionescu Daniela

construction of space and a mediation of the phenomenological and symbolic experience of space (Low, 1996). For example, the social places of the urban space such as cafés by routinising the activities of their customers in a manner that excludes and segregates other individuals who do not possess the economic or cultural capital and embodies, at the same time, in visible and tangible ways the cultural meanings ascribed to them. Place stabilizes and gives durability to social structural categories, differences and hierarchies, arranges patterns of face to face interaction that constitute group formation and collective action, embodies and secures otherwise intangible cultural norms, identities, memories, values (Gieryn, 2000). Found in his work on production of space, the concept of spatial practice meets an extension in Lefebvre’s analysis as it embraces production and reproduction of the space and the particular locations and spatial sets characteristic of each social formation; it ensures continuity and some degree of cohesion (Lefebvre, 1991). The character taken by social space in Lefebvre’s outline is materialist one, “in that it is nothing less than the socialisation of nature” (Brocklehurst, 2003). Social space is a material product: it is both a producer and a produce of the social, is all about the “spatio-temporal rhythms of nature transformed by social practice” (Lefebvre, 1991: 117). His theory of social space lays thee ground for three principles or modes of production: 'spatial practice' (spatial practice is ordered, hence spaces take on order), 'representation of space' (social bodies establish and define what 'true space' is; e.g. the social space as created by the body of the workers, planners, passer-bys) and 'representational space' (contain and are produced by spatial codes ever changing throughout the time. As Protevi (2006) incisively interprets, Lefebvre's finding seeks, on the hand, to create awareness of social space as produced by the state and by capitalism, and on the other hand, he calls repeatedly for the recovery of 'authentic' spaces that neither commodify nor oppress, yet that are not simply 'leisure spaces' set aside for workers. He advocates for the construction of new or retooled pathways, buildings, living spaces, communal gatheringplaces and other concrete works that express and bring forth the truth of spaces as much as we need to reconceptualise lived space. Otherwise, capitalism and the 'logic' of markets (with all the force of the state behind them) will create 'true space' that turns us all into laborerconsumers and the world into pure resource (ibid). Lefebvre's theory of space is one of representational spaces of everyday life are produced by contemporary spatial codes, fragments of discarded codes, and echoes of revolutionary codes (ibid). A CONTEMPORARY SOCIAL THOUGHT ON THE LIVED BODY For the purpose of the present paper, the brief contextualization from above implies that the lived and perceived individual space as met in Lefebvre’s work may be


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conceptualized and described by core activities, sites through which humans produce social relations. Alongside technology, human knowledge, and labour power, the perception of the space is perceived as contributing to our productive potential, as an element of the productive forces in society (Levebvre, 1991) 1. The same idea of stability found in Gieryn’s work on production of space is to be met here, also. It is stated that spatial practice embraces production and reproduction of the space and the particular locations and spatial sets characteristic of each social formation; it ensures continuity and some degree of cohesion (Levebvre, 1991). The social space in Lefebvre’s perception refers to the unique character of the productive occupation. To be more precise, the social space is “a specific space produced by forces deployed within a social practice” (Lefebvre, 1991: 171), a space that embodies an inclusive feature of the production and reproduction of human needs that produce social and spatial relations through, I might add, the human body. I believe the practices employed by individuals characterize a particular social space and through the use of the body, they confer meaning and attach significance. As Lefebvre so astutely points out, the body is the ‘productive occupant’ of space, ‘it is by means of the body that space is perceived, lived, and produced” (Lefebvre, 1991: 162) and most of all, it is the immediate ‘site’ for the production of space: “The whole of (social) space proceeds from the body” (Lefebvre, 1991: 405). Space is created by the social practices of lived, material; body and space, are portrayed in a mutually constitutive relation: “just as the body produces social space through material practice, so too does encountered space play a role in the creation of social embodiment” (Gleeson, 1996). Furthermore, the present paper draws from Grosz’s (2005) work, which highlights the concept of a built environment as a construction of the landscape image within which otherwise unrelated bodies are linked in a pre-established order and organization; at the same time her emphasis occasions an attempt to move beyond the debate between lifeenhancing and life-denying environments by bringing under the scrutiny the way in which socio-cultural environment of the city has produced the body of its inhabitants in terms of negotiating the urban space by those individuals who either inhabit or traverse the social space of the city. Examining the opposition between the inside and the outside of the sexed body, she questions the manner in which “the subject’s exteriority is psychically constructed, and conversely, how the processes of social inscription of the body’s surface construct for it a psychical interior” (ibid.: 31). I consider her analysis as taking further the causal or representational analysis of the relation between the body and the city as she applies an understanding of the relation of inter-dependence and a constant reassurance between the 1

“Space is permeated with social relations; it is not only supported by social relations but it is also

producing and produced by social relations” (Lefebvre, 1991: 286).


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city and the body, a co-building process: the making over of the city into the simulacrum of the body and the urbanization of the body as a distinctively metropolitan one (ibid., 2005). At the same time, her analysis is as important as Young’s case study on female experiences and modes of embodiment; this latter one outlines three main successful outcomes: firstly, thinking about subjectivity as embodied through space by habitual environment (Saji, 2005), secondly, pointing out to a phenomenological perspective: an objectified bodily existence leads to the female self-consciousness about the body, stopping a higher spatial mobility (1990) within the city space and thirdly, her right observation on female behavior and action as forming a generalized account of female bodily movements: “is not to be falsified by referring to some individual women to whom aspects of the account do not apply, or even to some individual men to whom they do” (Young, 1990:144). Throughout the readings, it is easy to think of contradictions to her observations but at the same time her arguments in reference to the modalities described as being due “neither in anatomy nor physiology… rather, they have their source in the particular situation of women” are in my perception, well supported. Her references to Straus’s observations that woman fail “to make full use of the body’s spatial and lateral potentialities” (ibid:145) and to Merleau-Ponty’s work in regards to the three modalities of feminine motility (ambiguous transcendence, inhibited intentionality and a discontinuous unity) are strongly sustained. Nevertheless, I think that a higher attention should have been given to Merleau-Ponty’s (1962) perspective on body and space as engaged in a historical metabolism. An emphasis throughout the paper on bodies as both producers and outcomes of history might have brought a contribution and solved some points of rupture from her evaluative discourse such as her lack of pointing out the bodily movements specific to males and females. A further step towards a perception of the bodies as historically contingent has been taken by Foucault (1984 through his evaluation on the ‘manipulable’ body, a body that may be ‘subjected, used, transformed and improved’ through an ever finer net of surveillance, regulation and control (Williams & Bendelow, 2002:136). The body in Foucault’s perception is a discursive product of power knowledge in which it’s made docile be being surveyed, used and transformed; it is a malleable product, capable of shifting power/knowledge relations, the biological body being simply a further manifestation of ‘the social’, from this viewpoint. Within the field of power relations, particular institutions exercise a continuous surveillance through the organization of architectural space or the temporal ordering of the individuals through timetables transforming the body and making it more productively and economically useful. Maybe the best example in this sense is the attempt of the municipality through the installation if video cameras in focused points so as to always maintain the social order and establish an innate


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feeling of constantly being followed. In the same discourse, I might add the police patrol that surveillances the city, they are the “guards of the city as a panopticon”: there is no need for a citizen to be under the total and permanent scrutiny, he is internalizing the sense of being constantly under a strong ascription. For example, the use of the body in crowds (always walking on the right side), in riding bicycles (always respecting the paths drawn by the city planners) or in waiting at the red light to cross the street. Grosz’s concept of the body brings a second contribution to this paper by tackling the body as a cultural product re-inscribed and contested within the broader discourse of the representational systems of mass media and arts, the forms’, structures’ and values’ influence on individuals’ negotiation of various forms of lived spatiality (ibid.: 33). A similar enterprise has been taken by Giddens (1991) in his analysis of the body in modernity and consumer culture as a socially reflexive one that “becomes less an extrinsic ‘given’ which functions outside the internally referential systems of late modernity, and is instead reflexively (re)made amidst a puzzling diversity of options and possibilities” (Williams & Bendelow, 2002:68). This takes place within the realignment of the ‘local’ and ‘global’ space boundaries and leads to changing of the self through the reflexive (re)organization of the life span and a biographical narrative of self-identity (ibid., 2002). In this particular case of an analysis between the city and the government of the body one might refer, firstly to the technology that has spawned the Internet and generated in the very specific locale, replacing the face-toface interaction between the lived bodies and eliminating the use in which the bodies are put in society and the learnt techniques they draw upon in the conduct and negotiation of everyday life; secondly, the manner in which finance capital has become global in reach, how specific locations have become more important leads to Giddens’s argument that place has become transformed in late modernity through the process of time/space distantiation, meaning that ‘stretching’ social practices over larger (and smaller) spans of space and time both becoming disembodied form social activity (Brocklehurst, 2003). Hence, social interaction is increasingly removed from the confines of space and time, the social space within the city becoming less important to social actors. At the same time, since individuals increasingly follow their own subjective life-calendars as they move through time and space, they tend to reject any physical bounding to specific communities within a city. Within this reflection a particular place has to be granted to Giddens’s concept self- identity defined as ‘ the self as reflexively understood in terms of his or her biography’ (Giddens 1991:244) and this self- identity “has to be routinely created and sustained in the reflexive activities of the individual” (Giddens, 1991:37). Routine is considered essential to sustaining a sense of self; geographical mobility breaks routine, hence diminution of a sense of place may work to


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undermine a sense of self (Brocklehurst, 2003). The sense of self in Bourdieu’s (1979) terms refers to the he manner in which the body represented in social space influences the classifications of social status; the everyday life of the individuals in characterized by choices according to their perception of aesthetically pleasing. The research conducted on surveys, which took into account social factors that play a part in a French person's choice of clothing, furniture, leisure activities, dinner menus for guests, and many other matters of taste, led to the conclusion that the different aesthetic choices people make are all distinctions. In other words, the choices made by an individual must accomplish one important feature and that is to be in opposition to those made by other classes. Hence, according to Bourdieu, taste is not pure as the social world functions both as a system of power relations and a symbolic system. The social judgment is based on these small distinctions of taste. Furthermore, he states that the struggle to distinct oneself from a social point of view is one of the most important dimensions of the social life. In certain respects, Bourdieu continues the work of Thorstein Veblen, ( 1912, The Theory of the Leisure Class ) about conspicuous consumption. However, Bourdieu attained to the concept of "la distinction" another meaning: social space, related to the system of dispositions (habitus). Social space embodies a very precise meaning as a result of the graphical representation which underlines the equivalence of social distances to social positions. "The very title Distinction serves as a reminder that what is commonly called distinction, that is, a certain quality of bearing and manners, most often considered innate (one speaks of distinction naturelle, "natural refinement"), is nothing other than difference, a gap, a distinctive feature, in short, a relational property existing only in and through its relation with other properties." (Bourdieu, 1994). By analyzing the specialization of everyday behaviour and examining how the socio-spatial order is translated into bodily experience and practice, Pierre Bourdieu links human agents to domination. He makes reference in his studies to the concept of social space as a construction which leads to a distribution of agents and groups based on two differentiations: economic and cultural capital. All social agents are located in this space in such a manner that the more closer they are one from the other, the more they share in the two dimensions. The space of social positions is retranslated into a space of positions by the mediation of the space of dispositions. The positions must be understood as the “choices made by the social agents in the most diverse domains of practice, food, sport, music, politics” (Bourdieu, 1991). The dispositions are defined as habitus, which is a generative and structuring principle of collective strategies and social practices, used in the reproduction of existing structures. The habitus refers to the system of differential deviations in agents’ practices and the goods they possess corresponds to the system of differential deviations which defines the different


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positions in the two major dimensions of social space. The function of the habitus is to account for style unity, which unite both the practices and goods of a singular agent or class of agents. The habitus is the generative and unifying principles, which retranslate the intrinsic and the relational characteristics of a position into a unitary lifestyle, a unitary set of goods, practices, persons. The basis of the very notion is the idea of difference, gap, distinction. It is a set of distinct and co-existing positions which are exterior to one another and which are defined in relation to one another through relations of proximity, vicinity, distance, as well as through order relation as above, below, between (Bourdieu, 1991). When the principle of division is perceived through social categories of perception, the differences between the practices, goods, opinions become symbolic differences. Bourdieu’s notion of “habitus” resembles an earlier account of Mauss’s perception on the body techniques: in every society; ‘everyone knows and has to know and learn what he has to do in all conditions’ (Mauss, 1973 [1934]:85). It is true that a similar point can be met and that is their opinion on which people relate to and treat their bodies reveal the ‘deepest dispositions’ of the habitus at work (Brocklehurst, 2003), but Bourdieu takes further this idea by introducing the concept of bodily hexis to denote the socially inscribed manner in which individuals “carry themselves” (ibid): the “political mythology realized, embodied, turned into permanent dispositions, a durable manner of standing, speaking, and thereby of feeling and thinking’, principles which are placed beyond the conscious reach of the mind” (Bourdieu 1977:94). Nevertheless, Mauss’s contribution to the perception of body techniques is one of the most important within the broader debate of social scientific inquiry: a provision of the concept’s definition, an extensive classification and an underlining of the differences in habits of each society throughout the time. Numerous illustrations on the practical and social uses to which the body is put by members of society are provided: from the description of English soldiers during the First World War to the Maori women of New Zealand, the culturally variable techniques are illustrated. In keeping with the bodily themes presented in this paper, I would like to draw the attention at this point to Goffman who focusing on issues such as stigma and embarrassment, provides us with a clear understanding of the manner in which the body mediates between social identity and self-identity (Shilling 1993). Moreover, Goffman shows an interest in the bodily production of social hierarchy, dominance and control, starting an analysis from symbols of class status in a strikingly similar manner to Bourdieu. For him, behaviors involve matters of etiquette, dress, deportment, gesture, intonation, dialect, vocabulary, small bodily movements symbols are literally embodied and enacted during routine social interaction (Williams & Bendelow, 2002). More precisely, Goffman argues, that many of these symbols of


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class status being anchored in the body serving as an important restrictive mechanism, thereby enhancing and preserving their prestige value (in accordance to Bourdieu’s notion of the habitus). In relation to the present paper within the social space of the city, for Goffman, a successful passage through a street, a supermarket, or a busy shopping mall, must be understood at the same time as a matter of a practical problem and skilful accomplishment for the human agent; it involves specific social rules and rituals which facilitate this passage and ‘repair’ disruptions to the micro- public order of social interaction. A reference to individuals as ‘vehicular entities’ or ‘human ambulatory units’ who have to manage their bodies in public places through pedestrian ‘traffic rules’, Goffman highlights that rules that are socially organized in time and space through conventions such as queues, files, processions and marches (Williams & Bendelow, 2002). In this respect, Goffman’s sociology is “sensitively attuned to the different settings in which we walk, the pedestrian rules and values that this embodies, and the manner in which specific obstacles and events, both physical and social ones are negotiated in the process” (Williams & Bendelow, 2002:72). As Crossley (1995) astutely observed, Goffman reminds us that social order rests on these micropublic foundations, and that these foundations, in turn, are dependent on the corporeal competences (i.e. body techniques) and practical know-how (i.e. habitus) of the body-subject embodied in social actors (Crossley 1995). At the same time, important for the purpose of the present paper, Goffman talks of ‘safe’ and ‘dangerous’ places, of ‘normal’ appearances and of ‘lurk lines’ in which those who may wish to harm us, from muggers to rapists, lie in wait, ready to ‘pounce’. In this sense, Goffman provides us with a protean micro-politics of personal and lived space—one that includes (potential) hazards and threats to our corporeal selves and fleshy bodies (Williams & Bendelow, 2002). CONCLUDING DISCUSSION I would like end the paper by opening a new debate drawn from Frank’s fundamental point: “the grounding of social theory must first and foremost be the body’s consciousness of itself; only from this basis can theory put selves into bodies and bodies into society” (Frank 1991: 95). In this regard, he suggested that instead of treating the core problem as the ‘social ordering’ of bodies, one must report on process of ‘communication’, on the manner in which the bodies are met within the social space of the city, are “understanding” and perceiving one another so as to be later on able to bring under scrutiny their spatial practices shaped by the representational space. Maybe a further step taken by the paper would be building an approach on inquiring the bodies from the perspective of a foundation or as the product of both discourses and institutions. .


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References: Brocklehurst, M. 2003. "Self and place: a critique of the boundaryless career", paper presented to the Critical Management Studies Conference, University of Lancaster, Lancaster Crossley, N. 1995. “Body techniques, agency and intercorporeality: on Goffman’s Relations in Public” in Sociology, 29 (1):133–50. Douglas, M. 1970. Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology. London: The Cresset Press. Foucault, M. 1984. “Nietzsche, genealogy, history’”, in P. Rabinow (ed.) The Foucault Reader, New York: Pantheon Books. Giddens, A. (1991), Modernity and Self-Identity, Oxford: Polity Press, 1991 Gieryn, T. F. (2000). A space for place in sociology. Annual Review Sociology, 26: 463-496. Gleeson, B.J. (1996). “Let’s Get Planning out of Community Care”, Urban Policy and Research. 14(3): 227–229. Grosz. E. (1994). (1994) Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. Frank, A.W. 1991. “For a sociology of the body: an analytical review”, in M.Featherstone, M.Hepworth and B.S.Turner (eds) The Body: Social Process and Cultural Theory, London: Sage. Lefebvre, H. 1991. The Production of Space Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. Oxford: Blackwell Low, S. M. (1996). “Spatializing Culture : The Social Construction and Social Production of Public Space in Costa Rica”. in American Ethnologist, 23 (4):861-879 Mauss, M. (1973 [1934]). “Techniques of the body”, Economy and Society, 2:70–88. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962). Phenomenology of Perception. London: Routledge &Kegan Paul. Protevi, J. 2006. A dictionary of Continental Philosophy. Yale University Press


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Shilling, C. 1997. “The Undersocialised Conception of the Embodied Agent in Modern Sociology” in Sociology, 31(4):737-754 Young, I. 1990. “Throwing like a girl” in I. Young. Throwing like a girl and other essays in feminist philosophy and social theory. Bloomington: Indiana UP Williams, S.J., Bendelow, G. 2002 [1998]. The Lived Body. Sociological themes, embodied issues. London: Routledge


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