Revisiting ‘Complexification’, Technology and Urban Form in Lefebvre Stephen Read, Martine Lukkassen, Tadas Jonauskis
Introduction Lefebvre’s writing has inspired planners and designers with the sense his writing gives of an urban fully implicated with the historical and the social, and of a complex evolving urban order driven at least partly by the force of everyday life. It is this evocation of social urban landscapes of life and power – whose intensities and differences are at the same time hidden by the normalising and regularising procedures that are an equal part of the urban process – that we would like to try to begin to address. Lefebvre’s work outlined a powerful critique of existing urban form and practices, without offering more than some rather obscure hints at how we could turn these suggestions into a revolutionary or forward thinking praxis. His analysis has been criticised as vague and imprecise (Castells 1977) and it is true there seems little in the way of solid recommendations or constructive principles to hold onto. The new praxis demanded of us involves, we will suggest, a better understanding of the way city building is capable of producing spaces of openness and enablement. This is about more than adapting to a change from concentric urban growth to polycentricity. It is also not so much about the integration of “the categories of ‘city’ and ‘space’ ... into an overarching social theory” (Schmid 2006, p.165) as it is today, as it has been in the past, about the way “differences are maximised” and maximised differences rearticulated in new socio-spatial and socio-technical orders. Evolving orders of the urban engender new forms of society in Lefebvre, and challenge the way we think of the social as producer and production. They also, we will argue, challenge our conceptions of the technological – and perhaps more to the point challenge some of Lefebvre’s own conceptions of the technological. They demand we understand better the ways technologies participate in forming cities and how we can devise means to act against the ever-increasing minimisation of difference in the most developed parts of the world – and the concomitant collapse of urban systems in the Global South. Lefebvre however never intended his writing as a guide for urban designers. His was a critical writing, carried out in an open version of Marxism, which addressed the question of social formation (Charnock 2010). Lefebvre saw well enough the problems of escaping closure and achieving an open praxis in existing models, and he adopted a ‘metaphilosophy’ of theory and praxis which placed him at odds with structuralist Marxism, which he criticised for its determinism and denial of the openings of history and becoming (Elden 2004: 24). For Lefebvre this closure of the social heralds a marginalisation of civil society dominated by what he calls “absolute politics” in which individuals and groups are transformed into subjects of power. Power is drained out of everyday action and sociality and its real situations and surrendered to an increasingly abstract and authoritarian state and its knowledge institutions. “Between [politics and life] lies ... nothing, a void, intermediary bodies having disappeared or been rendered ineffective” (McDonough 2008). The task of
metaphilosophy is to find the instruments to make “the urban ... more or less the oeuvre of its citizens instead of imposing itself upon them as a system, as an already closed book” (Lefebvre 1996: 117). Lefebvre’s method was to get “back from the object (product or work) to the activity that produced and/or created it. It is the only way ... to illuminate the object’s nature, or, if you will the object’s relationship to nature, and reconstitute the process of its genesis and the development of its meaning. All other ways of proceeding can succeed only in constructing an abstract object – a model” (Lefebvre 1991: 113). He was committed to opening up thought as well as social process, and was concerned about overcoming the “dividing-line between the conceived and the directly lived” – going beyond philosophy in finding an open path to the future. Nevertheless, it was in the orientation of his critical thinking to a necessary telos that he could not avoid a certain ‘closure’. Lefebvre was a political thinker before anything else and his politics was driven by the finality of the ‘dealienated’ man (Jay 1984), as the ‘end’ of social theory. In fact, we will argue, in order to open up a view on the ‘productivity’ of the urban and the life of the city, this orientation to a political ‘end’ – the assumption in fact of any social or political ‘good’ before the fact – must necessarily be subsumed to this other concern of the open urban. There is no open city which guarantees the rights and well-being of its citizens. Openness and this open right is also openness to failure, and to unexpected mishap or disaster. But it is this open productivity that also opens up multifarious types of sociability and action that resist systematisation or domination and open creative pathways to the future. It was partly the refusal of the degraded urban ghetto and the “tactic of destruction” of the events of 1871 and 1968 that motivated Lefebvre’s call for this right which was not just a right to housing and sustenance but a right to the city and the street with its festivity and spontaneity, with its sociability and extended networks as ways to the open possibilities of life (Lefebvre 1996). It is with this productivity of space, rather that the critique of its production that we are concerned here. We will be making some speculative proposals of our own regarding urban relationality and materiality and the ‘ends’ of process, which is to say space-time, in order to try to begin to imagine a way to the extension of this ideal of openness into as yet unknown or undiscovered urban forms. According to Lefebvre a revolutionary praxis needs to see through mystifications of both past and present space productions in order to deliberately create new spaces. We need to read, analyse potentials, formulate questions, imagine answers, and build. Lefebvre's proposal begins with "a counter-space [inserting] itself into spatial reality" against the geographical gaze that sees only “quantity and homogeneity” (Lefebvre 2003: 382) so as to demystify not only the physical arrangements of the city, but all modes and institutions that those arrangements sanctify and support. "Pressure from below must ... confront the state in its role as organiser of space, as the power that controls urbanisation, the construction of buildings and spatial planning in general (Lefebvre 2003: 383). But, any programme for change must have the creation of space at its core, and “there must be an alignment between the macro-structures of politics and economy on the one
hand and everyday life on the other.” What’s more any new arrangements “must display themselves, be tended, and be reinforced through a quotidian existence aligned with them” (Moloch 1993: 887). We can, we believe, extract from Lefebvre suggestive indications of how things work and how to further his project, but in order to do this we believe we have to move beyond what was essentially an “adventure of the 20th century” (Kipfer et al 2008) guided by some very 19th century ideas, into one of the 21st century – guided by some ideas of the 20th century, ideas Lefebvre in any case would have been well aware of.
Complexity Lefebvre described ‘the everyday’ as the ‘connective tissue’ of urban society. This seems from the above to be intended to be more than idle metaphor: the commitment to a reality beyond metaphysics recalls a discourse around the complex sciences of life and he would have known much of the science. Perhaps the closest Lefebvre came though to a readily recognisable complexity view of the city was in his and Régulier’s ideas of the polyrhythmy of the city (Lefebvre 2004). Nevertheless a sense of a dynamic and intrinsic order in the materiality of the urban world pervades all his urban writings and there could be some mileage in looking at him as some sort of urban biologist. Lefebvre struggled with trying to combine materialist and humanist ideas, recognising the difficulties inherent in the Marxist-Hegelian tendency to finalism, refusing the regularising orders of classical science and institutionalised knowledge production, but being pulled nevertheless between his will for a final ‘end’ of man and his desire for an urban capable of opening pathways to always open futures. Lefebvre based his view of the city around a conception of ‘urban society’ and new spatial developments he called ‘mondialisation’. He saw fundamental changes occurring in the conditions of our inhabitation of this earth and was trying to describe how these changes were happening and what they meant. Another important commitment however was to moving beyond what he saw as the limitations of philosophy and its “speculative abstractions” to a reality of an urban society embodied in its own material relations (Lefebvre 2003: 64). Urban reality was for him something more than a social or political-economic product, it was a productive force in its own right, reacting against social relations as well as expressing them (Lefebvre 2003: 15). Lefebvre was concerned with the ‘complexification’ (Lefebvre 2003: 45) of an urban social order by which he meant something other than the simple complication of things already understood. He did speak of this complexity as a compounding of the orders of our categories of economy, society and politics (45??), and as a Marxist and political thinker it would have been very difficult for him to abandon these categories. But in his metaphilosophical ambitions he also looked beyond established categories to a certain realrelational ‘proliferation’ implying a progression towards order. Philosophy will, according to Lefebvre, always aim for totality and synthesis, attempting to detach its concepts “from the contexts and philosophical architectures in
which they arose” (Lefebvre 2003: 63-4). He refused the imposition of a universal rationality over life, his instinct was to recognise the autonomy of cases in multileveled, dense relational constellations that made them what they were. The ‘totality’ of this other order refused this disembodied synthesis and entered into a real he saw as emerging out of new conditions of the urban. Lefebvre was clear also that this ‘real totality’ was characterised by ‘virtuality’, or the way it incorporated the potential of the ‘as yet unmade’. It was radically open to diverse outcomes constrained only by its material and spatiotemporal conditions. With this open-endedness we sense a break with the Marxist-Hegelian progress to societal completion, but also with any ‘social construction of reality’. In what is more like a biologist’s ‘construction of reality’ it is the social itself, its forms and content, that is the open and uncertain outcome of this ‘progress’ in a spatiotemporal process called urbanisation. In place of the analytical procedures of geography, demography, history, psychology and sociology (Lefebvre 2003: 48), Lefebvre proposed we consider the city as a differential, or complex of real relations. Philosophy is no help here; it has, according to Lefebvre, not resolved the contradictions around the gap between the conceived and the lived. In his work, this distinction was not a given but a tactical device, the task of which was “to uncover the characteristics of the philosophy that used to be, its language and its goals, to demonstrate their limitations and to transcend them” (Lefebvre 1991: 405). Lefebvre’s aim was to undermine dichotomies of structure and agency, theory and practice, and go beyond them. His concern is the reality of social life and space and the reintegration of its perceptual, conceptual and practical dimensions. We will try to develop this idea, to argue further that, ultimately, distinctions between the lived and the thought, the abstract and the concrete miss the point. We agree with Osborne and Rose that the spaces with which we are concerned “are experienced as much as conceptualised, lived as much as represented. These spaces have a materiality which is not merely imagined but is realised” (Osborne & Rose 2004: 212). We are moving also beyond ‘urbanism’, which was for Lefebvre an ideology that failed to grasp the urban because it understood it as a closed system. The differential space Lefebvre proposed opposed coded oppositions (privatepublic; work-residence) that deny urban process and its promise of an open urbanity. “The urban is ... pure form: a place of encounter, assembly, simultaneity. This form has no specific content, but is a centre of attraction and life. It is an abstraction, but unlike a metaphysical entity, the urban is a concrete abstraction, associated with practice” (Lefebvre 2003: 118-9). This form “absorbs ... contents ... combines them actively in a totality or virtual synthesis, which does not need philosophy for its fulfilment but can simply be recognised as a channel (strategy) for action” (Lefebvre 2003: 122). It is this concern with a practical engagement with the “limits of philosophy” that Lefebvre shared with complexity science, and where we may find a possible convergence with some contemporary biological and ecological thinking. The issues of openness-closure and of technology come to the fore in this way of thinking and are dealt with here in a very particular way.
The scientist in biology is also no structuralist: what he or she deals with are not the ‘authoritarian doctrines’ of science (Elden 2004: 23) but cases on the dissecting table or in the field in a more integral and practical process of enquiry that involves at once seeing, conceiving and doing. The scientist actively seeks out and constructs descriptions of the aspect of reality under investigation. And “[s]cientists no longer address a system as explained by what they know about it, even if they know it perfectly well ... . Their questions imply an open situation: ‘what will it be able to produce?’ ‘What kind of behaviour will emerge?’ And the question must be asked each time, with each new situation” (Stengers 2004: 96). The scientist finds him or herself having to be attentive, tracking and manipulating processes and their coupling. He or she is in a situation where models change with changing determinations of significance and purpose, and where models produce rather than deduce results. Of course this sort of ‘biological science’ is not limited to biology.1 Isabelle Stengers argues that complexity science is characterised not by new formalisms or methods but by a commitment to asking the questions a reductive science cannot answer. These involve the investigator no longer as the detached observer of events subject to universal law, but in involved and open-ended explorations of the event spaces of phenomena. This, according to Stengers, implies a new understanding of what theory means. Instead of a theory that limits and defines the shape and scope of the problem, and commands it from above or outside the action, what is implied here is theory capable of taking on the singular particularities of things, and of answering specific questions complex realities impose on us. While in classical science, natural laws establish the frame within which lawful effects and predictable results are produced, this other science is one where what will happen is by its nature uncertain – small and specific detail may induce critical variation and in general the expectation of the scientist is that things will set the terms of their own outcomes in the conditions under which they are investigated. The framing of these questions is still a question: reality here is not a product of language but a negotiation with our language, which is also to say with our techniques. We need to “be able to go beyond producing devices upon devices, never learning anything from these devices themselves” (Stengers). Science must, according to Stengers, “side with creation” (96). What complexity scientists do is create effects rather than affirm invariable laws of nature. This involves them as constructors rather than receivers of nature. Complexity is, according to her, characterised by interventions and negotiations: it is a science of a practical staying in touch with reality by negotiating with and manipulating it. It involves also crucially, a different kind of subject-object relationship: instead of the disembodied Cartesian subject, standing apart from an object analysed in a frame of universal laws of nature and an absolute space and time, we have socially embedded living subjects and the objects the subjects were 1
Stengers quotes both Stephen Jay Gould and Stuart Kauffman who propose respectively a ‘general’ and a ‘structural’ biology as a mode of science that recognises both history and the spatial or ‘differential’ nature of reality.
intimately involved with and interpreting. Essentially it is the embodied form of this enquiry – in the relation of the observer with the reality of the situation under investigation – that Stengers holds up as the frame. The form is a ‘real totality’ of seeing, conceiving and doing that includes subject, object and equipment, “put[ting] the ones who use them in a very interesting new practical position with regards to what they address” (Stengers 2004: 97) – modifying at the same time both subject and object. The materially ‘dialectical’ and ‘hermeneutical’ science Stengers advocates, involves the explicit acknowledgement of practical procedures, models and equipment as means of embodying enquiry and realising it. The scientist is involved in configuring material in such a way as to support new phenomena in a practical and material situation. The scientist performs a ‘material hermeneutic shift’, to combine terms of Patrick Heelan and Don Ihde, shifting the subject side of the subject-object divide into the material conditions in which the scientific results are produced. It involves, in other words, producing some very precisely controlled and even unstable results in material and technical conditions manipulated and maintained to the order of the scientist’s intentionality. What made this realignment of science around its practice possible – what in effect allowed us to escape the metaphysics embedded in science – was firstly the realisation that there is no simple or pure observation. Heelan (and others like Hansen and Feyerabend) collapsed perception and conception, proposing there was no substantive distinction between observational and theoretical entities. “[T]heory says what observation can see, and observation is always ‘theory-laden’” (Heelan 1977 29-30). Heelan realised in addition that observation is achieved for the most part technologically and in particular, it is the instrumentation which for the most part defines what objects the experimenter sees. The observer is in a practical and intentional orientation to technology that is set up in highly synthetic local conditions productive of not just practical understanding but the objects which are the measure of success. The equipment embodies the rationality of the intentional and observational act, and objects are produced in the rationality embodied. We can see why Don Ihde calls Heelan an ‘instrumental realist’ (Ihde 1991). For Heelan the key is the ‘hermeneutic shift’ of the subjective and intentional side of the experiment into the material of the equipment. He calls this material structured to intentionality ‘non-objective’. As a Heideggerian he clearly has something in mind here and this is what Heidegger calls the ‘ready-to-hand’ or Zuhanden.2 Local configurations of order are constructed in equipment which becomes an integral part of the intentionality structure of any specific action. We will be continuing this discussion when talking about 2
It is also what Graham Harman calls ‘tool-being’. Harman proposes that the radical implications of Heidegger’s tool analysis have not been fully understood – that it amounts to a new ontology of objects. I agree with Harman – in fact I think he understates the case because we are nowhere near understanding the staggering order we have embedded in the world or the staggering extent to which we are immersed in phenomenotechnical systems and depend on them. But would like to point to Patrick Heelan and Karin Knorr Cetina as people who are contributing with their work to the achievement of this radical but as yet not fully realised potential of Heidegger’s thinking.
technology later but we can see already that practice aligns itself with theory and theory is embodied in practice and situation. Material here does not stand against thought but rather participates practically in it. We see also that observation, understanding and even ‘objectivity’ are embodied in highly synthetic local conditions. The ‘model’ and the ‘system’ as well as the idea of ‘structure’ are here quite different to the abstractions Lefebvre warns against. According to Heelan, “science is not about models (as substitutes for reality) but about reality as understood through the appropriate – not substitutive – use of models” (37). Models are practical analogues of thought processes and while they may be theoretical and abstract they may be also concretely embodied in material constructions. Causal and explanatory factors are embedded in the practical actions and situations of exploration, manipulation and ‘seeing’ of what something is and how it works – and they are embodied in equipment. ‘Seeing’ in fact needs to be learned as well as embodied and we learn the material systems on which our seeing depends (Star & Ruhleder 1996). We will extend this later to infrastructures where we may ‘see’ London for example through the underground system, and financial traders may ‘see’ the market through graphics animated on computer screens. We will take this material non-objective structure to be equivalent to ‘space’. While we won’t claim yet that it will perform the whole job Lefebvre’s space was designed to do, it is a product of a similar metaphilosophy, and what it will do is help us begin to address some of the ideas Lefebvre proposes for urban form. The scientist is often working with and observing things that already work on their own terms. So that when biologists model biological function for example, they address something which has in a sense already produced its own model. The material is already organised and functional and the scientist stands in an interpretive relationship with it. A new theory needs therefore, according to Stengers, to recognise the autonomies of complex working arrangements. These are not particulars as representatives of genera or abstractions, and their cases do not depend – at least in the first instance – on the values human scientists confer upon them. It is the functions themselves which, at least firstly, create meanings and values and to which our definitions need to be fitted. In biology, this is often quite literally a matter of life and death as the object of the science is not indifferent to its own meaningful and functional structures. So that the situation biologists or experimental biochemists face is one of negotiation with concrete situations which are already in their own terms meaningful, and science “is thus a confrontation between human language, which is also to say human devices, and nonhuman creation ... and it is a speculative confrontation because it is not life, it is our human languages and devices which are put to the test” (Stengers 2000: 93-4).
Constructing worlds One way of grasping this practical or real ‘totality’ both Lefebvre and the complexity scientists are interested in would be through the notion of ‘world’.
Lefebvre was not primarily interested in the question of the ‘world’ as a scale of global geopolitics or production, he was interested, according to Stuart Elden, in the process of comprehending the world as a totality in thought and practice (Elden 2008: 80). A source of this emphasis is Marx’s concern with realisation and of the necessity of thinking the real through in practice. But it originates also in Heidegger’s idea that the “world never is, but worlds” (Heidegger 1998: 126). This is not the world as it might be understood by a physical geographer: “our understanding of being is thoroughly linked to the world ... the being of beings and the being worldly of things are almost synonyms”. The human and the world are not related as two separate things, but are both “enclosed … and disclosed together” (Eugen Fink, Spiel als Weltsymbol, pp. 47; 210-11; 232-3 quoted in Elden 2008a: 51; 53). Elden proposes that globalisation comes after and is made possible by this more primitive disclosure of the world, which, following Lefebvre, he calls ‘mondialisation’. He claims that for Lefebvre (quoting Axelos), “[g]lobalisation names a process which universalises technology, economy, politics, and even civilisation and culture. But it remains somewhat empty. The world, as an opening is missing. The world is not the physical and historical totality, it is not the more or less empirical ensemble of theoretical and practical ensembles. It deploys itself. The thing that is called globalisation is a kind of mondialisation without the world.” (Axelos 2005: 27) Lefebvre’s view of technology depends on Marx but it depends particularly on the critique of Marx in terms of the alienating power of technology of Kostas Axelos. In Marx technology is a mode of human labour which develops in the context of our interactions with nature. Technology is the factor we use to meet our needs and further our projects, changing both nature and ourselves in the process. Our increasing knowledge and skills are embedded in tools and machinery which we then use to further change and control nature and continue to shape human culture and understanding. Man externalises nature in this ongoing development of technique and the direction of technical civilization is an accelerating rationalisation and instrumentalisation with ever more of human society in the service of production. Axelos, in a reflection of Heidegger’s later technological thinking (Heidegger 1977: 3-35), argues that this technologically driven history implies the eventual complete “technification of nature” and Marxist history “becomes the history of the development of technique” (Axelos 27). The world becomes what technology (in the singular and embodying a singular technological, calculative rationality) presents and produces. For Axelos it is technique itself that is alienating and the history of technology is coeval with the history of alienation. At the same time production in thought in Marx is more primitive than the material output that proceeds from thought. This is the significance of Marx’s well-known comment about architects and bees, in which the architect does what the bee cannot: constructs edifices in thought before they are constructed in material. For Axelos and Lefebvre, the world is “an object of thought in its own terms” (Elden 83). But the subjectivity of pure or originary thought implied here is at odds with the materiality of situated knowing implied by Heelan. In Heelan what seems to be originary is a practical grasping which implies no originary disembodied thought but first a questioning of how exactly
and under what material conditions something is grasped. What is brought to or disclosed in thought will depend very profoundly on the material conditions which pertain. Here technology returns but in a different and much less abstract guise. Technologies are part of the very intentionality structures in which we know and do things. How may the world ‘world’ for us but through technique and equipment? This is a world that only exists as such as a ‘real totality’ constructed in equipment, and not as disembodied thought or theory. Again, seeing, thinking and doing the world happen together and we introduce a metaphilosophical basis to the thinking of the space of the world. There is no pre-technological mondialisation – it would be like suggesting Europeans could have known China before ships and camel-trains! At the same time it pluralises ‘worlding’ because the world disclosed, in which we are disclosedenclosed, depends on the particular technologies practically absorbed in particular actions. We can begin to enrich this view of world in its practical and material dimensions by looking at another concept from biology. In a previous paper (Read 2010) one of us argued that the view we outlined earlier of the shifting of intentional structures into material has an affinity with Stuart Kauffman’s idea of ‘biosphere’ (Kauffman, 2000), manipulated and adjusted by the actions of involved beings for whom life and survival matters. Researchers in biosemiotics freely mix the theory of language and the kind of material hermeneutics we have been describing in a thinking just as tactical and metaphilosophical as Lefebvre’s to try to reconnect communication means and meaning in a “hermeneutics of the living” (Markoš et al 2009: 8). What they are talking about is the way living beings to whom being matters are united in a dynamic meaning space, kept together by shared ‘languages’ through which meaning is negotiated and continually adjusted. “There are no rules and no goals ... but those negotiated by critters existing here and now, each bearing the experience of its lineage back to the dawn of life, and laying down the rules for one version of the adjacent possible” (240). [T]he existence of this superposed and commonly shared field allows mutual games of understanding, misunderstanding, cheating and imitation at all levels of the biosphere” (Markoš et al, 2007: 237). And it is “only after habits have been negotiated, rules settled and ‘artefacts produced’, that one can point with the index finger and distinguish ‘this’ and ‘that’, to recognise rules, habits, or even objects” (241). These beings will move to avoid danger or find advantage and adjust their relations with other creatures or conditions. They will adjust to and adjust their environments in ways which increase their functionality, comfort and survival prospects. The environment becomes a creation of the beings environed, who shift material (and materially shift) into structures meaningful and usually advantageous at individual and species levels. What is this shifting of material if not technique? What is it if not culture? It is this notion of a narrative or pathway of exploration of the ‘adjacent possible’ (Kauffman 2000) that is the key to understanding living beings as participants as well as factors in an historical process of constructive inhabitation, and even as the driving force of development. Beings integrate the biosphere into a significant space – or
rather into sets of mutually interdependant significant spaces – held together by interactions and preserving traces of those interactions in structures that could be seen as embodied scripts for repeated behaviour. ‘Worlds’ are, in this conception, constructions – but not as ‘reflections’ of preconceived social or subjective form, rather as material non-objective structures that support particular practices of seeing, thinking and doing. Participants interact and communicate, and are creators and builders of their own worlds, from integrated backgrounds of experience and memory, rather than being simply tuned to environmental niches. The importance of distinguishing particular action spaces from the biosphere as a whole is very apparent. No creature acts in the total space; each creature (and each group) will have meaningful spaces, each with their own objects and their own realised intentional structures. The creation or adjustment of these particular spaces will be as a response to material conditions, including the presence of other creatures and groups and their spaces – and will happen in another historical and ‘cultural’ timeframe. Biospheres are ‘real totalities’ integrated across different levels and spaces of their organisation, their ‘codes’ negotiated and appropriated in interactions in simultaneous stepwise adjustments. The ‘cultural’ aspect of all this is not difficult to see. We share with other creatures the character of living in a world of communication and significance and acting and reacting within it, choosing – at least in the early stages of this process – life over death, well-being over degeneration, and configuring and reconfiguring a ‘non-objective’ material world in the process. Material merges with meaning in an order as cultural as it is material (see also Eco 1979). Our knowledge, language, and real-world interactions are parts of an on-going exploration in interpretative cycles which define the state of the world on the basis of temporal narratives rather than on absolute or eternal laws. Things and our knowledge of things are tied together in coevolving socio-technical complexes, of which the city may be one of our most complex and developed forms. In the popular understanding of technologies we highlight those that are new and high-tech, while “[t]elevision, indoor plumbing, and ordinary telephony ... draw little but yawns ... [and] inventions of far larger historical significance, such as ceramics, screws, basketry, and paper, no longer even count as ‘technology’” (Edwards 2003: 186). They disappear from view because they are not objective in the way we incorporate them in our lives; they are implicated instead in intentional structures and part of the way we reach out for and know and use other things. Maurice Merleau-Ponty used the examples of the blind man’s cane and that of the feather in the lady’s hat to demonstrate how we engage the world through everyday objects which become part of our body-awareness (Merleau-Ponty 1962). We notice these objects only when we engage them directly as objects, the rest of the time they are just part of us. What does this mean for the body? Is the blind man and his stick a unit as Merleau-Ponty suggests? When the blind man and his stick get on the tram are these a unit? If we say “yes” to both these questions the consequence, as
the kind of complexity we have already outlined should already indicate would be again to problematise the mind-centred (and spaced – see Lefebvre 1991:172...) notion of subjectivity and displace action and intelligence from the mind to the body and thence to the body-technology or body-world conjunction. It would locate the spider’s intelligence in its unity with its web (173) and human power and intelligence in our unity with the multiple technologies available to us – and lack of power in our lack or exclusion from them. The role of technology needs more detailed and careful appraisal. It is generalised and reduced to a singular rationality in Lefebvre in his dependence for these concepts on Marx and Axelos. The generalisation of technology in Heidegger after Being and Time, reflects his concern with our dilemma of inhabiting a completely calculated world, a concern which diverted him from his early interest in the equipmentality of our very existences and inhabitations of the world (Heidegger QcT). The different take we will propose particularises technology and places it at a much more original and primitive level in its relationship with us as actors in and creators of the world. It suggests that technologies pervade our existence from the start, underpinning almost every stage of our knowledge and being. Today, “mature technological systems – cars, roads, municipal water supplies, sewers, telephones, railroads, weather forecasting, buildings, even computers in the majority of their uses – reside in a naturalised background, as ordinary and unremarkable to us as trees, daylight, and dirt. ... In short, these systems have become infrastructures” (Edwards 185). At the same time though, Edwards notes, “[t]his notion of infrastructure as an invisible, smooth-functioning background "works" only in the developed world. In the global South ... norms for infrastructure can be considerably different. AbdouMaliq Simone points to the considerable power discrepancies and difficulties in finding the means to act, that accrue with this lack of this dense surround of practically invisible technology. There is a practical idea of space wrapped up in this which Lefebvre’s Marxian background prevents him from fully acknowledging, though his writing points towards it in a tentative and underdeveloped way. In order to take Lefebvre’s metaphilosophical work forward to confront new and unexpected circumstances, to find better understandings of how we may act.
Form Lefebvre sets out, somewhat tentatively, a very straightforward urban form. He speculates on the original city: built as a political and dominated space, it was a positive imposition of order against a disordered world, a place of “writing: documents, laws, inventories, tax collection” but also of procurement and artisanship to support the activities of political power. The political city administers, protects and exploits a territory, organising drainage, irrigation and the clearing of land for agriculture. Political and dominated spaces “have homogeny as their goal.” They require investment and planning and a compelling reason to be built. They are almost always designed with a very
high degree of institutional and technical sophistication, relative of course to the times they are built. And they are designed to specific ends and maintained to achieve a very particular aim and “lens” on the world (Lefebvre 1991: 287). Political spaces are “a founding violence” (280), and ‘abstract’. Abstract space “serves those forces which make a tabula rasa of whatever stand in their way” (285). They promote “continuous, rational economic calculation in the spheres of production and exchange” (Brenner & Eldon 2009: 358). They are also, according to the argument we are here outlining, all of them constructed in specific technologies and infrastructures. Power is embodied in these devices and infrastructures. Power is bought at the cost of the arrangements that will establish and sustain isotopy, regularising particular actions, organising and externalising them (281). It is an acquisition of the power of occupation (). But dominated spaces are also spaces without life, vulnerable to their own need for maintenance. But something irregular always escapes domination: against the regularity or isotopy of the town, Lefebvre proposed the heterotopy of the border. Exchange and trade were initially irregular activities, carried out by itinerants, “suspicious individuals, ... ‘strangers’”; places of exchange were excluded from the political space, “caravanserais, fairgrounds, suburbs”. Lefebvre called these irregular spaces ‘heterotopic’ and described how their inclusion into the political city was resisted by political power. It is also clear however that the eventual inclusion of these heterotopic spaces into the city was facilitated and eventually made inevitable by the increasing power of these other spaces of traders and travellers (Lefebvre 2003: 9). Heterotopic spaces, originally outside rationality, became regularised and rationalised themselves in new spaces that affirmed and absorbed what was creative and that other spaces came to depend on. The overland, river and sea routes of the strangers and itinerants, themselves became regularised by degrees, becoming, by early modern times, political spaces on their own account, organising, protecting and furthering their own activities and interests. The political spaces Lefebvre proposed therefore are clearly not constrained by any singular rationality. Different spaces are specific and designed, as they must be, as specific infrastructures, structured to specific aims, orders and rationalities. Different spaces then overlap and intersect with one another: different cities had, by early modernity, relations with one another, and they had this in an increasingly regularised fashion and through the political spaces of trading leagues, intercity alliances, empires, duchies and counties. Different levels of order and rationality emerged therefore, each with their own isotopies of related objects and practices, and each with their heterotopies of objects and practices standing outside that order, from another space. The heterotopies became, in the best cases, places of negotiation and exchange between different spaces. The conflictual relations between different spaces may eventually reflect not so much a relation between the regular and the irregular as an uneasy standoff between rival powers that may nevertheless work with each other to their negotiated mutual benefit. The struggle for domination in early modern
Europe resulted in the rise of the merchant city, which signalled, in Lefebvre’s analysis, a shift in power to the larger intercity network as merchants and their infrastructures of isotopic objects and practices took over not just the marginal spaces and gateways of cities but their most central spaces as well (Lefebvre 2003: 10). This was the time of the city leagues with networks of cities forming alliances and competing for advantage with other alliances, establishing longdistance networks of trade but also of regional economic, educational, cultural and other practices, establishing banking systems with credit and monetary exchange norms, exchanges of artistic, technological and production practices and divisions of labour across the networks. And as well as this being the coming to life of an abstract space of capitalist accumulation (2778), it was space itself that was accumulated in these networks. We need to be clear about terminology here. Space, understood relationally, is “a differential, each place and each moment existing only within a whole, through the contrasts and oppositions that connect it to, and distinguish it from, other places and moments” (37). But ‘difference’ here has a very particular meaning: a differential space produces differences that establish through relations the individuals in the complex of relations. Lefebvre develops this idea out of his study of semiotics. The term we use to describe the relations of mutually indexed terms is isotopy. Isotopy is defined by Greimas as “a complex of manifold semantic categories making possible the uniform reading of a story” (Quoted in Eco 1992: 62). It refers to the fact that elements need to be contextualised by others in order that coherence is established in the relations. Isotopy for Eco “refers almost always to constancy in going in a direction that a text exhibits when submitted to rules of interpretive coherence.” (Eco 1986: 201) Sets of elements in isotopic relations with one another form relational fields that are bounded in the sense that their relations are internal. There is no necessary implication of a literal boundary – what is implied is an order established in the relations such that a part-whole topology applies. Elements exist in relations of isotopy with other elements within a field while they exist in relations of heterotopy with elements from outside of that field – ie. not part of the same set of isotopic relations. An element that was part of a trading network in the early modern city was heterotopic with respect to the municipal relations of the city, even though the part of the trading network may have been geographically inside the city. In this sense heterotopic elements may be both inside and outside a city at the same time. This is less strange than it sounds if we remember that what defines an element is its relations rather than its position on a map. At the same time position matters profoundly because these kinds of places tend to be the busiest and most visible parts of cities. An element in a city (a harbour for example) may be in isotopic relations with other harbours in other cities and be heterotopic with respect to elements in that city. It is in these sorts of places that exchanges across different spaces take place, and it is these places that have become the vivid places that have marked our own positions and articulated life-stories. It is in this way that cities can begin to be articulated into layers of practices and politics, without being segmented. It is not particular elements or sets of elements which define this productivity of differences, it is something which has its place between the elements or between the sets.
Political and abstract space only appear to be homogeneous and devoid of differences (240, 285). “Classical liberalism ... thinks and reasons ‘nonterritorially’”, which is to say, at a scale and territorial reach not immediately recognised as territorial! “Space ... then ... reintroduces itself subversively through the effects of peripheries, the margins, the regions” (Lefebvre 197678 vol 4: 164-5. Quoted in Brenner & Elden 2009: 360). Abstract spaces are attempts to homogenise space: they reduce all intensities to calculable quantities, which is why they make the task of understanding the creative and living qualities of space, so difficult.
Figure 1. Fragment of: Cornelis Anthonisz. Bird's eye view of Amsterdam. 1544. Woodcut. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. The gate at the centre of the drawing, the Nieuwmarkt, was and remains one of the major market squares of the city. The markets at the city gates in 16th century Amsterdam marked the points of crossing of agrarian-regional networks and city-internal networks. The harbour marked the point of crossing of Baltic and North Sea trading networks and city-internal networks. Within a century the Nieuwmarkt would
be immersed in the fabric of the expanding city while it continued orchestrating activity around itself, retaining its market function and a vitality and vividness as a place in the city.
The construction of isotopic political spaces and their consequent heterotopic relations with one another has been the basis of urban complexification. This is an extraordinarily important point about cities. It is out of irregularity – that will in its turn tend to regularisation and be absorbed in its vividness and creative potentials in another political space and on its own account – that the productivity of the urban is defined. The meeting and exchange between different spaces with their different rationalities is not simply a contest, it also supports the political – adding economy (and tax revenue) to power and establishing the vivid and identifiable places that power then co-opts to its own interests. The trader and his economy eventually became essential to the growing complexification of the city. This also situated the foreigner or stranger in a conflictual but essential relationship with the local inhabitant. It is a relationship that maintains the openness of action, and evades the closure of particular rationalities that necessarily pervade particular spaces. Action involves a ‘breaking out’ of spaces rather than any capture within them and it is the location of this breaking out that establishes the significant and vital spaces in the city. It is this that defines the ‘creative’ that we take to characterise cities and that we wish to maintain as a possibility in our cities for the future. In more recent times the imposition of another political space, produced under the conditions of a modernist alliance of capitalist industrialisation and social democracy, produced the city extensions of the 19th and early 20th centuries in much of Europe. A new space was built out from the centres and around the fringes of European centres based on new normative ideas of the neighbourhood and the modern city (van der Woud 2001: 194). A new rationality of the modern city was promoted which used public transportation as a device to facilitate the expansion of the city beyond the pedestrian space it had been previously. The neighbourhood was associated with a new ideal of social welfare and public health. It was the meeting of these two new spaces of modern city and neighbourhood – both regular according to their own different, materially embodied rationalities – that new ‘heterotopic’ centralities emerged in the linear patterns of shopping streets connecting and centring neighbourhoods. These shopping streets were on the routes which took people to other parts of the city: they were the spaces of passing strangers therefore as well as the places centring neighbourhoods; of catching the tram and everyday shopping and conviviality. Though the specific contents of ‘neighbourhood’ and ‘city’ have changed in the hundred or so years since their building, the characteristic pattern of the ‘19th century belts’ of Dutch cities are still readily recognisable today in the linear centralities that trace paths through these areas. These still provide a focus for everyday life, and a generalised urbanity that contributes sociability, colour and definition, as well as a surprising amount of regular and casual employment, to urban places. And it still does this without overdetermining its outcome.
Figure 2. 3 neighbourhoods in Rotterdam mapped for everyday events. The patterns of the ‘heterotopic’ streets, interfacing ‘neighbourhood’ and ‘city’, are clear to see.
This imposition of new connective spaces over an existing fabric has been the way cities have grown in Europe then since early modernity. The rapid urbanisation which began a century and a half ago saw also the arrival of the railway and steam shipping. These new infrastructures organised the locations of industrial sites as, at the same time, the city was reconfigured internally around public transportation and workers’ housing. The new infrastructures saw also the consolidation of centres as national and global places and control-centres. More recent post-industrial and post-socialist developments have been marked by the privatisation and regionalisation of transportation and a reconfiguration of the city around freeways and the rearticulation of suburbs and historic centres into a functional regional network. At each stage of this process and with the imposition of new politicaltechnological spaces, sets of places are regularised and ‘abstracted’ into a new political and technological space. The new spaces present places to us in new ‘optics’, as stops in a metro or tram system or turn-offs on a freeway for example. Our relationships with these places are mediated through the new technologies and the historic centre for example, a place lived in for hundreds of years, becomes abstracted to a destination in regional movement systems. It becomes abstracted at another level as a tourist destination with shuttle trains and busses linking it to the airport and into a global movement system. The character of the space and time of these places changes as they become taken into not just physical infrastructures but also into travel schedules and commuter patterns, and as they are rearticulated as isotopic with new sets of places, including residential suburbs and regional business, industrial, educational and health facilities. It should be remembered at the same time though that this ‘abstraction’ was a character of the destinations in trading networks as well so there is nothing particularly new about this, and ‘abstraction’ into particular and regularised spaces and times (that of the church bell for example) is feature of all urban spaces. At each stage new opportunities for heterotopic crossings of spaces occur which have precipitated changes of fortunes for historical centres and other significant places in cities. And new spaces become quickly normalised.
Figure 3. Kaunas, Lithuania: a. 1915 b. 1990 c. 2010. At each of these dates a different technological space was dominant and the city was configured in around these spaces. No space ever completely disappears unless it is
literally erased so a. was still operating vestigially in b. while a. and b. were operating vestigially in c. But relatively high-tech examples replace lower-tech technologies that allowed us to use and know the city in different ways and to imagine that we knew it in some pre-technological manner. There is a process of innovation and replacement in the humanisation of the planet which sees the camel replaced by railways and trunk roads and the carvel and fluit by the container ship. Networks and places already made are taken into new dominant spaces and reconfigured and transformed. At each stage of ‘innovation’ however previously ‘heterotopic’ spaces (as the most vivid and activity and opportunity-rich places may be appropriated by the new structure of power and absorbed into the new political space.
Not all political-technological spaces are based around such readily recognisable forms. Global financial information systems are designed to a logic which is on the face of it quite foreign to urban space. They quite literally collapse space and time into one simultaneous global place in order to present very particular objects real-time to financial traders and their coordinated practices worldwide. What is perceived is not the data stream but the market itself, rendered up in the technical apparatus (Knorr Cetina & Bruegger 2002: 179-81). The financial trader (or trader and equipment) does not so much read information, as produce in a “production framework of interpretation”, a “shape” of the market towards which he or she responds. In a powerful evocation of Heelan’s experimental situation, ways of doing things are linked directly with ways of seeing things in a non-objective system acutely tuned to the perceptions and actions of those accredited to use it. The information and the space-time the system constructs is everywhere within the network. This is not an abstract but a very concrete achievement, requiring wires and cables, the appropriate hardware and software, and regular updating and maintenance. There is little here that can be written off as a general effect. It is not a “reflection” of an “abstract and contractual network” (Lefebvre 1991: 266) it is the abstract network and space itself, technologically achieved. In fact this global space is a highly particularised, secured, and technically achieved differential. This concrete network is an example of the most powerful of contemporary spaces, and they express themselves clearly enough in urban space, though the rights to the heterotopic effects they create with other spaces are today also vigorously and scrupulously controlled. The spaces of electronic networks require detailed interconnections and portals with other spaces – of buildings, street networks, public transportation systems, financial, hotel, entertainment and shopping districts, and so on. And the adjoining spaces and topologies of inside and outside created are increasingly minutely and specifically designed and supervised as issues of security and image and the control of public space for commercial interests take precedence over the interests of diversity and sociality. This is done with the intention of making urban centres attractive to ‘footloose’ capital and middle classes, and the politicians and managers of the spaces of the new economy have turned to what Don Mitchell calls “the annihilation of space by law” That is, “creating a
legal fiction in which the rights of the wealthy, of the successful in the global economy, are sufficient for all the rest” (Mitchell 2002). Interpretations of contemporary developments that miss the extraordinary depth and layering of our technological environment have suggested that an entirely new and ‘virtual’ urban society is being born (Wellman). The generalised global space that goes with these sorts of conceptions, is again a product of a generalised (and high-tech) technology (Castells 1989; 1996). What we would like to suggest instead is that technologies have a hand in all spaces. We suggest further, as we have elaborated here, that different technological spaces depend on each other – and that it is this interdependency rather than the spaces themselves which define the city. This dependency works both ways though power has always assumed the right to demand allegiance and taxation, and commandeer opportunity-rich places into new regularised and increasingly secured political spaces. As Mitchell points out, the ideology of globalisation is a way of effectively masking the degree to which capital must be located. It masks what’s more the dependency of any urban function and indeed any human action on the multifarious affordances of the ‘embodied scripts’ we inherit from deep in human and urban history. The rights to this human patrimony is a matter of simple justice; the good sense of maintaining its openness lies in recognising that exclusionary and sanitised spaces limit our social possibilities and repertoires and engender fearful and unimaginative citizens and societies. It lies in the creative potentials of cities in terms of festivity, sociability, the chance encounter, and the incidental happenstance that enlivens urban space. It involves recognising as well the good sense of maintaining spaces of creativity, not minutely designed to limited and particular rationalities, where a ‘residue’ of the urban, with possibilities of alternative rationalities and of incidents and networks that pass under the radar of our design and planning, can flourish.
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