The Production of Space by H. Lefebvre (Aloy)
The Production of Space
By Henri Lefebvre, Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith
Blackwell, Oxford, 1991, 454 pp.
In this book, Lefebvre makes a critical departure from the neo-Kantian and neo-Cartesian conceptions of space. Focusing on social space, Lefebvre argues that space is not an inert, neutral, and a pre-existing given, but rather, an on-going production of spatial relations. Lefebvre’s emphasis on the production of space situates himself firmly in a post-structuralist or post-modern critical discourse. He writes: “social space is not a thing among other things, nor a product among other products: rather, it subsumes things produced and encompasses their interrelationships in their coexistence and simultaneity—their (relative) order and/or (relative) disorder” (p.73). Lefebvre objects to the reification of space by rejecting the Cartesian model, separating “ideal space” from “real space.” Instead, space is a product of something that is produced materially while at the same time “operate[s]…on processes from which is cannot separate itself because it is a product of them” (p.66).
Lefebvre develops what he calls “a conceptual triad” in explaining how space is produced:
1. Spatial practice refers to the production and reproduction of spatial relations between objects and products. It also ensures continuity and some degree of cohesion. “In terms of social space, and of each member of a given society’s relationship to that space, this cohesion implies a guaranteed level of competence and a specific level of performance” (p.33).
2. Representations of space “are tied to the relations of production and to the ‘order’ which those relations impose, and hence to knowledge, to signs, to codes, and to ‘frontal’ relations” (p.33). They also refer to “conceptualized space, the space of scientists, planners, urbanist, technocratic subdividers and social engineers, as of a certain type of artist with a scientific bent—all of whom identify what s lived and what is perceived with what is conceived” (p.38).
3. Representational spaces refer to spaces “lived” directly “through its associated images and symbols and hence the space of ‘inhabitants’ and ‘users’…” (p.39). These are the lived experiences that emerge as a result of the dialectical relation between spatial practice and representations of spaces.
Lefebvre deploys this triad in analyzing the history of spaces. He argues that “social space is produced and reproduced in connection with the forces of production (and with the relations of production).” These “forces…are not taking over a pre-existing, empty or neutral space, or a space determined solely by geography, climate, anthropology…” (p.77). For Lefebvre, there is a parallel development between the hegemony of capitalism in the modern West and the production of “abstract space” (to which a large part of the book is devoted). Like abstract space, capitalism has created homogenization, hierarchization, and social fragmentation. For example, the spread of capitalization globally has engendered similarities than differences. While differences of local culture, history, and natural landscape are suppressed, spaces of modernity are divided into grids of private property, market and labor. However, Lefebvre does not at all see modernist spaces as an end of history. As Lefebvre puts it:
From a less pessimistic standpoint, it can be shown that abstract space harbours specific contradictions. Such spatial contradictions derive in part from the old contradictions thrown up by historical time. These have undergone modifications, however: some are aggravated, others blunted. Amongst them, too, completely fresh contradictions have come into being which are liable eventually to precipitate the downfall of abstract space. The reproduction of the social relations of production within this space inevitably obeys two tendencies: the dissolution of old relations on the one hand and the generation of new relations on the other. Thus, despite—or rather because of—its negativity, abstract space carries within itself the seeds of a new kind of space. I shall call that new space ‘differential space’, because, inasmuch as abstract space tends towards homogeneity, towards the elimination of existing differences or peculiarities, a new space cannot be born (produced) unless it accentuates differences. p. 52
In other words, Lefebvre sees the prospect of an emerging new spaces—a differential space—that serves as a resistance to the forces of homogenization present in abstract space. As such, in the contemporary moment, Lefebvre shows the dialectical conflict between abstract space and differential space.