Re: [xmca] social spaces redux

From: Jennifer Vadeboncoeur <vadebonc who-is-at>
Date: Sat Apr 07 2007 - 14:52:19 PDT

Dear Marie and Jay and everyone for your interest
in the Hirst and Vadeboncoeur piece that we
shared ages ago.

Special thanks, Marie, for following up with
Lefebvre's, The Production of Space, and your
painstaking work offering these notes to the
conversation. This was a powerful piece for
Elizabeth and I as well.

Special thanks, Jay, for your notes below. Our
conversation on xmca did converge on theory to
the exclusion of the ideological discussion,
though the ideological context was a key aspect
for us. I especially appreciate your words
regarding our attempt to avoid reifying the
ideal/material dichotomy and the suggestion of
Latour's work. I've also been spending some time
with Bourdieu's Practical reason, the first
chapter of which represents Bourdieu's
perspective of social space and social classes.

I'm looking forward to seeing everyone in Chicago. Best to all - jennifer

>After a long absence from xmca, and, not
>incidentally, from my home during major repairs
>this winter, I wanted to comment a little on the
>discussion of social spaces, leading off from
>the MCA article by Hirst and Vadeboncoeur.
>There is much that I appreciated about the
>article, particularly the critique of neoliberal
>managerialism and the commodification of
>teaching and learning (in universities as well
>as schools, moreso in Australia and the UK than
>yet in the US). At the same time, there is also
>a critique of a sort-of planned-to-fail effort
>to engage students with other languages and
>cultures (on the cheap, and knowing there would
>be significant ethnocentric resistance). These
>are powerful critiques, illuminated by telling
>glimpses into case studies of real teachers,
>students, and well-intended go-betweens.
>Most of the discussion on xmca, however, has
>been about the theoretical frameworks and how to
>understand their potential integration. The
>authors as much as any of us are seeking better
>ways of articulating various perspectives.
>They seem to have chosen the language of
>"spaces" as a gesture towards the integration
>they are seeking. As someone pointed out,
>mathematically, spaces can comprise almost any
>set of anything(s) with some defined
>relationships among them. (Though the French
>structuralists who brought this term to the
>human sciences were honoring mathematics rather
>than the hardened sciences.)
>The article begins with very physical, material
>notions of space (classrooms, school buildings)
>and returns to these (transportation to/from and
>locations of "reengagement centers" for youth).
>It refers in various places to the new social
>geography (Harvey, Soja, Lefebvre; see Crang &
>Thrift, _Thinking Space_ for an overview), which
>has sought to complement historical materialism
>with the spatial-geographical aspects of the
>material conditions of lives, cultures, and
>But at the same time, the authors want not to
>limit the spaces that afford and constrain our
>lives to only their bare material dimensions:
>walls, desks, roads, bus lines. They want to
>include the activities (e.g. participation
>structures in classrooms) that fill these spaces
>and make them human, cultural places. Because it
>is these lived spaces they are concerned about;
>it is the lived spaces that are being
>commodified, managerialized, and made into
>living hells for those of us who live in them.
>For the Indonesian
>teacher-without-institutional-support, for the
>not-quite-reengaged young-people-without-buses.
>They worry about the "territorialization" of
>educational spaces by governments-for-industry,
>which dis-place us in the very places that ought
>to be ours.
>So I would not be too quick to radically
>dichotomize material spaces and
>social-activity-networks, taking the one to be
>legitimately real and the other a mere metaphor
>of "social space". Social spaces are
>unfactorizable unities of material conditions
>and cultural meanings, of
>people-artifacts-activities-places, of
>people-doing-meaningfully-with-stuff-in-situ and
>across filled and lived time and space. While I
>don't know that he has directly addressed
>spatiality and placeness, Latour does offer in
>his ANT networks some ways of carefully
>conceptualizing these unities of what our
>Cartesian traditions have tried to purify into
>radically heterogeneous components with
>different ontological statuses. And I think that
>CHAT, too, has always sought to undo the
>separation of the material and the "ideal", not
>by privileging the material, but by
>understanding that the material is as much the
>product of the cultural as the other way around.
>Social spaces are real because they are sites of
>struggle. Thanks again to Jen and Liz for richly
>describing the reality of that struggle.
>Jay Lemke
>University of Michigan
>School of Education
>610 East University
>Ann Arbor, MI 48109
>Tel. 734-763-9276
>Website. <>
>xmca mailing list

Date: Sat, 17 Mar 2007 22:04:34 -0700
From: Marie Judson <>
Subject: Re: [xmca] "social space"
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
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Your article led me to read Henri Lefebvre's *The Production of Space. *Your
bringing this work to light in the context of schooling has been a
revelation for me in working on my thesis based on research in urban high
schools. I thought I would share some quotes I pulled from the book that
offer, I think, clarification addressing some questions that have been
raised here about your application of social space to marginalization and
how much the concept of social space crosses into social class.

In the afterword to *The Production of Space*, David Harvey explains that
much of Lefebvre's later work focused on urbanization and the production of
space. "Lefebvre Š co-founded the journal *Espace et Société *which brought
together many distinguished young thinkers (the most well-known today being
Manuel Castells) who were inspired by his interests. The two themes of
urbanization and the production of space are interlinked in Lefebvre's
thought. Increasingly during the1960s, and particularly through the events
of 1968, Lefebvre came to recognize the significance of urban conditions of
daily life Š as central in the evolution of revolutionary sentiments and
politics" (p. 430).

Further in the afterward, Harvey writes that "Šconsideration of the urban
question Š led L. to [the conclusion] that the city as a meaningful entity
in modern life Š had been superseded by the process of urbanization or, more
generally, [that] Š the production of space Š was binding together the
global and the localŠ [He felt that] Marxist theory and revolutionary
politics had to be reinterpreted against this backdrop of a changing
production of space Š It was characteristic of L. not to consider this from
a technical, economic or even political standpoint, but to search for the
ways in which to interpret revolutionary action, to generate new forms of
representation of the possible, against a background of social processes
that were redefining the very nature of human identity" (p. 431).

Here are just a few quotes from Chapter 1:

"(Social) space is a (social) productŠ the space thus produced also serves
as a tool of thought and of action ŠIn addition to being a means of
production it is also a means of control, and hence of domination, of power;
yet Š it escapes in part from those who would make use of it. The social and
political (state) forces which engendered this space now seek, but fail, to
master it completely; the very agency that has forced spatial reality
towards a sort of uncontrollable autonomy now strives to run it into the
ground, then shackle and enslave itŠ this space [is] abstract Š it is also
'real' Š concrete Š instrumental, but like knowledge, it extends beyond
instrumentality Š [It] embodies social relationshipsŠ" (pp. 26-27).

"Š thoroughgoing analysis Š must involve Š new ideas ... of a diversity or
multiplicity of spaces Š Such new ideas must then be inserted into the
context of Š 'history.' Š Social space will be revealed in its particularity
to the extent that is ceases to be indistinguishable from mental space (as
defined by the philosophers and mathematicians) Š and physical space (as
defined by practico-sensory activity and the perception of 'nature')Š
irreducible to a 'form' Š If I am successful the social character of space Š
will be confirmed" (p. 27).

"the perceived-conceived-lived triad (in spatial terms: spatial practice,
representations of space, representational spaces) loses all force if it is
treated as an abstract 'model' Š if it cannot grasp the concrete as distinct
from the 'immediate'" (p. 40).

>From chapter 2, "Social Space":

"Š the rationality of space Š is not the outcome of a quality or property of
human action Š It is itself the origin and source .. of the rationality of
activityŠ" (p. 72).

"Itself the outcome of past actions, social space is what permits fresh
actions to occur, while suggesting others and prohibiting yet others" (p.

"The 'history of space' Š [is] not simply a matter of material production
and the consequent appearance of social forms, or even of a social
production of material realities. The new social forms were not 'inscribed'
in a pre-existing space. Rather, a space was produced that was Š the result
of a newly engendered spatial relationship Š " (p. 78).

[A dwelling] is an object intermediate between work and product, between
nature and labour, between the realm of symbols and the realm of signs. Does
it engender a space? Yes. Is that space natural or cultural? Is it immediate
or mediated - and, if the latter, mediated by whom and to what purpose? Is
it a given or is it artificial? Š Between nature and culture, as between
work and product, complex relationships (mediations) already obtain.

"Space Š is at once a precondition and a result of social superstructures.
.. Institutions call for spaces - spaces which they can then organize
according to their specific requirements; so there is no sense in which
space can be treated solely as an *a priori* condition of these institutions
and the state which presides over them. Š Space [is] a social relationship Š
We see that polyvalence of social space, its 'reality' at once formal and
material. .. A product to be used, to be consumed, it is also a *means of
production; *networks of exchange and flows of Š energy fashion space and
are determined by it. Thus [space] cannot be separated either from the
productive forces, including technology and knowledge, or from the social
division of labour which shapes it, or from the state and the
superstructures of society.

Š The concept of social space becomes broader. . it infiltrates, even
invades, the concept of production Š it sets a very specific dialectic in
motion Š A unity transpires .. : the forces of production and their
component elements (nature, labour, technology, knowledge); structures
(property relations); superstructures (institutions and the state itself)"
(p. 85).

"We are confronted by Š an unlimited set of social spaces Š No space
disappears Š the *worldwide does not abolish the local* Š This is not a
consequence of the law of uneven development. The intertwinement of social
spaces is Š a law in its own right. Considered in isolation, such spaces are
mere abstractions. As concrete abstractions Š they attain 'real' existence
by virtue of networks and pathways.

*Social spaces interpenetrate one another and/or superimpose themselves upon
one anotherŠ *

*"Visible boundaries, such as walls or enclosures Š give rise for their part
to an appearance of separation between spaces Š what exists, in fact, is an
ambiguous continuity" (*pp. 86-87).
I've shared the actual content from the book here to provide a resource to
those who don't have access to the book, since to try to reword Lefebvre
would be to, very likely, corrupt what he attempts to do. But my sense is
that this conceptualization is, as you have perceived, very useful in
defining agency (or lack of) among students according to how spaces are
structured in schooling.


Dr. Jennifer A. Vadeboncoeur
The University of British Columbia
Faculty of Education
2125 Main Mall
Library Block 272B
Vancouver BC V6T-1Z4
phone: 1.604.822.9099
fax: 1.604.822.3302
xmca mailing list
Received on Sat Apr 7 15:53 PDT 2007

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