Spatial Trialetics

3 Apr

Spatial Trialetics

Political geographer and urban planner Edward Soja, by building on Henri Lefebvre’s concept of the spatial triad, offers the theory of spatial trialectics which includes his reference to the thirdspace. Soja’s theory of thirdspace acts as “an-Other way of understanding and acting to change the spatiality of human life, a distinct mode of critical spatial awareness that is appropriate to the new scope and significance being brought about in the rebalanced trialectices of spatiality–historicality–sociality.” (Soja 1996, 57) Soja’s thirdspace, where reality and imaginings come together, not unlike Lefebvre’s philosophies, allows us to understand space in new ways, “everything comes together… subjectivity and objectivity, the abstract and the concrete, the real and the imagined, the knowable and the unimaginable, the repetitive and the differential, structure and agency, mind and body, consciousness and the unconscious, the disciplined and the trans disciplinary, everyday life and unending history.” (Soja 1996, 57)

For Soja, most importantly, this thirdspace is a space that enables activation of the political, more precisely how space is relevant to understanding social theory to do political action that addresses injustice. Describing spatial justice as not only being that of the environmental, or the social, or of this thing or that, but rather that spatial justice is “actually close to the notion of Right to the City… provided this is taken in its radical, Lefebvrian acceptation.” For Soja, “spatialising the ideas of societal development, social capital and social justice is imperative, as Lefebvre stressed…we made space, we made our geographies, and therefore it is our responsibility to intervene on them, to make them more just.” (Pavoni, 2010) With regards to this responsibility, thinking about space in a particular way “can shake up the manner in which certain political questions are formulated, can contribute to political arguments already under way, and- most deeply- can be an essential element in the imaginative structure which enables in the first place an opening up to the very sphere of the political.” (Massey 2005, 9)

The spatial triad of Lefebvre that Soja relies on for his construction of the thirdspace “that being spatial practice, representations of space and representational space are at once corresponding to the “bodily triad of perceived-conceived-lived” (Lefebvre 1991, 40) and is a space which is often defined in both the physical and perceived through various social gestures and rules, enacted laws and forms of inclusion and exclusion. Of which this can be seen to be determined by such indicators as gender, ethnicity, skin colour, faith or socio-political association (or assumption of association) and social status (through fiscal access) just to name a few. Furthermore, as perceived space is closely related to spatial practice, in that it is the space “secreted by society, recursively reifying it” (Conrad 2006, 3) it is within this concept that injustice becomes apparent.

It is the absence of presence, through denied or limited access to a space that relays one of the important indicators of spatial justice. “To focus on this question of how space makes it possible for anything to be, and thus justice, at root, always a question of spatial access” (Mitchell, 2007, 9) This absence is perpetrated by more than the obvious imperfections of place making or the financially strategic reconstruction of space through the gentrification and privatization processes that physically mark and claim space – this is reliant on a dominant discourse that, through language, creates a public picture of how spaces are perceived to be occupied and thereby are occupied. We can now begin to think of space in both its materiality as well as its abstract and as a social space where relations happen and where those relations, according to Dorren Massey “are going to be filled with power”. She goes on to suggest that space is in fact “… a geography which is in a sense is the geography of power.” (Massey, 2013)


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