Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Study of Urban Space: How Cities Shape Our Lives

by Michael Johnson

Urban space has been studied by a range of academic disciplines from geography to architectural history. This article explores some lesser known approaches to the study of the built environment.
The French philosopher Henri Lefebvre has dealt with the concept of space and its role as a stage for social interaction. Lefebvre’s The Production of Space was first published in French in 1974 and translated into English by Donald Nicholson-Smith in 1991.
Lefebvre introduced the concept of social space, which he understood as being at once physical and conceptual. Social space is the realm in which the ‘cultural life of society’ is enacted, but it is not a ‘form or container of a virtually neutral kind, designed simply to receive whatever is poured into it.’ Instead, space is ‘secreted’ by society: it is produced by patterns of social interaction, but also imposes itself on its users and thus shapes society. Space encourages and discourages certain forms of interaction and gives form to social structures and ideologies. It thus perpetuates the power of dominant groups. Lefebvre’s concern with space bears comparison with Gramsci’s theory of hegemony.

Detroit, Michigan, photo by ifmuth

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