Making sense of Lefebvre’s 
"The Production of Space" in 2015. A review and personal account

Making sense of Lefebvre’s 
“The Production of Space” in 2015. A review and personal account

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[I]ch bin zuwei­len damit beschäf­tigt, mir in mei­nem Kopf drin etwas Schö­nes vor­zu­stel­len, Bäu­me oder Ozea­ne oder Luft oder Lie­be, weil es da, wo ich woh­ne, irgend­wie nicht immer schön genug ist, zuwe­nig Bäu­me und Ozea­ne und Luft und Lie­be.
Wid­mer, Urs (1977)

I — Into the space

In my last uni­ver­si­ty semes­ter in 2015 at the Mar­tin-Luther-Uni­ver­si­tät in Hal­le (Saa­le), I visi­ted a cour­se on a book writ­ten by an aut­hor who­se name I had never heard of befo­re (which is rather unsur­pri­sing in a Master’s cour­se in soci­al anthro­po­lo­gy): “The pro­duc­tion of space” by French mul­ti-intel­lec­tua­list Hen­ri Lef­eb­v­re. This read was the cau­se for a wee­kly hea­da­che me and my fel­low stu­dents faced try­ing to deci­pher Lefebvre’s oh so many mat­ters that were sup­po­sed to give us an insight into a 1974 French phi­lo­so­phi­cal-cri­ti­cal per­spec­tive on how (soci­al) space has been pro­du­ced, and all the more, on how it is us civi­li­ans that are cal­led upon to pro­du­ce it our way (the lat­ter being the cau­se for why the dizzy fee­ling spo­ra­di­cal­ly tur­ned into a skep­ti­cal exci­te­ment for action as well as into asto­nish­ment about how ear­ly Lef­eb­v­re attemp­ted to bring about ’awa­ke­n­ings’ and envi­ron­ment­al­ly-awa­re socie­tal chan­ges).

Right from the begin­ning of the book it beca­me clear to me that this is not one of your clear­ly struc­tu­red sci­ence books that takes you ‘logi­cal­ly‘ from A to B – but rather a “cycli­cal, repi­ti­tious“ (NOT BORED! 2010) ride across time and space. Wit­hout the usu­al empi­ri­cal mate­ri­al found in anthro­po­lo­gi­cal excur­sus the grand cri­tic of the ’abs­tract’ in moder­ni­ty him­s­elf throws his readers into a world of con­struc­ts and meta-phi­lo­so­phi­cal clouds hovering and mixing up in the air so that few ide­as seem pos­si­ble for us to ful­ly grasp. Howe­ver, once the mind accepts that what you read is real­ly like taking an inspi­ring walk through the brain con­vo­lu­ti­ons of some geni­us’ mind you alrea­dy tap into one of Lefebvre’s main approa­ches and goals: a move­ment away from (arti­fi­ci­al­ly) line­ar time and thin­king, and a syn­chro­nous allo­wing of things to ’natu­ral­ly’ flow.

This review is a per­so­nal account on the per­cep­ti­on of “The pro­duc­tion of space” a rough 40 years after its initi­al publi­ca­ti­on in French, and about 14 years after the first publi­ca­ti­on of its Eng­lish edi­ti­on. It is not an attempt to detang­le what Lef­eb­v­re has beau­ti­ful­ly inter­wo­ven but a sum­ma­ri­zed insight into the per­spec­tive of a fema­le mas­ter stu­dent of soci­al anthro­po­lo­gy in cen­tral Ger­ma­ny in the year 2015 A.D.

II — Lefebvre in French critical thinking

When I first read Lefebvre’s “The pro­duc­tion of space”, I was remin­ded of other French phi­lo­so­phers and scho­l­ars of soci­al stu­dies that had pop­ped up throughout my stu­dies: Fou­cault, Latour, Bol­t­an­ski et cete­ra – wit­hout being exac­t­ly sure what it was that remin­ded me of them. Yet inde­ed, Kip­fer et al. wri­te that Lefebvre’s “increa­sing popu­la­ri­ty, espe­ci­al­ly in the New World, was undoub­ted­ly part and par­cel of the pres­ti­ge enjoy­ed by ’French theo­ry’ (libe­ral adap­ti­ons of Der­ri­da, Lacan, Fou­cault, Lyo­tard, Guatta­ri) in the Eng­lish-speaking aca­de­my and its trans­na­tio­nal out­posts” (2008:5).1

What strikes me about the French phi­lo­so­phi­cal wri­ters I have encoun­te­red (and this is cer­tain­ly true for Lef­eb­v­re), is their brid­ging and con­nec­ting of various fields and thus the avo­id­ance of thin­king and wri­ting in deter­mi­ned aca­de­mic boxes. In fact, the­re seems to be a clear visi­on of what needs to be brought to the light, a con­scious­ness that the words writ­ten will have an impact on the readers and, by impli­ca­ti­on, socie­ty in the long run. In other words, the­re is a pur­po­se bey­ond mere aca­de­mic endea­vors of fac­tu­al truth see­king and it is this pur­po­se with which the dia­lo­gue is star­ted. Let’s take a look at how broad a ran­ge of topics and fields Lef­eb­v­re cove­r­ed during his life­time (1901–1991):

[Lef­eb­v­re] wro­te over six­ty books and nume­rous other publi­ca­ti­ons, covering an asto­nis­hin­gly wide ran­ge of sub­jec­ts inclu­ding phi­lo­so­phy, poli­ti­cal theo­ry, socio­lo­gy, lite­ra­tu­re, music, lin­gu­is­tics, and urban stu­dies, in for­mats that vary from popu­lar tomes on mar­xism to dif­fi­cult, mean­de­ring wri­tings that escape con­ven­tio­nal aca­de­mic pro­to­cols. Having hel­ped intro­du­ce Hegel and Marx’s ear­ly work in to French deba­tes, he deve­lo­ped his ori­gi­nal hete­ro­dox mar­xism through a series of cri­ti­cal enga­ge­ment with French phe­no­me­no­lo­gy, exis­ten­tia­lism, struc­tu­ra­lism, and the sur­rea­list, dada­ist, and situa­tio­nist avant-gar­de. His most striking con­tri­bu­ti­ons inclu­de a cri­tique of ever­y­day life and stu­dies of urba­ni­za­ti­on, space, and sta­te – along­si­de stu­dies of various pro­mi­nent strands of French left intel­lec­tu­al dis­cour­se and a series of con­jec­tu­ral medi­ta­ti­ons on such vital poli­ti­cal moments as May 1968 (ib.:2).

Impres­si­ve­ly, in “The pro­duc­tion of space” the reader gets a tas­te of all of the­se ele­ments tog­e­ther with a fla­vor of histo­ry on top. Loo­king at ongo­ing efforts in uni­ver­si­ties that aim at estab­li­shing an increa­se of inter­di­sci­pli­na­ry stu­dies, Lef­eb­v­re makes cur­rent attempts faced with the stubborn­ness of each discipline’s metho­do­lo­gy look more than foo­lish. Howe­ver, Lef­eb­v­re had one important advan­ta­ge: he dar­ed to be poli­ti­cal, inde­ed dis­tinc­t­ly poli­ti­cal­ly opi­nio­na­ted. He wro­te becau­se he was con­vin­ced that viewing his cur­rent times in their his­to­ri­cal con­text with spe­cial regard to ‘space‘, he could unra­vel the increa­singly hide­ous power struc­tures of capi­ta­lism and its effect on the working mas­ses who­se per­so­na­li­zed, or ‘appro­pria­ted’ space was strip­ped away by various mecha­nisms he is describ­ing in detail throughout the book.

Of cour­se, Lef­eb­v­re has neit­her been the first nor the last working to be a sign­post for future pos­si­bi­li­ties direc­ting peop­le away from the ‘neo-capi­ta­list grip‘, but he added a new ele­ment that might until the 1970s not yet have had been taken serious­ly enough: space.

III — Space and power

Loo­king through con­tem­pora­ry wri­tings on Lef­eb­v­re, what appears now to be the most cited and used ele­ment for sub­se­quent rese­arch from “The pro­duc­tion of space” is that Lef­eb­v­re, when regar­ding space, was not inte­rested in sim­ply oppo­sing “struc­tu­re and agen­cy, dis­cour­se and prac­tice” (Ron­ne­ber­ger 2008:137) but ins­tead sug­gested a tria­dic divi­si­on of space into: 1) “per­cei­ved space“2, 2) “con­cei­ved space“3, and 3) “lived and endu­red space”, or “spaces of rep­re­sen­ta­ti­on“4. This means that in Lefebvre’s con­struct:

the schism bet­ween sub­jec­ts’ per­cei­ved and lived spaces of activi­ty and “objec­tive” sci­en­ti­fic-tech­no­lo­gi­cal spa­ti­al struc­tures is brid­ged by “ideo­lo­gies of space”. […] [T]hese ideo­lo­gies arti­cu­la­te sci­ence with ever­y­day life, ren­der spa­ti­al prac­tices cohe­rent, gua­ran­tee the func­tio­n­ing of ever­y­day life and pre­scri­be modes of life (id.).

So far, so good. When rea­ding the book howe­ver, it beca­me appa­rent to me that next to this insight­ful but rather tech­ni­cal three-point sche­me the­re are far more inte­res­ting things to dis­co­ver and absorb, albeit the dif­fi­cul­ties one faces when try­ing to sum­ma­ri­ze them.

What pos­si­b­ly made it easier for me (at times) to fol­low Lefebvre’s inten­ti­ons, might have been my gro­wing enga­ge­ment with the revo­lu­ti­on in Egypt of 2011 even­tual­ly cul­mi­na­ting in trans­for­ma­ti­ons in my own per­so­nal life: I star­ted ska­ting and crea­ting stree­tart. Both the­se activi­ties brought about a who­le dif­fe­rent street expe­ri­ence of the city I had been living in for seven years. Next to that, in 2014 I had con­duc­ted my own rese­arch about alter­na­ti­ve Egyp­ti­an youth in Cairo’s down­town as a soci­al non-move­ment – rec­lai­ming the streets in their own way, facing yet over­powering lar­ge soci­al restric­tions on their (modern) appearan­ce and man­ne­rism. The more I tried to under­stand the revo­lu­ti­on through their eyes, their con­cerns and wis­hes, the more I unders­tood the inter­ming­ling of sta­te and eco­no­mi­c­al con­trol and its repro­duc­tion through ordi­na­ry peop­le inter­ac­ting with each other – a chain of mutu­al cons­traints. For many, the Egyp­ti­an revo­lu­ti­on fai­led and the ques­ti­on that remains is: What is it that real­ly needs to be chan­ged?

Lef­eb­v­re him­s­elf was a revo­lu­tio­nist. For him, space is all about power. In “The pro­duc­tion of space” he shows how in the past, after the alie­na­ti­on from “natu­ral space”, “soci­al space” was crea­ted and increa­singly con­nec­ted to human labor that in its urban envi­ron­ment led to an over­all est­ran­ge­ment from the more or less ‘orga­nic‘ space peop­le crea­ted in accordance with their natu­ral­ly deve­lo­ping envi­ron­ment over time.

What is cru­ci­al to under­stand, Lef­eb­v­re points out, is that space is not a con­tai­ner that sim­ply needs to be fil­led but its­elf an active desi­gner of our soci­al rela­ti­ons. With time pas­sing, the reign was given to “abs­tract space”, tog­e­ther with the new means of quan­ti­fi­ca­ti­on, and to tho­se who deter­mi­ne it. We learn from Lef­eb­v­re, that what needs to be cri­ti­ci­zed is the reduc­tio­n­ism of abs­tract logic brin­ging about (fake) homo­gen­ei­ty and frag­men­ta­ti­on in our ever­y­day lives. Intrin­si­cal­ly we know and feel that our urban envi­ron­ment is fabri­ca­ted around us in a fashion to ser­ve a cer­tain order, we are gui­ded by an archi­tec­tu­re of cen­tu­ries of a male domi­na­ted gover­nan­ce slow­ly but surely era­di­ca­ting the last bits and pie­ces of sub­jec­tivi­ty, crea­ti­vi­ty and fun.

This is how NOT BORED! (in my eyes con­gruous­ly) sum­ma­ri­zes and ans­wers Lefebvre’s claims:

It is abs­tract space (the space of bureau­cra­tic poli­tics) that pro­du­ces, impo­ses and rein­forces soci­al homo­gen­ei­ty. In order to des­troy the socie­ty of abs­tract space, Lef­eb­v­re pre­pa­red ‘The Pro­duc­tion of Space’, which attempts to defi­ne and deve­lop some of the necessa­ry con­cepts (“the pro­duc­tion of space,”“the poli­ti­cal eco­no­my of space,“ and “the sci­ence of space” among them). The space pro­du­ced by Lef­eb­v­re is big, almost too big, for it is easy to get lost in it or con­fu­sed by the return to the same points. Voices echo (off the walls?). Lef­eb­v­re him­s­elf hears them, and ans­wers back. “Chan­ge life!” and “Chan­ge socie­ty!” the voices call out; they are the voices of situa­tio­nists. “The pre­cepts mean not­hing wit­hout the pro­duc­tion of an appro­pria­te space,” he ans­wers back. “Sei­ze the time!” and “History’s not made by gre­at men” other voices call out. And we ans­wer back that the­se pre­cepts should be detour­ned so that they say “Sei­ze the space” and “Space is not made by gre­at man!” (2010).

Space for Lef­eb­v­re is a poli­ti­cal­ly con­tested field. Space is ever­ything, it deter­mi­nes who we are as humans. And yet, he tells us, we han­ded over con­trol to a world of end­less repro­duc­tions, in which ever­ything seems wit­hin our reach (sin­ce ’trans­pa­ren­cy’ is the mot­to of our times), but is in fact com­ple­te­ly regu­la­ted. An illu­sio­na­ry rea­li­ty was crea­ted which makes it hard for us to even under­stand that the reins are held by capi­ta­list pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies, adver­ti­sing agen­ci­es and hea­vy bureau­cra­tic sta­te pro­ce­du­res. Lefebvre’s mar­xist incli­na­ti­ons shi­ne through tho­rough­ly.

Inte­res­tin­g­ly enough, every now and then I found an uncer­tain resis­tan­ce and unea­si­ness towards Lefebvre’s claims in my col­leagues recep­ti­on of the book. The main source of sus­pi­ci­on was that his argu­ments usual­ly see­med far-fet­ched, not suf­fi­ci­ent­ly sub­stan­tia­ted or backed up by fac­ts. While it is true that Lef­eb­v­re appears sit­ting on a com­for­ta­ble thro­ne of meta-phi­lo­so­phi­cal cri­tique tog­e­ther with his French col­leagues that see­med to have silent­ly appro­ved of ’what is alrea­dy known’, I mys­elf felt that fin­ding distrust in what Lef­eb­v­re is try­ing to show us – addres­sing our intui­ti­on more than our logi­cal­ly trai­ned minds, – pro­ofs his point all the more: in our dai­ly lives we are lured into belie­ving that ever­ything is ’okay’ and con­duc­ted for our own well­being. Facing to be unkno­win­gly sup­pres­sed is some­thing we would rather not choo­se to belie­ve.

Yet, if we look clo­se­ly enough, we might find enough evi­dence of how our eco­no­mi­c­al­ly dri­ven urban lives make us face many issu­es form­er­ly unknown on a mass sca­le: depres­si­on5, con­fu­si­on over a sen­sed ‘loss of time‘6, atten­ti­on defi­cit dis­or­ders in child­ren7, com­pen­sa­ti­on stra­te­gies through drug abu­se8 etc. on the one side, and the ’re-dis­co­very’ of natu­re, the ope­ning of yoga cen­ters in each street cor­ner, the sel­ling for self-help books and much more on the other – all fre­quent­ly cove­r­ed topics in maga­zi­nes all over the world. Each pro­blem sys­te­ma­ti­cal­ly cau­sed comes with its own indus­try of again stan­dar­di­zed pro­duc­ts, kee­ping the machi­ne going.

As Lef­eb­v­re argues, space is now crea­ted accord­ing to cer­tain func­tions, it is ushe­ring us from A to B, gover­ning our beha­vi­or accord­ing to spe­ci­fic times and pla­ces, even in our spa­re time, at home or on holi­days. What used to be a “work”, a natu­ral crea­ti­on eit­her in bio­lo­gi­cal or crea­ti­vi­ty terms is now pur­po­se­ly made and often end­less­ly repro­du­ced in the same fashion. This app­lies to all kinds of pro­duc­ts we are made belie­ve we are in need of. Ever­ything, as it seems, comes in a series. Only the rich seem to be able to afford and insist on the ’uni­queness’ of their living envi­ron­ment, espe­ci­al­ly art is used to com­pen­sa­te the bore­dom of repe­ti­ti­on. For Lef­eb­v­re is has been the only thing that, in limi­ta­ti­ons, is able to escape homo­ge­ni­za­ti­on becau­se it always pro­du­ces some­thing new, albeit making use of the exis­ting.9

Put­ting all of this and much more into con­si­de­ra­ti­on, he reaches the con­clu­si­on that real soci­al chan­ge can only be brought about if the space we live in allows us the free­dom to crea­te, appro­pria­te and play with. Power over space is power over life.

IV — The ‘body frontier‘

One of the ele­ments that were most appe­aling to me in “The pro­duc­tion of space” was Lefebvre’s con­clu­si­on that the human body is the key to a revolt against modernity’s straitja­cket. Wit­hout the body, he exp­lains, the­re would be no space, or in other words, we would not be able to expe­ri­ence it.10

As modern phy­sics has taught us: “If you want to find the secrets of the uni­ver­se, think in terms of ener­gy, fre­quen­cy and vibra­ti­on.“11 If you look at the body in ener­gy terms, Lef­eb­v­re exp­lains, it beco­mes appa­rent that it is in con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on with the other ener­gies exis­ting around it. Ever­ything affec­ts ever­ything else and is thus in a rela­ti­on with each other. Time beco­mes a fac­tor of crea­ti­on, bound to the move­ments of the pla­nets that deter­mi­ne how much sun light we recei­ve, which has an impact on cel­lu­lar growth etc. This natu­ral flow of inter­re­la­ting pro­ces­ses, Lef­eb­v­re claims, was inter­rup­ted by a cer­tain pur­po­se­ful­ness of crea­ti­on. Time and space were sepa­ra­ted. Things can now be pro­du­ced wit­hout regard of natu­ral cir­cum­s­tan­ces. This brought about a life in which we tend to act as though natu­re was merely a deco­ra­ti­ve ele­ment, nice to look at on post­cards and docu­men­ta­ries of The Natio­nal Geo­gra­phic, or sim­ply a pro­vi­der of all our beloved goods.

Yet, the body has (luck­i­ly) not beco­me one of tho­se ‘things‘ we pro­du­ce in fac­to­ries – dis­re­gar­ding its diver­se com­mo­di­fi­ca­ti­on, or the nume­rous efforts in cur­rent gene­tic stu­dies attemp­t­ing to alter traits at ’customer’s opti­on’ and crea­te “desi­gner babies“12. No, the human body for Lef­eb­v­re is seen as the last fron­tier capa­ble of figh­t­ing back the sepa­ra­ti­on of time and space sin­ce it is ulti­mate­ly con­nec­ted to natu­re. Phi­lo­so­phy in the West, he says, has dis­car­ded the body and then for­got­ten about it. Today, wit­hout Lefebvre’s know­ledge, soci­al anthro­po­lo­gy among others is brin­ging it back into the pic­tu­re13, lea­ning stron­gly on the excel­lent ground­work of (again French thin­ker) Pierre Bour­dieu, espe­ci­al­ly known for his con­cept of the “habi­tus”.

Sin­ce Lef­eb­v­re argues that the body is what per­cei­ves space first (with all its sen­so­ry organs, smel­ling, hea­ring, tas­ting, tou­ch­ing, fee­ling hot or cold, ener­ge­tic or tired and so on) we beco­me what we are, as soci­al beings, through our bodies’s reac­tion to our envi­ron­ment. And sin­ce our envi­ron­ment is now crea­ted for the sake of abs­tract ide­as and the func­tio­n­ing of socie­ty with dedi­ca­ted pla­ces for what is con­si­de­red necessa­ry, we ulti­mate­ly need to rea­li­ze that we beco­me a pro­duct of that space. Yet, that is not to say, the space we live in and co-crea­te is fit to our bodi­ly and emo­tio­nal needs.

In “III — Space and power” I descri­be several ‘modern disea­ses’. All of them sug­gest that our cur­rent mode of exis­tence is lacking cer­tain cru­ci­al ele­ments, the most pre­va­lent pres­um­a­b­ly time and wha­te­ver comes with that. In my eyes, what is lost befo­re anything else is love. A loving envi­ron­ment is a healt­hy envi­ron­ment. Time is important to be invested into fami­ly, fri­endship, but also respect and help for stran­gers and own expres­si­on of emo­ti­ons. This is some­thing Lef­eb­v­re refrai­ned from tal­king about, but is surely of utmost impor­t­an­ce. The more the body is restric­ted (by space) the more our needs to con­nect are sup­pres­sed.

When riding my long­board in public pla­ces (espe­ci­al­ly as a girl) I get to feel that in that moment I am taking a free­dom that I am not sup­po­sed to take. I sud­den­ly rea­li­ze that the streets I am using are not made for peop­le to hang out, play and enjoy. When I pass by pede­stri­ans I am per­cei­ved as an obsta­cle. Neit­her me nor they are to bla­me but the archi­tec­ts and tho­se who enga­ged them.

When I ‘rec­laim the street‘ by spray­ing a thought-pro­vo­king or merely play­ful pie­ce on a wall, bystan­ders call the poli­ce or threa­ten me. Yet when adver­ti­sing boards appe­ar around us whe­re­ver we are, nobo­dy is asked for con­sent eit­her. Yet, we seem to have come to accept that kind of invol­un­ta­ry visu­al con­trol which is, as we by now all now, desi­gned to con­vin­ce us of spen­ding money on pro­duc­ts that might rede­em us for long unner­ving office hours but don’t real­ly make us hap­py.

By over­co­m­ing my fear howe­ver, I am taking back what is not wil­lin­gly given to me. Sin­ce we are a pre­do­mi­nant­ly visu­al cul­tu­re (again an ele­ment Lef­eb­v­re is high­ly cri­ti­quing) sim­ply see­ing peop­le acting in devia­ting but not harm­ful ways beco­mes a means of soci­al chan­ge and makes the act a rebel­lious one. In that moment me and my body’s pre­sence are crea­ting space and ther­e­by regai­ning power.

V — Spacing out

Nevertheless, the obser­v­a­ble trend of life taking place ’online’ makes the body disap­pe­ar to a hither­to unknown degree. Lefebvre’s and other people’s warnings were igno­red and the dis­con­nec­tion from ’real life’ is ever increa­sing. As much as alter­na­ti­ve infor­ma­ti­on and ongo­ing wake up calls14 are now wide­ly acces­si­ble, what we are lacking is an app­li­ca­ti­on. Whilst the body has been used in the past years for pro­test move­ments, mass revolts and some­ti­mes revo­lu­ti­ons met with mili­ta­ry vio­lence, the sacri­fices made did not necessa­ri­ly show the desi­red out­co­mes.

Much is indi­ca­ting that Lefebvre’s theo­ry was right: “To chan­ge life, howe­ver, we must first chan­ge space. Abso­lu­te revo­lu­ti­on is our self-image and our mira­ge – as seen through the mir­ror of abso­lu­te (poli­ti­cal) space” (2001:190). What he had in mind was “[a] pro­ject of a dif­fe­rent socie­ty, a dif­fe­rent mode of pro­duc­tion, whe­re soci­al prac­tice would be gover­ned by dif­fe­rent con­cep­tu­al deter­mi­na­ti­ons” (id.:419). Socia­lism fai­led, he says, but:

The trans­for­ma­ti­on of socie­ty pre­sup­po­ses a collec­tive ownership and manage­ment of space foun­ded on the per­ma­nent par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on of the ‘inte­rested par­ties’, with their mul­ti­ple, varied and even con­tra­dic­to­ry inte­rests (id.:422).

Living in a ’demo­cra­cy’, wouldn’t we think that this is exac­t­ly the kind of rea­li­ty we have alrea­dy crea­ted? Appar­ent­ly not.15

Much the same con­clu­si­on was drawn in the docu­men­ta­ry “The Eco­no­mics of Hap­pi­ness” (2011). Sub­ject of the film is the jux­ta­po­si­ti­on of the evils of glo­ba­li­za­ti­on – was­te of natu­ral resour­ces, vio­lent con­flic­ts, acce­le­ra­ti­on of cli­ma­te chan­ge, inse­cu­ri­ty of people’s (cul­tu­ral) self-iden­ti­fi­ca­ti­on due to a lost sen­se of a com­mu­ni­ty-based belon­ging that is repla­ced by the need to ’belong’ by means of acqui­ring mar­ke­ted pro­duc­ts, just to name a few – and its solu­ti­on: loca­li­za­ti­on.

Hence, space needs to be thought of as and envi­sio­ned to be gover­ned local­ly and self-auto­no­mously. We should rea­li­ze – and this is from my van­ta­ge point what Lef­eb­v­re means by “abso­lu­te revo­lu­ti­on is our self-image” – that a par­ti­ci­pato­ry kind of gover­nan­ce is our right as citi­zens of this pla­net and that we are worth living mea­ning­ful, healt­hy and thus hap­py lives tog­e­ther. We should estab­lish beha­vi­or accord­ing to tho­se thoughts which will ulti­mate­ly lead to the crea­ting of faci­li­ties sui­ta­ble to our respec­tive needs. We in the Glo­bal West learn day by day that what we need is our own spi­ri­tu­al cos­mo­lo­gy16 and more emo­tio­nal con­nec­tion with each other in order not to feel depres­sed, mea­ningless and lone­ly.

So, I say, let’s crea­te that space! Let’s be bra­ve enough to fight against what we think are our own con­vic­tions but lar­ge­ly shaped by a sel­fish and pro­fit ori­en­ted ratio­na­le! Let’s make love17 and care for each other the ’top prio­ri­ty’, also in our archi­tec­tu­re: do away with prag­ma­tic and iso­la­ting reti­re­ment homes, non-inter­ac­tive shop­ping malls, and parks that are ’only to look at’, and ins­tead build mul­ti-genera­tio­nal houses, local far­mers’ mar­kets as mee­ting points, and ‘open-to-use‘ city space.

And last­ly, it might be time (again) to draw con­clu­si­ons from hund­reds of anthro­po­lo­gi­cal stu­dies all over the glo­be ana­ly­zing how the intrusi­on of capi­ta­lism in the Glo­bal South and else­whe­re effec­ts local and ‘tra­di­tio­nal‘ modes of exis­tence.18 As seen in this essay and por­tray­ed by Lef­eb­v­re, it is not only ’the other people’s lives’ that are con­cer­ned with modernity’s side effec­ts, but ours just the same. As long as we (still pre­do­mi­nant­ly “Wes­tern”) anthro­po­lo­gists con­si­der it legi­ti­ma­te to gather infor­ma­ti­on about other people’s suf­fe­ring and the solu­ti­ons they deve­lop while we our­sel­ves remain unex­plo­red and ther­e­by unques­tio­ned, we should be able to look into the meta­pho­ri­cal mir­ror and ask our­sel­ves: “What is this space I am a result of, what would I like it to be, and how can I con­tri­bu­te to that?” For this thought-pro­vo­king impul­se, I hope, Lef­eb­v­re, both in and out­si­de sci­ence, will be remem­be­red and his sug­ges­ti­ons taken serious­ly.

  1. At the same time howe­ver, Lef­eb­v­re remai­ned unpo­pu­lar in Fran­ce its­elf until the mid 1990s (cf. Kip­fer et al. 2008:5). []
  2. “[…] per­cei­ved space refers to collec­tive pro­duc­tion of urban rea­li­ty, rhythms of work, resi­den­ti­al and leisu­re activi­ties through which socie­ty deve­lops and repro­du­ces its spa­tia­li­ty” (Ron­ne­ber­ger 2008:137). []
  3. “Con­cei­ved space is for­med through know­ledge, signs and codes. Con­cei­ved space refers to “rep­re­sen­ta­ti­ons of space” by plan­ners, archi­tec­ts and other spe­cia­lists who divi­de space into sepa­ra­te ele­ments that can be recom­bi­ned at will. The dis­cour­se of the­se spe­cia­lists is ori­en­ted toward valo­ri­zing, quan­ti­fy­ing and admi­nis­te­ring space, ther­e­by sup­por­ting and legi­ti­ma­ting the modes of ope­ra­ti­on of sta­te and capi­tal” (id). []
  4. “Users of space expe­ri­ence lived space every day, through the media­ti­on of images and sym­bols. Lived space offers pos­si­bi­li­ty of resis­tan­ce” (ib.). []
  5. (31.7.2015) []
  6. (31.7.2015) []
  7. (31.7.2015) []
  8. (31.7.2015) []
  9.  A new movie “Time is art” seems to embrace Lefebvre’s approach in its own way. So far only the trai­ler is avail­ab­le (5.8.2015). []
  10.  An inte­res­ting per­spec­tive on the cru­ci­al role of ‘move­ment‘ in order to crea­te space is given by Tim Ingold in his book chap­ter “Against space. Place, move­ment, know­ledge“, in Kir­by, Peter Wynn (eds.) 2009
    Bound­less worlds. An anthro­po­lo­gi­cal approach to move­ment. 29–44. New York: Berg­hahn Books. []
  11.  It is Niko­la Tes­la (1856–1943) who is sup­po­sed to have made this state­ment, howe­ver nobo­dy seems to be able to find its ori­gi­nal source. Fin­ding the quo­te all over the inter­net at least con­firms a lar­ge inte­rest towards this sug­gested mode of exis­tence. Today it is defi­ni­te­ly the ’New Age move­ment’ that is most­ly inte­rested in that way of thin­king. []
  12. (31.7.2015) []
  13. (5.8.2015) []
  14. (31.7.2015) []
  15.  See Noam Chom­sky talk about the “(in)compatibility of Demo­cra­cy and Capi­ta­lism“: (20.8.2015). []
  16.  Some­thing Latour reminds us of gra­cious­ly in his chap­ter “Rein­sti­tu­ting the beings of meta­mor­pho­sis”. In ders. 2013 An inqui­ry into modes of exis­tence. An anthro­po­lo­gy of the moderns. 181–206. Cam­bridge: Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press. []
  17. Pun inten­ded. []
  18.  Again, Latour’s “An inqui­ry into modes of exis­tence“ (2013) was a wel­co­me kick-off. []