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Setha Low, 1996. Spatializing+Culture

Setha Low, 1996. Spatializing+Culture

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Spatializing Culture: The Social Production and Social Construction of Public Space in CostaRicaAuthor(s): Setha M. LowSource:
American Ethnologist,
Vol. 23, No. 4 (Nov., 1996), pp. 861-879Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological AssociationStable URL:
Accessed: 25/08/2009 08:37
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spatializingculture:the socialproductionand socialconstructionofpublicspaceinCostaRica
SETHAM. LOW-GraduateSchoolandUniversityCenterof theCityUniversityofNew YorkInarecentarticle DeniseLawrenceandIreviewedthe literatureontheanthropologyof thebuiltenvironmentandspatialform(LawrenceandLow1990).We identifiedthehistoryandcontributionsof diversetheoretical andmethodological perspectiveson thedevelopmentofananthropologicalapproachto the builtenvironment,and concluded:Themostpromisingew directionoranthropologistsiesinthe areaof socialproductionheories.Theseapproacheseek toplacetheirunderstandingfbuilt forms withinthelargercontextofsociety'sinstitutionsnd itshistory....As anobjectofstudy,hebuildingbecomesapointofspatialarticulationfor heintersectionfmultipleorcesofeconomy,societyand culture.Further,hemeaningof the builtenvironments revealedhroughtsmetaphoricalonnectionsandritualpracticesonstitutesnimportantut stillincompletely xploreddimension... . Theanalysisandinterpretationfbuildingdecisionscannotbe understoodpartrom ocialand economicinstitutionalforceshatcontinuouslynfluenceactors,nor cantheinterpretationfsymbolicmeaningbe divorcedfrom heseforcesorhistory.I have continuedtoexplorethese dimensions furtherinan effort to theorizespaceandspatializehumanexperiencemoreeffectivelywithin culturalanthropology.By spatializeI meantolocate,bothphysicallyandconceptually,social relationsand socialpracticeinsocialspace.Inthis articleIamusingthespecificanalysisof twoplazasinCostaRica toexplorethe use ofthetwomutually complementaryperspectivesof socialproductionofspaceand socialconstructionofspaceas tools forunderstandinghowpublic spacein urbansocietybecomessemioticallyencodedandinterpreted reality.Inordertoclarifythis discussionit isimportanttodistinguishbetweenthese twoterms,fortheyare oftenusedinterchangeably.Thesocialproductionofspaceincludesall thosefactors-social,economic,ideological,andtechnological-theintendedgoalofwhich is thephysicalcreation ofthe materialsetting.The materialistemphasisof the term socialproductionis usefulindefiningthe historicalemergenceandpoliticalandeconomicformation of urbanspace.The termsocial constructionmaythen beconvenientlyreservedfor thephenomenologi-cal andsymbolicexperienceofspaceas mediatedbysocialprocessessuch asexchange,InthisarticleIexplorehow anintegratedapproachto theanthropological studyofurbanspacewould workethnographically.Idiscuss four areasofspatial/culturalanalysis-historical emergence,sociopoliticaland economicstructuring,patternsof socialuse,andexperiential meanings-asa meansofworkingoutof themethodological implicationsof broader social constructiontheoreticalperspec-tives.TwoplazasinSanJose,CostaRica,furnishethnographicillustrations of thesocialmediating processesofspatial practices, symbolicmeaning,andsocialcontrol thatprovide insightinto the conflictsthat arise asdifferentgroupsandsociopoliticalforcesstruggleto claim anddefine theseculturally significant publicspaces.[urbanspace, ethnographicmethods,plazas,CostaRica,socialproduction,socialconstruction]
AmericanEthnologist23(4):861-879.Copyright?1996,AmericanAnthropologicalAssociation.
spatializingculture861
 
conflict,and control.Thusthe social constructionofspaceis the actualtransformation ofspace-through people'ssocialexchanges,memories,images,anddailyuse of the materialsetting-intoscenes and actions thatconvey symbolicmeaning.1Bothprocessesaresocialinthe sense that both theproductionand theconstruction ofspaceis contested for economic andideologicalreasons;understandingthem canhelpussee how local conflicts overspacecan beused to uncover and illuminatelargerissues.Contemporarydebatesconcerningethnographicmethodologiesandwriting strategiesem-phasizetheimportanceofcharacterizingsocial actorsinterms of theirexperienceof thetheorizedphenomena.Thecoproducersoftheethnographymust begivena voice and aplaceinthe written document(Appadurai1992;Rodman1992),andethnographicresearch isincreasingly judged byitsabilitytoportraytheimpactof macro andmicroprocesses throughthe "livedexperience"of individuals. Thus aneffectiveanthropological theoryof thespatiali-zation of culture andhumanexperiencemustintegratetheperspectivesof socialproductionand socialconstruction ofspace,bothcontextualizingtheforces thatproduceit andshowingpeopleas socialagents constructingtheir ownrealities andmeanings.But it must also reflectboth theseperspectivesintheexperienceanddailylife ofpublic-spaceusers.There have beenmany approachestovariousaspectsofthisproblem.DavidHarvey(1985,1990)and Manuel Castells(1983,1989)have examined thespatializationof socialconflicts,focusingonclass-basedstrugglewithstate-imposed spatial regimes.They providehistorical andcontemporary examplesofgrassroots organizationsfightingtomaintain control ofhousing(Castells1983),urban sacredspace (Harvey1985),andneighborhoodreal estate(Castells1983;Peattie1969, 1987;alsoseeSmith1991).Intheiranalyses, theyview the localpopulationashavinga rolethroughsocial movements that resist thecontrol of thedominant classes andplanningelite.Theyfail, however,to accounteitherfortheagencyof theindividual actor orfor the details of howspatialstructures influence humanbehavior,andconversely,howbehavior influences theexperience,utilization,and allocationofspace.MichelFoucault,inhis work on theprison(1975)andinaseries of interviews and lecturesonspace(Foucault1984;Rabinow1984),takes ahistoricalapproachto thespatializationofsocial controlthroughanalysisof the humanbody, spatialarrangements,and architecture. Heexamines therelationshipofpowerandspace bypositingarchitecture as apolitical"technol-ogy"forworkingout the concerns ofgovernment-thatis,control andpowerover individu-als-throughthespatial"canalization" ofeverydaylife. The aim of such atechnologyis tocreate a "docilebody"(Foucault 1975:198)throughenclosureand theorganizationof individu-alsinspace.Continuingthisapproach,Paul Rabinow(1989)linksthegrowthofmodern forms ofpoliticalpowerto the evolution ofaesthetic theoriesand shows how French colonistssoughtto usearchitecture andcityplanningto demonstrate their culturalsuperiority.He focuses on theorderingofspaceas awayto understand"thehistoricallyvariable linksbetweenspatialrelations, aesthetics,socialscience, economics,andpolitics"(Rabinow 1982:267).JamesHolstein(1989)developsthisargumentfurtherby examiningthestate-sponsoredarchitectureand masterplanningof Brasiliaas new forms ofpoliticaldominationthroughwhich thedomainsofdailylife become thetargetsfor stateintervention. These writerssuccessfullyillustrate howarchitecture contributes tothemaintenanceofpowerof onegroupover another at a level thatincludes both the control of the movement and thesurveillance of thebodyinspace,but donot addressdirectlyeither the livedexperienceof the individualor the resistance of individualsandgroupsto these architectural forms of social control.Michel de Certeau(1984)takes this omission as hisstartingpointfor hisattemptto show howpeople's "waysofoperating"constitute the meansbywhich usersreappropriatespace organ-izedby techniquesofsocioculturalproduction(1984:xiv).Thesepracticesare articulatedinthedetails ofeverydaylife andbringtolightthe clandestine"tactics"usedby groupsor individuals862 americanethnologist

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