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Environment and Planning D: Society and Space advance online publication


Practice, space, and the duality of meaning

Vinicius Netto

University College London, 1 ^ 19 Torrington Place, London WC1 6BT, England Received 7 February 2006; in revised form 11 September 2007; published online 11 February 2008

Abstract. The paper aims at a rewriting of the concept of meaning as a connection between the social and the material, a multiple connection, perhaps the only possible intrinsic connection between things as different as `practice' and `space', and a major condition of what has been recently addressed as `inherent relatedness'. Drawing mainly on Niklas Luhmann's theory of self-referentiality, I propose a reinterpretation of relatedness as a property of meaning. That property is defined as a duality of meaningie meaning as an event in our experience, yet in itself an experience of reference to acts, places, and other meanings. It implies that the very definition of meaning is referentialit is never self-contained or centred; it, rather, alludes always already to other meanings, acts, and spaces, referentially crossing boundaries while reasserting sensual and perceptive qualities. This renewed concept of meaning is proposed as a way to unveil relationality while actively keeping the subject's experience of identities and different materialities at work in the relation between practice and space. The paper places this key ontological problem and the quest for a relation between the social and the material into a particular, overlooked aspect of the society ^ space relation: the moment of sociation of practice and its informational, linguistic, and material conditions a turn to communication and a `referential approach' to the materiality of the social world.

1 Introduction The relation between society and space has been recently addressed as a realm of `inherent relatedness' in social and material reality described as new ontologies of agencies and hybrids, objects and places, as effects of semiotic networks found in performative and nonrepresentational approaches. This paper will attempt to disclose ``other ways in which those accounts might be made'' (Gregory, 1989, page 355). The perspective to be introduced below is consciously centred on a tradition in social theory still to be systematically explored in human geography. Genealogically, this tradition may be traced back to theories of action and meaning stemming from the work of Max Weber. Among these theories, I wish to explore Niklas Luhmann's theory of communication, searching to overcome some of its functionalist limitations, while adding a missing spatial dimension drawing from inside that theory (ie using concepts from the theory itself ) and from outside (ie drawing upon other, at first sight, incompatible approaches). However, in exploring the work of Luhmann, the core of the framework to be developed in this work lies in the proposition of a concept, a way to handle a particular set of issues consciously jettisoned in recent approaches in geography (and I shall justify a return to such issues below). It refers to a particular ontological condition at the heart of the inseparable relation between practice and space: the `duality of meaning'. It is a concept intended to look at the idea of `practice' beyond an ontological giventhat is, able to bring to the forefront processes through which practice became social practice and action social action, attempting to disclose the elusive process of sociation of practice as a problem of communication. The paper intends to grasp sociation processes built and performed through the communication of meaning and what I shall call, upon Luhmann, the `referentiality' between practices
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and the effects and spaces of these practices. By carefully considering meaning and communication in this way, I will suggest that a new and active role for space may be identified in the society ^ space relation: a `semanticised space' as a key dimension of (1) the `communicability of practice' (ie the informational connections that mediate the passage from the individual act into the socialised act that takes part in unfolding social events) and (2) the very possibility of ontological relatedness, seeing space as a dimension of the `strings of reference' that produce the sense of `world-relationality' or structure, inform socialities of possibilities of acts, and constitute the very possibility of actualisation of acts through the referentiality of practice, communication, and space. My argument will initially search to break usual notions of meaning as a key into identities or the essence of things. I will propose a reworking of the notion instead as both `reference' and `identity', by showing that identities, as practices themselves, are in fact complex referential constructions actively mediated by meaning and the meaningful spaces of our practices. The idea of decoding meaning as chains of multiple references will allow us to unveil the ontological relationality portrayed in poststructuralist accounts in philosophy and nonrepresentational approaches in human geography in a rather particular way. It will renovate and transform a concept defined to disclose entities (or what Derrida called ``the stability of presences'') into a concept able to disclose potentially endless referentiality, thus blurring the very definition of `entity', `fact', or `event'. The duality of meaning will be suggested as a way to see the interacting subject inescapably immersed in relationality or in what one may well call the `extraordinary relatedness of things' in the world we produce and experience. This return to meaning and this turn to communication are intended to show that the improbable relation between things as different as practice and space, if it was to exist at all, could be accomplished in practice only through a dual condition of meaninga condition where `relationality' (of a thing, act or place) relates toindeed, contains and produces `identity' and `distinctiveness' (of a thing, act, or place) to our senses acts and language games. Of course, an epistemological problem at stake here is how to reinterpret recent emphases on an inherent relatedness while keeping a bridge to the complex condition of meaning, the subject, the singularity of things and spaces, and the vitality latent in their specific materialities (ie in whatever differentiates one thing from any other thing to our senses).(1) The duality of meaning is intended to intrinsically connect space and practice, relating properties objectified by different epistemologies and different theoretical traditions. It consists of a first step in the definition of a `referential approach': exploring the materiality of socialities and communication, placing it within the problem of social reproduction, and relating it to questions concerning the actual conditions of existence and continuity of the social and material world. This unconventional approach does not exclude the nonmeaningful, but it discusses the place of meaning in the sociation of acts and in ontological relationality, proposing the problem as an opportunity to relate different epistemological traditions. In this sense, section 2 points out the possibility of other dimensions of world relationality, and by extensionof the relation between sociality and spatiality. It suggests the possibility of taking advantage of the unique nature of the problem of practice and space to relate different ways of theorising. Namely, it relates a Kantian view of meaning as `event in experience' to a Husserlian view of meaning as `experience of reference', and relates philosophies of the subject and language to postmodern assertions of affect and the sensual. As such, it finds as a background recent discussions
(1) The relation between `materiality' and `immateriality' has been the subject of recent discussions (see, for example, Jackson, 2000; Latham and McCormack, 2004; Lees, 2002; Philo, 2000).

Practice, space, and the duality of meaning

about less exclusive perspectives (Dixon and Jones, 2004). However, if my aim is to address the relation between society and space from a rather unexplored perspective of practice and meaning (Luhmann's among others), my argument is in fact quite simple. Section 3 introduces the duality of meaning as a major aspect of the (referential) relation between acts and spaces active in the sociation of practice, and as a key condition of the very possibility of ontological relatedness (the improbable relation between elusive practices and concrete spatialities). Section 4 searches for a material referentiality of practice, communication, and space, and points to empirical traces to be found in the spaces of the city, along with possibilities for future research. 2 Theories of practice in a `world on the move' In the current urge to practice in human geography, there is an extraordinary interest in poststructuralist approaches and their antihumanistic critique of the rational subject: namely, Deleuze and Guatarri, Foucault, Baudrillard, Derrida, Lacan, Serres and Latour, and others. These theories share many points with nonrepresentational theories (Thrift, 1996) and performative approaches (see Butler, 1997; Schechner, 1988; Thrift, 2000). Above all, the latter seek to assert a world-producing sense of practice, the ``constant hum of the world as the different elements of it are brought into relation with one another'' (Bingham and Thrift, 2000, page 281), a new classification of things (Latour, 1993; 2005). Nonrepresentational theories are theories ``in which basic terms and objects are forged in a manifold of actions and interactions'', and focus on the `external' rather than on the `internal' and on symbolic representations typical of representational models of the world (Thrift, 1996, page 6). This particular view of the human subject fundamentally relates to a `push to practice' and to `thought in action', emphasising ``the situated, pre-linguistic, embodied, states that give intelligibility (but not necessarily meaning) to human actionwhat Heidegger called the primordial or pre-ontological understanding of the common world'' (Thrift, 1996, page 9). This view of a decentred subject summons the body, the emotional, and the sensual, and the use of language not as a communicative device between psyche and social structure, but as a means of moving people or changing their perceptions. Although, I cannot offer a complete account of these theories here, one is led to agree with the concern to avoid drawing the bounds of the subject too tightly and excluding many crucial relations between subjects and objects, in order to assert the importance of the between-ness of joint action (Thrift, 1996). However, let me outline now another way of dealing with the inherently relational. Perhaps my intent has something to do with an idea of the recovery of `ontological depth' or of reversing the obsession with `depthlessness' or, as Jameson (in Gregory, 1989, page 356) puts it, the replacement of depth models by the play of `` `multiple surfaces', each shimmering off another''which seem shared between certain recent approaches. Yet, it is not my intention to produce a full critique of such approaches here. I shall limit my observations to those above, and relate them to Luhmann's theory of self-referentiality below. Nevertheless, a referential approach would emphasise certain aspects rather incisively. In some key moments, differences to performative approaches will emerge. I will explore similarities and differences through brief comparisons with Luhmann's perspective once the main ideas behind the latter are also outlined. For, if our postmodern condition indeed ``entails a respect for the `creative tension' between different theories'', it is also true that ``it is far from easy to sustain a dialogue between competing theoretical traditions'' (Gregory, 1989, page 357).
2.1 Other relationalities: Luhmann's self-referentiality

I will take up as a point of departure a particular notion of practice as `social action' central in (and problematised by) Luhmann. By action I mean, roughly, the things that

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one does that affect interacting subjects, and do so reciprocally. They do so because they are acts, utterances, gestures, or productions of things (objects, signs, texts, hypertexts) that are meaningful, or, provisionally, communicable and understandable by other persons, implying their actions, bodily and discursive interaction, agreement ^ disagreement, omission, reflection, new productions. In fact, considering the appropriate poststructuralist and nonrepresentational emphases on the prelinguistic, I shall insist on the importance of exploring a dimension whose spatiality seems still underestimated: that of practice as a communicative, meaningfully mediated fabric embodying social life. Thus, a main difference between the approach to relationality to be outlined here and those ontologies is the relevance of `meaningful meanings'. I will propose in this paper that the emphasis on signs, perceptions, affect, and the body perhaps surprisingly does not have to imply the withdrawal from meaning and communication. That dualism, we shall see below, seems to be more of an epistemological than ontological nature: we need concepts able to grasp these ontological possibilities rather as ambiguities and dualities than as sovereign realities. For the practice of meaningfully mediated interaction must be viewed as an equally fundamental dimension of social reproduction (see Habermas, 1984; Honneth, 1987). This is a dimension particularly relevant in regard to the spatiality of human practice. I wish to revisit the condition of how social practice emerges through communication and space, and how practices and spatialities are reciprocally produced, so that socialities may reproduce themselves. I wish to bring to the forefront the communicative continuity of action, and to emphasise `communication' beyond the oral (ie as something that might well be part of the production of relationality in social and material reality) though not at the expense of the nonmeaningful (the tactile, the emotional, the prelinguistic). That means seeing the sociation of practice in space in terms of communicative accomplishments recast in the sensual and emotional, interpretive, and communicative universe of the subject. Let me now briefly introduce Luhmann as a social theorist, and show what is distinctive in his extraordinarily rich theory of a society that blends itself into its ontological field. Indeed, it is a theory of the conditions of possibility of existence of the social which ``explains the normal as improbable'' (Knodt, 1995), a theory that still aims at understanding the structure of the world even though it accepts it as an unattainable aimfor this `world' or `structure' is fundamentally unknowable ``not because of the limits of human knowledge but because of the `interactively' alterable limits of the world itself '' (Rausch, 2002, page 25). After the breakdown of the transcendental subject and the failure of linguistically based theoriessuch as hermeneutics, structuralism, and analytical philosophyto halt the erosion of modernity's trust in its own self descriptions, and the tare cit [metanarrative (Knodt, 1995)], Luhmann develops his `observation of failure of me observations' in works such as Essays on Self-reference (1990), The Sociology of Risk (1991), Observations of Modernity (1992), Social Systems (1995), and Theories of Distinction (2002). Essentially, he links social theory to theoretical developments in cybernetics (Varela and Maturana's autopoiesis), systems theory (and its shift from the knowing subject to a reality that consists solely of self-referential systems and their empirically observable operations), cognitive science and ``the potentially subversive connotations of information-theoretical concepts (complexity, chaos, entropy, and noise)'', coupling these theories with phenomenology and negotiating disciplinary boundaries so as to lead theory beyond hermeneutics (Knodt, 1995, page xvi). His theory establishes connections between the mutual formation of social systems and consciousnesses through communication, and performs a radical rewriting of notions of `consciousness' and `meaning', undermining the usual emphasis on `social action' through a revision of the role of language within the selfproductive economy of social communication systems, the paradoxical implications of

Practice, space, and the duality of meaning

linguistic self-reflexivity, and the status of the subject. His is a theory of society as a self-referential, `autopoietic' system which produces its own structures through communication. `Self-reference' is the general principle of system formation (Luhmann, 2002). This theory of actualisation of action through `communication that furthers communication' shows society as the aggregate of communications not as the aggregate of individuals or as a meaning-processing system of ever-growing complexity. Society is shown as a system that differentiates itself into a network of interconnected subsystems (such as the political, economic, and the legal system, religions, or the arts) where events are communicatively formed subsystems that ``proliferate, subdivide, and re-enter themselves'' (Rausch, 2002, page 28) as new ways of coping with their own complexity. Luhmann's theory is one that places itself within a ``de-ontologized realm of second-order observation, a level of abstraction where ... questions concerning conditions of possibility arise'' (Knodt, 1995, page xvii). He moves to a postmetaphysical position challenging the principle of a unified subject, the social as a derivative of intersubjectivity (he rejects the phenomenological subject-centred frame of reference as incapable of accounting for the social dimension), communication as an interaction between subjects and a transmission of contents between separate consciousnesses, and the idea of language as a representation of such contents (Knodt, 1995). What would Luhmann's view add to poststructuralist and nonrepresentational accounts? Distinctive is his concern with the counterfactual conditions of the formation of social systems and consciousnesses as contingent achievements dependent on communicationa theory of the conditions under which the improbable becomes the actual. Like certain nonrepresentational positions, he claims that all dualisms between agents, objects, environment, and informational processes are unnecessary. Unlike most nonrepresentational positions, he still reserves an active place for (a renewed notion of ) consciousness as a producer of meaning and of whatever `circulates' in or as the world, avoiding a reduction of the agent to an effectand asserting a consciousness which finds no boundaries when communicating, or one that overcomes its own boundaries through communication. Furthermore, boundaries of things are still preserved: meaning is the entity that asserts connectivity within reality without eliding distinctions and inherent qualities or leading to the dissolution of materialities. I shall, nevertheless, address these questions along with certain problems in Luhmann's formulation of his concept of meaning and subject below (section 2.3). Luhmann's theory of meaning and communication could certainly add to the attempt to build a more inclusive spatial narrative one able to assert the place of space in the communicative sociation of practice and in the production of worldrelatedness. There are at least four interesting possibilities to explore in his theory. Firstly, Luhmann explains relationality through a particular ontological property of meanings: the referentiality of meaning to meaning, a property able to produce continuity within the world while epistemologically able (once it is reworked, which I aim to do below) to reveal a (still) active place of the acting subject and the material specificities of things. Secondly, his analysis includes another condition of meaning in the emergence of action (in fact, in a whole ontological region frequently ignored): the elusive passage between the `possible' and the `real', or how, among the universe of possible actions, a particular action actually comes into being. Luhmann searches to unearth the moment before actionthe condition for whatever exists to come into existence. In turn, I will argue that that moment involves space in a fundamental way, proposing along with the continuity between different temporal regions and the continuity between social and material events the presence of space in the very actualisation of acts from a counterfactual universe of possible acts. Thirdly, Luhmann places

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referentiality as fluid connectivity at the heart of the problem of social reproduction: the emergence of social structures or Strukturifizierung (Structuration). He sees `structure' as a relational accomplishment achieved through communication. In turn, my intention is to see space embedded in the delicate process of communicative sociation of practice (truly beyond language and beyond intelligible meaning)the `spatial emergence of joint action' as both flux and event in-the-world. Fourthly, there is his notion of the `environment' of social systems, and the virtual absence of a spatial environment. I wish to introduce and carefully demonstrate the idea of space as referential to communication: as a `material referentiality' active in the production of linguistic and nonlinguistic communication, seeing space truly as a form of communication in its own right. I shall deal mostly with the first and second aspects in this work, and will address the latter two aspects in works to follow. Luhmann's theory is built up through concepts of meaning and communication as other action theories are. However, Luhmann rather emphasises social information and conditions of actualisation of action in order to overcome bounded conceptions of `subject' and `action'. As distinct from organic systems, systems that operate on the basis of communication (social systems) and on the basis of consciousness (psychic systems) require meaning for their reproduction. Meaning not only is a means to interaction, but also plays a role in social reproduction. Social systems are immersed in symbolic production: meaning becomes their environment. The problem of surviving is solved though a symbolically structured self-environment of production of meaning, action, and communication. Meaning ``articulates a world-encompassing referential nexus ... . Systems bound to meaning can therefore never experience or act in a manner that is free from meaning. They can never break open the reference from meaning to meaning in which they themselves are inescapably implicated ... . Any attempt to negate meaning on the whole would presuppose meaning, would have to occur in the world. Thus meaning is an unnegatable category, a category devoid of difference. In the strictest sense, its sublation would be `annihilation'and that could only be the matter of an unimaginable instance'' (Luhmann, 1995, page 62). Meaning becomes a mode of experience to social beings whose manifestation ultimately ``cannot be free from meaning''. But that ``does not mean that there is nothing but meaning''. Luhmann considers here ``the directly accessible contents of experience'' that have been called ``pleasure, facticity, and existence'' (Luhmann, 1995, page 63) sensations, affects, desires precisely what is absent in theories nurtured in the philosophies of consciousness and language, and what recent poststructuralist and performative approaches seek, as I discuss below. Nevertheless, Luhmann's notion of meaning is not usual in social theory: it is not contained in the dimension of representation of facts. He draws upon Husserl to claim meaning as indicating something even when a sign or a thing does not mean anything (see Husserl, 1976). ``[S]igns in the sense of indications (notes, marks, etc) do not express anything, unless they happen to fulfil meaning as well as an indicative function'' (Husserl in Derrida, 1973, page 20). Signs `want to say' (Derrida, 1973). ``Meaningin communicative speechis always interwoven with such an indicative relation'' (Husserl, in Derrida, 1973, page 20). Luhmann pushes Husserl's concept of indicative meaning into deep ontological waters: into the idea of an ontological relationality between everything in one's cognitive horizon. Luhmann calls it self-referentiality between social systems and world; between past, present, and future; between what is possible, latent, and real. Every meaning brings within itself references to meanings (and spaces?) in a lifeworld.

Practice, space, and the duality of meaning

``A muddle of objects is never meaningless. A pile of rubble, for example, is immediately recognizable as such, and one can immediately tell whether it is attributable to time, to an earthquake, or to `enemy action' ... everything that can be perceived and processed in the world of meaning systems must assume the form of meaning; otherwise, it remains a momentary impulse, an obscure mood, or even a crude shock without connectivity, communicability, or effect within the system'' (Luhmann, 1995, page 62). Although there is the nonmeaningful, something acquires communicability only if it takes the form of meaning. ``Communication is only possible as an event that transcends the closure of consciousness: as the synthesis of more than the content of just one consciousness'' (page 99). Signs, whether verbal or nonverbal, serve as an interface between conscious systems and social systems. They permit their structural coupling by encoding information and utterance in ways that stabilise the coordination between the two (Knodt, 1995). Communication becomes a problem of communicating meaning. ``Meaning can insert itself into a sequence that is bound to bodily feelings; then it appears as consciousness. But meaning can also insert itself into a sequence that involves others' understanding; then it appears as communication. Whether meaning is actualized as consciousness or as communication does not reveal itself `only afterwards', but determines any respective actualization of meaning, because meaning is always constructed self-referentially and therefore always includes reference to others as the way to self-reference'' (Luhman, 1995, page 98). We shall see below that meaning is not necessarily always `conscious' and `coherent'. Nor are references limited to a direct relation between `signifier' and a range of `signifieds' in language. In a Husserlian fashion, references imply what comes before and after the act. In some sense, every meaning uttered, written, or actualised in gesture, act, or text is produced only because it was implied by previous and surrounding meanings. Utterances are expected in a conversation, or they follow a thought or feeling about something real or imagined, actualised in previous or ongoing interactions, or in informational (and material?) effects; or yet were latent in those effects or in our feelings and minds. Latent meanings are, in fact, very important. They are possibilities that could have happened but were not experienced and actualised into actual meaning, utterance, and act; that never related, even unexpectedly, actors in different places. Yet, they remain latent, mere possibilitiesperhaps lost, or `waiting' to be actualised, say, when we come across a text or artefact unexpectedly. From these initial considerations, we may draw a first self-referential concept of meaning. Meaning is the (vanishing, changing) horizon of possibilities present in its very actualisation: the connection and difference between past and future, forgotten and latent, possible and actual events. It is a way into the actualisation of acts as meaningful selections among possible acts, and as the very possibility of interacting. Now, this is a concept able to map endless networks of self-relatedness among events, acts, and communication, consciousnesses, and lifeworld. Meaning is a property of things, speech, gestures (spaces?) that produces what one may call `world connectivity' endless self-referential connections. Nevertheless, one could dispute (a) Luhmann's passage between possible and real meanings (and acts and events)an ontological problem that he places at the heart of social reproductionand (b) his restriction of meaning to `reference'. Let me concentrate first on the former problem, and do so through a famous notion of ontological pairs.

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I will suggest below that, along with evident differences, Luhmann's and Deleuze's considerations may contain interesting parallels and surprising complementarities. While Luhmann searches for his notions of possible and real in Husserl's philosophy, Deleuze associates, through Bergson, time and space with two `multiplicities': the virtual and the actual (Deleuze, 1991). All multiplicity implies actual (current or coming into being) and virtual elements. There is no object that is purely actual (Deleuze and Parnet, 1987). The actual is immersed in clouds of virtual images above coexistent circuits, replacing, emitting, involving, and corresponding to the actual endlessly. The virtual reacts over and creates along the actual a continuum, a spatium, the plane of immanence where the actual object is dissolved, at once virtual and actual without noticeable boundaries. The virtual image coexists with the perception of the object. That is clear in one's memories. The possibility of evoking memories (visiting a region of the past) means bringing the past to the present. These ontological regions coexist and repeat each other (do they refer to each other?) The virtual refers to a past that insists in echoing in the vitality of the present: it turns the present into past, and keeps the past alive. Virtuality is actualised through diverging, successive, and simultaneous lines, each representing an actualisation of the whole. Virtuals communicate above the actual between them (the ontological pair virtual$actual ). The virtual is therefore different from the possible (Deleuze, 1991). The possible has no reality, although it may have actuality (and this observation will be crucial for a relation between Deleuze and Luhmann). It is what is actualised or not (actual$possible). In turn, the real is seen as an image of the possible, in a way that the real differs from the possible only by having become real (real$possible). Therefore, there is no conceptual difference between `real' and `possible'. The possible becomes real in two ways for Bergson: similarity and limitation. As all possibles cannot become real, the real implies limitation: certain possibles are rejected or stopped while others become real (Luhmann would certainly agree with this condition, and evoking action, call it `selection'). Furthermore, the virtual does not have to become real because it may be alive in memories; it simply comes back into the present (virtual$real ). The conditions of actualisation are not similarity and limitation, but difference, divergence, and creation. In order to be actualised, the virtual (in a different way from the possible) cannot operate by limitation, but has to create its own fluxes of actualisation through positive acts. For whereas the real is like an image of the possible, the actual does not resemble the virtual it brings. Deleuze believes that Bergson's rejection of the notion of possible for the virtual regards the possible as a false notion: as the real would be already real, the possible presents itself as a false actuality; the possible resembles the real because we waited for the real to happen and then projected its image to the time before it happened. We approximate the possible to the real and thereby lose the mechanism of difference and creation. One may understand Bergson's fear which Deleuze assumed, but that fear erases our capacity to consider possibilities that might happen at any time, no matter what actually happens. The realm of the possible should not be addressed to reassert or justify the real. It does not contain normative limitations in itself; only cognitive subjects revisiting or assessing their situation might apply such imperatives. The possible rather is, now in Husserl's sense, always a horizon to practice endless horizons to be sure. As Luhmann (1995) insists, there are always more possibilities in a social world that can be actualised. Also, Luhmann's idea of the possible is intended to unveil exactly what is not virtual in Deleuze's sense: to access what simply did not happen, to be free of repetition, to be open. Thereby, Luhmann addresses the counterfactual in order to puzzle over what is actualised, to see the `real as improbable',

2.2 Luhmann and Deleuze on the actualisation of the act

Practice, space, and the duality of meaning

to be surprised with, instead of predicting, what happens. Or, to come back to the questions behind Deleuze's problematic (`why does this happen and not that ?'), Deleuze (1993) himself sees the confusion between the virtual and the possible as unnecessary, for these terms address different ontological realms. He suggests that, in the pair possible $ real, our world is one among possible worlds. These possible worlds have equally their actuality in the fluxes that express them. There is an actual that remains always possible and that is not necessarily real. Deleuze (1991) claims that the driving force in the process of actualisation is the difference between the virtual that originates the movement and the actuals we produce: there, in the moment of perceiving/remembering and acting, and in the difference between complementary fluxes before/during the actualisation of the act. The virtual is always an origin and a convergence: different from the possible in Luhmann, it is free from an origin or an end. Nevertheless, there somehow relating Deleuze's virtual and possible is Luhmann's latent. The latent is always there, coming back from the past, as past itself present in the present, close possibilities still there perhaps due to similarity and affinity between possible fluxes of acts or actualisations. Deleuze's virtual does not exclude Luhmann's latent. The latent may be present in the moment of actualisation of the act like a suggestion, perhaps in the form of a possible partner in interaction, a text lying around us, a memory, a discussion we never undertook. And the latent includes the past in two ways: as fluxes of acts and meanings that already happened but are active in our perception (rather like Deleuze's virtual); and as past possibilities that were only partially explored or that remained waiting to be actualised in a new event or reference. But, unlike Deleuze's virtual, the latent also includes a present anew, which did not happen before and without reference to memoriesit `escaped' from the past because it was never announced or never perceived. It is a possibility that was there in past events and fluxes, but is not a memory; it was never cognised. Luhmann finds a name for those existences, and shows that they interfere in the course of our acts. Furthermore, Deleuze suggests that the relation between actual and virtual is not like that between actuals. Actuals imply already constituted individuals, determination through ordinary points, whereas the relation between actual and virtual becomes that of individuation or exceptional points to be determined every time (Deleuze and Parnet, 1987). Deleuze thus underestimates the relation between two actualised fluxes (say, objects, practices, or images): it does not have to be ordinary. It might involve the unexpected; it may connect ongoing events or acts exceptionally, even in different places. Finally, and interestingly, Deleuze asserts that ontological fluxes are not independent: two fluxes can coexist only if they are contained in a same and third flux: they are folding themselves into and reflecting themselves in a third while folding and containing each other. There is a fundamental triplicity of fluxes (Deleuze, 1991). Could one reinterpret Deleuze's folding of multiple fluxes converging into/diverging from one another as recursive references between virtual and actual, image and object, between differentiated fluxes of actualisation (actual connections) as Luhmann's flows of communication refer to one another? Deleuze sees virtual connections between past and present. Luhmann the social philosopher sees past, latent meanings suggesting acts, including those ongoing and those that never happened (the universe of the possible). Unlike Deleuze, he places these ontological realms explicitly as conditions of actualisation of the act and social reproductionwhich is interesting for a spatial narrative of the communicative sociation of practice. So let me move to the second difficulty in his approach: his one-dimensional notion of meaning as `self-reference'.


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There is a fundamental limitation in an exclusive notion of meaning as self-reference: meaning is not a real-world phenomenon in a Kantian sense. Luhmann's aim is exactly a non-Kantian definition of references between possible and real, and between actualised facts or events. Yet, a disagreement on the ontological condition of meaning implies discarding neither Luhmann's counterfactual perspective nor its self-referential hint. Luhmann considers that there is no privileged carrier for social meanings embodying human consciousness, practice, and communication. Meaning is rather a connection. As we have seen, this allows us to see practice as communication, a continuum of practices and consciousnesses. ``It is therefore false ... to assign the psychic, that is, the conscious, anchorage a sort of ontological priority over the social. It is impossible to find a `supporting substance' for meaning. Meaning supports itself in that it enables its own self-referential reproduction'' (Luhmann, 1995, page 98). The self-referentiality of meaning produces the extraordinary continuity of acts (and materialities?) rather differently from nonrepresentational approaches. Luhmann breaks down the boundaries between subjects and things through a Husserlian notion of meaning seen as a mode of existence (and surely not the only one), a form of reproduction of psychic and social systems. Nevertheless, Luhmann's mistake is not the consideration that ``there is no privileged carrier, no ontic substrate'' for meaning (page 98) but a functionalist conception of the `carrier' merely as informational difference, a way to the selection and actualisation of acts. Such a conception of meaning does not make the intrinsic connection between the `identity of signification' and the commonality of intersubjective references (Habermas, 1987, page 380). If we forget the interweaving of expression and indication in Husserl's work, Luhmann's concept of meaning is one that, although appropriately asserting the continuum of acts and consciousnesses, is designed only to functionally produce social reproduction. Communication becomes mutual observation rather than a convergence of personal horizons through understanding (Habermas, 1987). Meaning becomes almost replaceable by the exteriority of signs, regardless of its status as a form of experiencing and doing, expressing and relating the universe of different subjects. It is merely an accomplishment of semantic structures (and we must question the term `semantic' in Luhmann's work) that reproduce themselves and the social system regardless of their sense, almost independently of the subject. In this sense, Simonsen (1991, page 418) correctly affirms, through Wittgenstein, that ``Meaning and significance cannot be ascribed to independent phenomena, they are produced by human beings in their carrying out of specific activities.'' Otherwise, the subject disappears as an acting being, whose sociability is in fact reared in the production of meanings through communication (Habermas, 1984). These considerations might lead one to think of a return to a humanist view of the transcendental subject, a view according to which the exterior reality is immediately accessible, and, indeed, belongs to the subject (Deleuze and Guatarri, 1994), for the transcendental subject relates naturally to the idea of meaning as a disclosing of the world, and as the main condition of experience. However, the duality of meaning is not coupled with a subject-centred view in three senses. First, it does not propose meaning as a return to the transcendental subject. It is counterbalanced by a view of meaning not contained in the thing or its identity; it does not belong to an essence. It, rather, defines the identity through multiple references to multiple things and acts (and contexts and places?)a form of movement immanent in meaning itself: the movement of possible and real referentiality between thingsin-the-world beyond the immanence of an essence or the transcendence of the subject. The notion of meaning as self-reference is therefore a path always already leading into multiple relations or self-referential codes. As we shall see below, decoding meaning

2.3 Referential meaning and the subject

Practice, space, and the duality of meaning


of a thing means knowing that its identity is composed of relations (to other things, acts, contexts) which are not immediately accessible to consciousness or conscious knowledgeit is therefore a key into the world beyond knowing and the knowable. Thus, as much as decentring the transcendental subject implies another conception of meaning, the transformation of meaning from a fixed entity into multiple and changing, actual and potential connections of referentiality also implies the decentring of the subject. Second, the duality of meaning does not ignore the bodily, the affective, or the enigmatic. Such a relation between subject and meaning must include another dimension which has been escaping from theories of practice reared in the philosophies of consciousness and language: if meaning may be a form of addressing existing things, yet meaning is not all that exists, neither is all that is meaningful fully disclosed through meaning. As we shall see below, meaning also leads into the `undecidable', the enigmatic, the nonintelligible (say, in aesthetic and bodily experiences): one experiences sensation, affect, passion (Deleuze and Guatarri, 1994; Lefebvre, 1991 [1974]; Thrift, 1996). The experience of the subject cannot be reduced to meaningful experience and even less to representational meanings. However, that can lead us into another false opposition or dualism: that of ignoring meaningful meanings, imposing a discontinuity between the linguistic and the prelinguistic in experience. Language and understanding are inseparable structural elements of being-in-the-world, ``not simply optional functions that man [sic] engages in or does not engage in at will'' (Linge, 1977, page xxviii). Our interpretive relation to meanings produced in the world cannot be merely switched off even in favour of senses exclusive of meaning, a moment `before meaning' only available to the body. Experience and understanding are inseparable: if not in the moment of bodily sensation, surely in the continued experience of the world and of other social beings. But if affect, passion, and the sensual are part of experience, how can they relate to understanding? Or, can we free the continuity of sensations from their connections with other forms of experience, or interrupt the translation between sensation and interpretation there, in the very flow of one's practice (say, the sudden consciousness of a sensation, or the meaning one finds in the other, a meaning progressively increased through the experiences of love and bodily sensation)? It seems that separating the sensual experience from meaning and interpretation in fact reproduces the old philosophical division between body and mind, res corporales and res incorporales. Could a broad understanding of meaning encompass sensation and feelings and their possible interpretations by the human subject? If the bodily constitutes a form of experiencing and knowing as much as conscience itself, could we find a `continuum of experience'? Olsson's (1993) geographical perspective seems illuminating: he relates body and mind understanding `thought' as a sixth sense in relation to the five bodily senses. A dialectic of (bodily) desire that is a dialectic of signification, ``of making a thing present by its absence'' (page 287) through sign and meaninga relation between desire, intentionality, identity, and difference of meaning.(2) Third, the duality of meaning neither reifies meaningful meaning, nor ignores the possibility of meaning. After Deleuze, Derrida, and others, surely we cannot hypostatise meaningful meaning. Yet, one is able to see that the referentiality of meaning is broader than the social reciprocity of interpretive meanings; meaning cannot be taken as only linguistic or coherent, discursive or conscious. In discourse, image, or intuition, it has no boundaries. If our experience and relation to the world is to be continuous (and that
Olsson's (1993) position seems interestingly ambiguous. On the one hand he tends toward a poststructuralist conception claiming that ``meaning does not reveal itself in the identities intended, but in the differences achieved'' (page 281); on the other hand, he says that ``Human beings lend signification to everything'' (page 282), seeing meaning as `signification' related to cultural intentionality, connected to the desire of turning into presence what cannot be.


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does not mean unproblematic), the referentiality of the sensual and interpretive meanings cannot be broken. These observations suggest the need for an alternative view of the place of meaningfully mediated communication and language, and the continuities between linguistic and prelinguistic, cognition and affect, thought and mystery, and their relation to spatiality. For as Frege (1984 [1892]) helps us see, the dissolution of Sinn (or `sense') implies the partial dissolution of meaningits resonance in the universe of subjects. A partial dissolution of meaning would affect the possibilities and forms of experiencing, being, doinga part of our relation to the world and to others. ``Human beings lend signification to everything, especially and foremost to their thought-and-actions'' (Olsson, 1993, page 282). As meaning, understanding, and language are also modes of experience, one may say that the partial dissolution of meaning is necessarily accompanied by a partial dissolution of possibilities of experience. And, in a world where meanings are exclusively references or indications (and Husserl was careful to say that that is not the case), there would be a significant dissolution of the human subject's world into constant flux. There, no consciousness or boundary would need to be crossed: there would be no consciousness, no boundary, no individuality of things at all to us. Luhmann's is, in that sense, an ontologically weak notion of meaning, only possible to a theory that sees the human subject as a mere stage in the transformation of information between environments, in the relation between operations of self-referential systems. In Luhmann's postmetaphysics, the acting subject disappears without a trace (Habermas, 1992, page 210; Simonsen, 1991, page 418). The notion of a semantic flux between environments cannot bring the complexities of the subjective level of production of meaning and its complex relation to the social world. We must attempt to find a conception of the world where the boundaries of consciousnesses and acts and contexts are indeed crossed through act and communication a conception that, paradoxically, never dissolves the interacting subject. Surely this is an unusual connection between a stable, bounded definition of meaning typical of the philosophy of consciousness and traditional social theory, and Luhmann's highly fluid definition. Let me explain it through some observations on the poststructuralist critique of meaning. Poststructuralist perspectives were, of course, influenced by Saussure and his emphasis on `meaning' as differentiation between signs among themselves. The anchoring of the thing, event, or space is not really in meaningin the `essence' of a sign or thing for usbut in the linguistic system itself. This has two effects. First, meaning as a knowable thing able to address the essence of something is somewhat emptied. Meaning cannot address an ultimate `identity' of a thing or event for consciousness. That epistemological operation lies behind the decentring of the subject as a presence. There is always some distance between words and what they addressa temporal distance that Derrida (1974) will extend to every sign ^ meaning relation (the `deferral of meaning'). Thus, against Husserl's primacy of `pure meanings' anchored in consciousness, and the disembodying interiorisation of its linguistic expression, Derrida proposes a reversal: the transcendental primacy of the exteriority of the sign against the primacy of meaning (Habermas, 1987, page 173). Instead of relating the identity of meaning to the employing rules of language in praxis as in the work of Wittgenstein and Habermas, Derrida splits the innerworldly from the performances of the subject. In his turn, Luhmann sees the communicative embedding of meaning beyond the subject. But Luhmann, like Derrida, does not expand the semiotic distinction between sign-types into a distinction between signal-language and propositionally differentiated meaning and language (Habermas, 1987).(3) Second, in

In this sense, Simonsen (1991, page 418) also rejects a concept of meaning as difference founded merely on the arbitrariness of the signifier in favour of one mediated in the praxis of language games in contexts of social action.

Practice, space, and the duality of meaning


turning the objectifying and signifying relations between signifier ^ signified into the differentiation between signifiers, the possibility of reference between sign and the exterior world is weakened. By extension, the chains of referentiality opened up by every sign and meaning, every word or gesture (as events of communication, world relatedness and its internal coherence and incoherence, and means of social structuration and unstructuration) are rendered invisible, unaccountable, nonexistent. They cannot be tracked. And, as the multiple referentiality of meaning is invisibilised, meaning cannot be seen as part of, or producing, relationality in social and material reality. Only the movement of signs can be accounted for. The relationalities produced through meanings (uttered, written, performed in time and space) cannot be addressed in their own right. 3 Event in experience and the experience of reference: the duality of meaning Whatever Luhmann's concept of meaning leaves behind (the relation between signification, sense, and information), we can preserve both the intersubjective fluidity of communication and the counterfactual condition of practice as means to the passage from the ontological regions of the possible and the latent to the actual (the actualised act), and relate them to a concept of practice and communication also based on the relations of meaningfully driven actors to the world. First of all, a neo-Kantian concept of action (say, in Weber or Habermas's work) is not incompatible with the idea of meaning as a form of actualisation of acts and as a form of inherent relatedness of events-in-the-world. The neo-Kantian element, as it keeps meaning as a dimension of experience and as a fact perceived in works, rather evokes distinctive aspects of why and how acts are ever relevant to interacting subjects. In turn, the connection of this dimension of meaning to the referential (against Luhmann's conscious avoidance of metaphysics and the equation of meaning and being) would add beneficially the conditions of actualisation and boundlessness of acts and their effects to a new referential approach. The connection between the identity of meaning and the endless referentiality of meaning is possible, I suggest, through a duality of meaning. The duality of meaning is not merely linguistic indication (a relation between sign, meaning, and thing, a condition of the production of meanings in gestures, acts, utterances, or texts). It is a relation produced through relations to previous and surrounding, possible and future, meaningsbeyond language or the cognitive function of knowing. Living the identity of an experience as certified by the identity of a presence, the experience of the duality of meaning still always already leads into other flows and events. It asserts the `I', `here', and `now' as both effects and generators of connections to other acts and places. But this idea does not imply a return to meaning and its subject if that implies turning our back on the `in-between' of postmetaphysics against the sovereignty of presence. It does not ignore that meanings and signs in themselves defer ``the moment of encountering the thing itself '' (Derrida, 1973, page 138). It asserts that, rather, we need ambiguity. But how can we see these dimensions coexisting? The duality of meaning seems to reach and relate the innerworldly of the subject and the textures of kaleidoscopic relations between everything performedor yet to be performed. It reveals the tremendous extension of referentiality beyond our immediate spatiotemporal contexts. In fact, it asserts the boundlessness of context (cf Thrift, 1996). Linguistic and imagetic signs and their meanings are able to travel and refer to other places, times, and socialities beyond bodily mediated situations: meaning performs connections to what is absent, beyond a visible or foreseeable horizon. Such a redefinition (ie shifting from Luhmann's notion to a broader notion based on a fundamental duality of meaning in our experience) is intended to include the


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subject immersed in movement yet experiencing the uniqueness inherent in things and events. It is intended to loosen the sense of the fixed presence, to neither centre nor decentre the subject (or perhaps to do both at once). Meaningendlessly referential yet full of identitymoves in multiple possible $ real directions into things, acts, places which our messages find. Things are inherently woven, and yet they do have boundaries boundaries crossed through referentiality (4) without necessarily dissolving events, things, and spaces into free-floating fluxes of signs. Things still are events, but events that bring possible references to other events in our senses. Meaning itself is perceived as an event (the `illusion of fixing' processes and relations actualised in acts by the interacting subject, through naming, joining a social situation, a space to penetrate), and also as a reference (direction, movement), well into the corners of the social and material world. It performs connections to things absent, and we shall see belowto places and gestures beyond a visible horizon. Such a conception of meaning seems able to `map' virtual and real, elusive and endless paths that always leads into other practices and communications, spaces, and socialities. The meaning of an act is the multiplicity of connective possibilities that the act opens up, and that means the communicative continuity of acts and things and contexts beyond language itself. Things communicate beyond our use of language or linguistically built relations. I suggest that this concept somehow combines a Kantian perspective of entities in experience and a Husserlian perspective of boundlessness between things and subjects (and spaces) perhaps a little like Olsson's ``double trick ... turning things into relations, relations into things'' (1993, page 282). What is the advantage of relating these views on meaning? What does it add to previous theories, say, to the poststructuralist rejection of `meaning' as disclosure of the world and to current assertions of `inherent relatedness'? This reunion of a neoKantian view of meaning and Luhmann's extension of the indicative quality of sign (Husserl) can track movement between entities not only as (seen, heard) flows of signs but also as (invisible, understandable, enigmatic) meaning. Such an idea has effects for an ontology: it is able to unveil a particular dimension of world relationality, one able to assert the continuities (and differences) between the social and the material, and the engagement of interacting subjects. It includes the possibility of sharing an experience, of evoking pulsing subjects that are not only produced by but also actively produce referentiality as their very activity, for it addresses the unseen of the subject ^ world relation (ie beyond the exteriority of signs) and keeps the specificities of things or the vitality latent in whatever differentiates a thing from any other thing to our senses. Indeed, like nonrepresentational approaches, it emphasises everyday practice, `thoughtin-action', and the `boundlessness of contexts'. Unlike most of them, it sees the way `relationality' is performed or brought into the world and its effects over things beyond the dissolution of inherent qualities: it sees relationality performed through the duality of meaning in our cognitive and practical experience of things, the other, the world. It rejects the equation of the centrality of the body with an exclusive `return to the prediscursive' (ie the assertion of the prelinguistic moment of practice as opposed to communication). It, rather, asserts communication as the means to explain the complex process of sociation of practice, rejecting views that seem to assume practice unproblematically as `social' that take `social practice' as a given, without considering
In fact, the very temporality and spatiality of social life implies clearer irruptions, recognisable quasi-discontinuities, there in the performance of our routines, and in structures of space as urbanised space. When we enter a room and join a social situation, we become events to others. Getting there and joining the situation is an event also for ushowever implicated and continuous within our own practice an event to be, potentially, endlessly implicated in others. For the act is not an identifiable unit; it always streams into other acts and other spaces.

Practice, space, and the duality of meaning


the extraordinarily complex rendering of acts into socialised acts through linguistic and nonlinguistic communication. It follows that world-disclosure and performance are not seen as privileges of sensual practice: they are seen substantially performed through meanings enacted in the moment of communication. Indeed, the referential approach asserts `language' as the utterance, transmission, and understanding of information beyond the ``rhetorical-responsive means of moving people or changing their perceptions'' asserted by Thrift (1996, page 20), as much as it emphasises `thought' as a potentially creative movement in one's experience in the world, an active role for the interacting subject as a producer of effects, and the boundlessness of consciousnesses through referentiality and communication. The duality of meaning means that the material constitution of the social world is built through an intrinsic conditiona condition where `restless referentiality' (of the world, of a thing, act, or space) connects to, indeed contains, paradoxically, difference or `distinctiveness' (of a thing, act, or space) to our senses, practices, and language games. It is a `return to meaning' renouncing any inherent stability or what Derrida calls `the metaphysics of presence'. Instead, it asserts identity as a relational quality of things accomplished in our experience, connecting ourselves always already into an ontological field of things, contexts, acts, and possibilities of acts, and immersing the interacting subject in a deep sense of his or her own continuity and interactivity with her or his environment. It is defined to relate intrinsically different properties objectified by different epistemologies and in different theoretical traditions. Therefore, the referential approach aims at a difficult rebalance of positions. These include (a) the individuality of the `fixed points' (the subject, meaning, matter). It is argued that the points are not fixed in themselves, but fluid and active producers of whatever circulates. The human subject is seen as and beyond a relational effect, meaning is seen as beyond representation, interpretation is seen as beyond thoughtin-actionin order to reassert the possibility of communicative experiences, and the relevance of identities and boundaries of places, things, and events. The second position is (b) the `in-between', the relationality of social and material entities, the crossing of boundaries between subjects and contexts. Finally, the approach aims at a rebalancing of (a) and (b), and (c) the importance of material specificities that mediate the sociation of practice. It is argued that these differences are, rather, fundamental in the relation between the social and the material. The approach consciously tries to resituate as dualities what has tended to be jettisoned or replaced through dualisms. (5) Of course, this discussion has not explored all relevant aspects in this complex matter. Instead, it makes the case for an idea of mediating social and material reality in a more inclusive way, beyond the perception ^ interpretation divide, beyond the `exteriority of the sign' and Kantian representations of the world. However, would these ideas remain confined in some abstract level of a fundamental ontology, a fundamental bridge between the social and the material? I suggest that, given its potential to both keep and cut across boundaries and relate different things while seeing the strength of their identities, the duality of meaning is part of a deep ontological integration, part of the `in-betweenness' (or `togetherness') of socialities and materialities in the spatial sociation of practice.


In fact, parallels and differences between traditional and performative approaches were drawn in Ernste (2004), Gomart and Hennion (1999) (which I would not support), and Simonsen (1991). My aim is neither to repeat such a discussion nor simply to suggest the need to `reembrace metaphysics' (Rose, 2004).


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4 The referentiality of practice, communication, and space Surely we should not remain in a philosophical discussion of the place of meaning in the relatedness of acts and materialities. For one thing, such an observation allows a reinterpretation of the question of society ^ space relations with particular clarity: how can space be part of the communicative exchanges at the heart of the sociation of practice? That question addresses the place that space finds in the production of streams of cognitive and practical, possible and actual, references that connect our performances and their effects; or, in other words, the problem of how social practice emerges through space in a way to unveil the inseparable relation of practice and space as a referential construction. In this sense, the argument of a referentiality and identity of meaning allows some initial propositions. `Practice' cannot be an isolated phenomenon, with an existence of its own and with no connections to its surroundings. Its intrinsic referentiality as an act-in-the-world connects it always already to the world and its own effects (since the actualisation of the act implies that `something changes in the world'), to its material conditions (since it comes into being in and through spaces), and to other acts and their effects and spaces (since the sociation of the act implies connections between past, surrounding, and future acts and their contexts). `Space' also cannot be experienced independently. Neither can it find an existence of its own nor can it have effects only over itself. As much as our practices are always related to something else if they are to be joined by interacting actors (ie produced through references to previous, ongoing, latent, or future acts and their surrounding contexts and effects), space is always already embedded in referentiality. Furthermore, a substantial part of such `inherent relationality' is performed through meanings sharedor built through referencesbetween practice and space. The unavoidably communicative sociation of practice requires actors to be immersed in relations when enacting relation and enaction being unavoidably semantic and material operations. In other words, if actors are to enact socially, if the social act is a communicative, meaningfully mediated, referential construction, and if referentiality includes a material dimension, as proposed above, actors relate semantically to spatial contexts when enacting. It is the very possibility of this semanticised, referential space (beyond a merely physical, sensual space) that the present work searches to unveil and place as a central part of social reproduction. Now, how could space be part of the referentiality of meanings and acts? Here, I can only point to different, related moments of a referential space in the communicative sociation of practice. There is the appropriation of space as a source of information about practice, a form of knowledge about the lifeworld and its workings, a way that the lifeworld presents itself to itself. We join a social situation by knowing it is held (or knowing that it is possibly or probably held) in a certain place; we `refer' our practices and ourselves to that place, being guided by its meaning, understanding its social content as a context of particular acts. In knowing the city and its (physical and semantic) referential structures, we can anticipate possibilities of finding particular socialities. Also, there is the appropriation of space at the moment of actual interaction with copresent actors. Space here may be seen as a semantic and material means to the emergence of communication within events. A place becomes a part of the setting of common grounds to communication when one crosses its boundaries, interfering in the process of establishing conditions for interaction or `anchoring' mutual interpretations involved in the communicative act to be performed, thus minimising risks of misunderstanding, and ensuring (along with memory and other cognitive resources) the fluidity of interactions within a social situation. The spatiality of a particular context becomes a part of illocutionary acts and the scope of different discourses, as these acts become semantically related and supported by meanings ascribed and cognised in space

Practice, space, and the duality of meaning


through the very acting (see Netto, 2005; cf Mitchell, 2005). This semanticised space is an effect of acting; it is the sign that space has participated in turning individual acts into `social acts'. These are referential effects of space over acts at the moment of transmission of social information, at the level of `place'. Finally, this semanticised space may become part of the unfolding connections between events across space ^ timethat is, the formation of communication networks beyond the spatial boundaries of the event, when actors access media of communication (say, exchanging or accessing words, texts, hypertexts, or objects with other actors in other places and times), or leave, intentionally or not, traces (in the form of objects, words, images, effects of their very acts) that may relate to absent actors or communicate to acts already performed or yet to be performed elsewhere. This third moment consists of the very formation of complexes of acts, and includes the meanings in space mediating and articulating such momentary social structurations. Immensely complex, substantially invisible, never fully knowable streams of referential connections between acts and their effects can be penetrated, filtered, referred to, endlessly self-referred through space; and, indeed, they are substantially produced as well as structured through the very meanings and structures of human spatialities. Networks of action and communication actualise and unfold themselves through cognitive references (when we anticipate mentally the interaction with a particular actor and place), and through practical references to spaces (when we actually access these places in order to enact and join situations of communication), into contingency and variety, organisation and change, of possibilities of acts. Space becomes a communicative system of referential connections to a diversity of socialities and experiences. This observation addresses an underestimated level of the sociospatial relation: the actualisation, sociation, and structuration of practice through meaning, communication, and space (figure 1). Although I cannot fully explore it here, a conceptualisation of meaning as identity and referentiality allows us to recast social structure as an immanent accomplishment of communicative action through the mediation of meanings in language and in spaces. A step further, and this time beyond linguistic communication, I suggest that, at the particular level of social reproduction, the practice ^ space relation is possible only through the referentiality of practices to their spatial contexts as a means to further referentiality. In other words, we would relate to spatial contexts so that the effects of our practices might relate through them. This simple relation seems nevertheless essential in social reproduction. Space is a fundamental means the communicative emergence of practice.
" COMMUNICATION Sociation of the act LANGUAGE Referential SPACE


Communicative actualisation of SOCIAL PRACTICE

Figure 1. The referentiality of communication and space: our acts carry inherent references to the meanings and materialities of language and space in the unfolding of social practice as networks of communication.



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If every act performed materially is referential, where do we look for cases of referentiality between practice and space? In other words, how can we isolate a part, and a `material part', a spatial sample of referentiality, if that means breaking down endless chains of referentiality? Yet, it would be useful to suspend for a moment those complex chains that connect communicative practices to space, artificially disengaging its connections to practices performed or to be performed in other places and times. The search for empirical traces of spatial referentiality may take distinct directions, starting with probably its most complex example: the city itself, its very emergence, its internal formations, and the different places inside the city. If referentiality is a construction that cuts across every act or thought, and if it constitutes a bridge between the social and the material, then it must be found at work in city space and its constitutive elements. Certain places may indeed prove intensely referential in crisscrossing actssay, the visible distributions and concentrations of spatial densities in a city, or the experienced spaces of streets. One may artificially isolate material pieces of referentiality within the sociospatial world, analysing the practical and communicative role of these formations, throwing light particularly on those `nodalities' and `axialities' that is, the architectural densities of certain streets and centralities within the agglomerations we call `cities' (see Soja, 2000) and on socialities active within them: the busyness of streets; the intensities of occupation of built environments produced for communication, production, and microeconomic exchanges; and the spatialities appropriated by people, closer to more lives and to senses and perceptions of large parts of a populationdensely referential spaces as spaces that relate practices. Urban and architectural spaces (and even more so the dense spatialities of the city) mediate communications; they communicate to communicative practices, and become a form of communication in their own right. Furthermore, the intensity of communication and social experience in the streets and neighbourhoods may also have to do with the configuration and densities of blocks (say, dense or eroded blocks) and streets. And, finally, we must search for referentiality in the idiosyncrasies of the place itself, including in the connection between the production of practice and the experience of boundaries and contents of architectural spaces; in the experience of dark basements and hidden corners and alleys; and in the blending of meanings performed in these places into communicationstarting with the methodological apparatus of research on the contextuality of action (Netto, 2005; cf Simonsen, 1991; Thrift, 1996). In conclusion, what does a referential approach add to a view of the materiality of the social world? It throws light on two dimensions of material referentiality: (1) on what may well consist of the only possible connection between sociality and materiality at the level of social reproduction. Meaning is proposed as a communicative device beyond its conscious use in language: in fact, beyond any form of linguistic transmission, and beyond the conscious acting or relation to things and spaces. This invisible, potentially endless referentiality becomes more pervasive than linguistic communication itself and its mediation through space: it exists in the absence of spoken or written words; it is `an underlying, latent communication' anchored in the thing itself. Referentiality is a form of communication beyond words. The duality of meaning allows one to see a social world constituted of real-and-possible `strings of reference' a particular way to see the extraordinary relatedness of things in a world of vanishing allusions and connections between changing constellations of acts and contexts that constitute social and material systems immersed in production and change; allusions and connections between everything that exists (and existed, and does not exist yet). It is a concept intended to objectify such connections: it sees meaning as an element which asserts an inherent relationality brought to light in current approaches in human geography, while

4.1 Traces of material referentiality

Practice, space, and the duality of meaning


defining them as intrinsic to things and their recognisable boundaries. Referentiality and identity are shown as an ontological foundation of the relation between the social and the material; as a mutual, ultimate connection ensured by meaning and built through meaning. Accordingly, the concept allows the inclusion of space as a key dimension of referentiality, suggesting that references are produced in space as they are in other semantic systems. (2) It proposes that space is an infrastructural meaning system where any act or thought or thing finds definition and acquires `ontological communicability'that is, it is cognised as some thing or act in one's experience, thus becoming a possibility to interact with. Space is all the time the possibility of relation between things and performances, and may be seenalong with languageas a major referential system to the sociation of practices, a sensed, cognised relationality or world structure of continuities and discontinuities, potential coherence and paths into incoherence, communication breakdowns and new communications, as material traces of a penetrable `world-restlessness'. These considerations of ontological foundations of social realityclearly a controversial subjectlead into a particular look into society ^ space, and another dimension of material referentiality; into a view of the delicate material fabric of socialities as communicative connections of acts and spaces built upon meaning; and into space as the material condition for communicative acts to come into being and unfold. According to the referential perspective, space may be seen as a form of structuring (and unstructuring) the semantic field in which socialities are immersed. It is produced to mediate social exchanges and relate practices as pervasive as language as a means to turn acts a part of larger social constructions. Space may thereby be seen as a form of communication that materialises the possibilities of acts in a lifeworld, and becomes as much a part of the actualisation of such possibilities as acts themselves a durable and changing, structured and unstructured, contingent and intentional material realm that asserts the communicability of practice. My argument attempted to show how space becomes the unconscious but referential substrate which provides a certain form of available organisation and contingency to the semantic field where communication networks are performed. A referential approach may allow the incursion into another extraordinary problem that seems still underestimated: the criss-crossing of language and space, by looking into the continuities between the linguistic and prelinguistic, and their relation to the material. But space is not like any other form of communication. While language might disappear in silence, or technologies might be replaced, space is defined by its rigidity and durability. Space, this ambiguous thing which is part visible part invisiblematerial and immaterial, rigidity and void, appearance and meaning, continuity and boundary is bound to be (and mean) `durable'. Now, that particular condition seems quite revealing considering the importance of space in social reproduction. The question `what is the social role of space' becomes clearer if we reverse it in order to ask: `could vanishing structures of communication be enough to keep society reproducing itself?' My argument aimed at disclosing the possibility of space as the counterpart to the elusiveness of other forms of communication and other means of building relationality in the social and material world, such as those purely semiotic exchanges based on language and other sonic and visual media. The very materiality of space may therefore be disclosed as playing a fundamental part also in the referential, communicative reproduction of the social world.(6)
However, how could practice emerge through a structure defined (and how else could it be defined?) by its very rigidity? Space may in principle be in tension or even `collide' with the volatility of ever-changing actions. The improbable relation between the rigidity and durability of space and elusive forms of communication indeed demands further explanation this time at the level of social and material production.


V Netto

This paper has explored a semanticised space (the sign that space has participated in turning individual acts into social acts) related to communication through the only possible intrinsic connection between things apparently as different as `human practice' and `space'. It did so by addressing a central problem in the society ^ space debate, a dimension yet to be systematically explored: a spatial account of the mediated exchanges that constitute the knots in (spatialised) networks of sociation or communication. It put forward the spatiality of communicative practice as a problem worthy of theoretical attention, suggesting that precisely the absence of this dimension has led to theory failing to spot the spatial traces of relations between our acts: traces active in the very moment of sociation of practice; indeed, traces constitutive of the very possibility of any sociation; traces produced and performed through the interpenetration of communication and space. In building such a conceptual scheme, the initial aims of a referential approach to society ^ space centred on a renewed notion of meaning could be laid down: (7) clarifying space itself as semantic grounds or foundations to the communicability of practice; clarifying its role in society by showing a referential space as a means to the sociation of the act; and clarifying society itself by showing how profoundly and pervasively it relies on the referentiality of space.
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