Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Theorizing Social Space (week 4)

This week's grad class on "Women and Public Spaces" was pretty cool. The students struggled to get through Hiller and Hansons' The Social Logic of Space (2003), but with a whole lot of prompting/leading/interpreting on my part, they finally got it:

“The global form has not been conceived of or designed by any individual: it has arisen from the independent dynamics of a process that is distributed among a collection of individuals, ” (i.e. a “local rule”). (p. 36) So basically societal rules (etiquette, manners, tradition, custom) followed by discrete entities (individuals) ultimately create the structure of space because those rules are acted out in space.

The example that made it finally work for the students was the cloud of midges.... midges don't have some overarching entity that creates the cloud, rather it is created by each individual in their little space following shared rules (specifically to always keep another midge about so close). But that the midges on the other sides of the cloud are following the same rule creates the physical shape/space of the cloud. That means that the midge on one side is in a spatially concrete and socially bounded relationship with the midge on the other side, even though the two may never meet face to face. The model suggests that there is some coherent whole to social space… a knowable pattern (H & H call this a "morphic language"), a system in which all are connected.

I'm pretty sure our discussions for the next ten weeks are going to include the behavior of little bugs. Time to get out my fly swatter, lest the students wed themselves to this relatively simple and orderly model. Time for them to get good with multiple social systems, transpatial elements, conflicting categories, and other sources of messiness!

Time to revisit Elizabeth Grosz, methinks. Grosz suggests the connection of intersection or space and society is "a fundamentally disunified series of systems and interconnections, a series of disparate flows, energies, events or entities, and spaces, brought together or drawn apart in more or less temporary alignments." ("Bodies-Cities," in Sexuality and Space, Beatriz Colomina, ed., p. 248)

No comments: