Of Other Spaces, Heterotopias – Michel Foucault (1967)

The basis of a lecture given by Foucault to architects in 1967

Eras of time and space

  • 19th obsessed with history – its essential mythological resources in the 2nd Principle of Thermodynamics (that over time, differences in temperature, pressure, and chemical potential equilibrate in an isolated physical system?  that nature is irreversible?)
  • Now is the time of simultaneity – juxtaposition
  • Structuralism tries to establish relations between instead of timelines connecting
  • “Our epoch is one in which space takes for us the form of relations among sites.”
  • Middle Ages – hierarchical and cosmological – supercelestial places / celestial / terrestial – Medieval space: The space of emplacement
  • Galileo – constituted an infinite, open space where things were defined by their extension, a point in their infinitely possible set of trajectories
  • Today – the ‘site’ – relations of proximity between points or elements (e.g.: data in computers, traffic, telephone lines, demography)

Desanctification of space (depriving it of its sacred character)

  • Contemporary space has not been desanctified
  • Galileo signaled a theoretical desanctification, but it is not a practical one
  • The hidden presence of the sacred is at work, still delineating the spaces of public/private, leasure/work, private/public, family/social, etc.

Heterogenous Space

  • Bachelard
    • psychological factors in the development of sciences
    • history of science as epistemological obstacle (unconscious structures and principles) and epistemological break (made famout through Althusser)
    • Koyre
  • Space is no homogenous – we do not live inside a void populated by things
  • We live inside a set of relations – one could describe via these relations, the sites of relaxation, rest, etc.
  • Certain sites have the property of being in relation in a way that they impose doubt, make neutral or invert the relations that they designate.  There are two types of these:

Utopias and Heterotopias (sites that designate, mirror, or reflects its relations)

  • Utopia: Unreal spaces
  • Heterotopias:  Places where the other real sites are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted
  • Define a spectrum between real spaces that cannot exist as concept (heterotopia), and conceptual spaces that cannot exist as real (utopia)
  • A mirror is a joint experience – a placeless place (the real where it is not) and a real place, connected with all the space that surrounds it

Heterotopology – the systematic description or ‘reading’ of these heterotopic spaces

  • 1st Principle – Cultures are all heterotopias
    • Crisis Heterotopias – primitive societies – places for adolescents, mensturating women, pregnant women
    • Deviation Heterotopias – replacing the primitive, crisis heterotopias are spaces where individuals who’s behavior is deviant are placed (prison, old age home)
  • 2nd Principle – Heterotopias can shift functions
    • The Cemetery
      • connected to everyone
      • 18th Century – in the centre of the city – charnel house which were not individualised
      • when the secularisation came into being – more people wanted individual plots, to mark their attention
      • End of 18th Century – death as illness – the dead bring illness
      • 19th Century the dead move out to the suburbs, from the heart of the city to its edges
  • 3rd Principle – these spaces can juxtapose in a single real place several places, normally incompatible
    • Theatres, stages, gardens, carpets – happy, universalizing heterotopia
  • 4th Principle – Slices in time – heterochronies 
    • infinitely accumulating time – museums and libraries
      • 17th Century – museums and libraries were personal choice based
      • Contemporary museums and libraries – time never stops building up and topping its own summit
      • “the idea of accumulating everything, of establishing a sort of general archive, the will to enclose in one place all times, all epochs, all forms, all tastes, the idea of constituting a place of all times that is itself outside of time and inaccessible to its ravages, the project of organizing in this way a sort of perpetual and indefinite accumulation of time in an immobile place, this whole idea belongs to our modernity. The museum and the library are heterotopias that are proper to western culture of the nineteenth century.”
    • Time as festival – flowing opening
      • not eternal – absolutely temporal, chronicles, etc.
      • fairgrounds, markets, vacation villages
      • discovery of life (abolishes time) vs experience (rediscovery of time)
  • 5th Principle – heterotopias are isolated and penetrable 
    • Not freely open – not “public”, but compulsory (prison) or subject to rites and rituals (church)
    • Motels – sex happens in a space that is absolutely sheltered, hidden but open to all
  • 6th Principle – function to create illusion that exposes or creates real space
    • Unreal spaces that human life is partitioned (brothel)
    • An absolutely real space that is perfected (Jesuit colonies in S. America)

“The boat is a floating piece of space, a place without a place, that exists by itself, that is closed in on itself and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the sea.”

“The ship is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

1 + four =