The psychasthenia of deep space : evaluating the 'reassertion of space in critical social theory'
The aim of this work is to question the notion of space that underlies the claimed ‘spatial turn’ in geographical and social theory. Section 1 examines this theoretical literature, drawing heavily on Soja as the self declared taxonomist of the genre, and also seeks parallels with more populist texts on cities and space, to suggest, following Williams, that there is a new ‘structure of feeling’ towards space. Section 1 introduces two foundational concepts. The first, derived from Soja’s misunderstanding of Borges’ story The Aleph, argues for an ‘alephic vision’, an imposition of a de-materialized and revelatory understanding of space. This is related to the second, an ‘ecstatic vision’, which describes the tendency, illustrated through the work of Koolhaas and recent exhibitions on the experience of cities, to treat spatial and material experience in hyperbolic and hallucinatory terms. Section 2 offers a series of theoretical reconstructions which seek to draw out parallels between the work of key theorists of what I term the ‘respatialization’ literature (Harvey, Giddens, Foucault and Lefebvre) and the work of Hillier et al in the Space Syntax school. A series of empirical studies demonstrate that the approach to the material realm offered by Space Syntax is not only theoretically compatible but can also help to explain ‘real world’ phenomena. However, the elision with wider theoretical positions points to the need for a reworking of elements of Space Syntax, and steps towards this goal are offered in section 3. In the final ‘speculative epilogue’ I reopen the philosophical debates about the nature of space, deliberately suppressed from the beginning, and suggest that perhaps the apparent theoretical and empirical versatility of Space Syntax, based upon a configurational approach to space as a complex relational system, may offer an alternative approach to these enduring metaphysical debates.