[Re]Reading Foucault


The concept of heterotopia

As brought forward by Michel Foucault, heterotopia play a central role in the approach of New[B]order. In a short text entitled „Of Other Spaces“ Michel Foucault presents his concept of „heterotopy“. Heterotopy for Foucault is a social site designed for human activity, well demarcated, both spatially and temporally. It is characterized by a double logic of social space and the simultaneous coexistence of two or more spatial settings.

„Its first principle is that there is probably not a single culture in the world that fails to constitute heterotopias. That is a constant of every human group. But the heterotopias obviously take quite varied forms, and perhaps no one absolutely universal form of heterotopia would be found. (…)“

„The second principle of this description of heterotopias is that a society, as its history unfolds, can make an existing heterotopia function in a very different fashion; for each heterotopia has a precise and determined function within a society and the same heterotopia can, according to the synchrony of the culture in which it occurs, have one function or another. (…)“

Third principle. The heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible. Man mediates between the citizen as an address in virtual space and the individual, concrete place in real space. The citizen’s possessions –the body being his real estate –are a real place that in principle cannot be appropriated. The assets can be replaced in accordance with market conditions, and thus the body is left as the fixed residence of the sovereign citizen. This place and the space in which it is planted compete with the virtual space in which the citizen is only an address, an intersection, and a crossover point. There are at least two orders of space involved here. A growing colonization movement of the individual and of the world takes place in both. Both are characterized by a claim to totality. Each has a tendency to deny or ignore the other space. The entire world turns into a heterotopic space. (…)“

Fourth principle. Heterotopias are most often linked to slices in time – which is to say that they open onto what might be termed, for the sake of symmetry, heterochronies. The heterotopia begins to function at full capacity when men arrive at a sort of absolute break with their traditional time. (…)“

Fifth principle. Heterotopias always presuppose a system of opening and closing that both isolates them and makes them penetrable. (…)“

Sixth principle. The last trait of heterotopias is that they have a function in relation to all the space that remains. This function unfolds between two extreme poles. Either their role is to create a space of illusion that exposes every real space, all the sites inside of which human life is partitioned, as still more illusory (perhaps that is the role that was played by those famous brothels of which we are now deprived). Or else, on the contrary, their role is to create a space that is other, another real space, as perfect, as meticulous, as well arranged as ours is messy, ill constructed, and jumbled. (…)“

Foucault, Michel (1967). „Of Other Spaces“

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