Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Final gleanings from browsing around with Lefebvre in mind: Levin, Khatib & Lust, Weizman, Fields, Berger, Cameron, Turchin, Goffman, Collins, Fortune Society

This is the fourth and final batch of gleanings I collected by happenstance while reading and writing for the three posts about Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space.

Again, the purpose of presenting these snippets is to show that spatial orientations — some Lefebvrian, some not — crop up constantly in myriad areas, maybe just as a metaphor, but often as an analytical concept. From an STA perspective, we should become more sensitive to noticing them, plus their relations to time and action orientations. That’s the idea I’m trying to advance, for the sake of STA.

The snippets in this batch, in order of presentation, are from Yuval Levin, Lina Khatib & Ellen Lust, Eyal Weizman, Jack Fields, J.M. Berger, Charles Cameron, Peter Turchin, Erving Goffman, Randall Collins, and the Fortune Society. Some are from blogs or other sites I often browse; others I’ve never heard of before — I just got routed to them serendipitously, the case with all four batches.

This fourth batch consists mainly of snippets leftover after doing the first three posts in this series, each of which were pulled together around just one or two themes. As a result, this post is thematically jumpier than the prior three, and revolves around multiple themes: e.g., that politics (and military tactics) can create new spaces; that issues can end up in “boxes” that eventually don’t work well; that some spaces become religious or sacred; and that people try to manage impressions through front stage and backstage performances — rampage killers being an example.

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Levin on conservatives trying to “create the space in which society can flourish”: Most of the gleanings in these posts are from people who appear to be leftists and centrists. Conservatives do express many major concerns in spatial terms, especially about government being “too big” and “exceeding its boundaries” (conservatives often seem concerned about “boundaries” in many areas of life). But it’s rare to find a conservative referring to “space” per se.

However, it happened several times during a panel where young conservatives discussed the “Future of Conservatism” at the Manhattan Institute, New York City, on March 11 (aired April 19 on C-SPAN). Particularly pertinent for this post is a long statement by conservative writer Yuval Levin, speaking about differences between the Right and the Left in American politics.

According to Levin, the Left prefers centralized, tightly managed orderliness, while the Right prefers decentralization. Thus, says Levin, “The Right’s view tends to be that the role of government is not to manage society but to create the space in which society can flourish.” Here’s the full statement:
“There is a real logic to the Left’s and the Right’s ways of thinking about the role of government in our kind of economy. And there's a real difference between them. Where the Left does tend to think in terms of managing large institutions, of seeing society as a set of systems that are disordered and that require better organization. ... The Right’s view tends to be that the role of government is not to manage society but to create the space in which society can flourish. And what that means — for society to flourish — is actually very chaotic. It looks like chaos. ... That's how innovation happens, but it's also how problem-solving happens, how people confront specific material problems in a local way, one on one, through markets, through local governments, through institutions that bubble up solutions in trial and error ways and pilot programs, not a centralized here's-the-technical answer. I think we're getting back to a place where the difference between those two things is becoming very apparent. ...
“That's why I think conservatives could be better positioned than they now seem to be to address the public’s worries in ways that make sense to voters, because people have a sense that we are living in a society that is decentralized, that offers them a huge number of options, a huge range of options. And younger people in particular like that, and expect that, and want that. You see it in the healthcare debate. The sheer consolidation of large systems that's involved in the Left’s way of thinking is not appealing to a lot of people.
“Now the Right, I think, has not offered a coherent alternative. Conservatives don't really go around saying, well, we have a view of what government does that involves creating a space and allowing people to function in that space, subsidizing their entry if they don't have market power, allowing competition to happen. That's what conservatism is in practice. But rhetorically what conservatism is just isn't that.” (source; my transcription)
That’s not very Lefebvrian — but it’s enough so to warrant including here. Besides, it helps show that, in my view of STA, being Lefebvrian means being attentive to spatial orientations in a grand sense, whether one identifies with Center, Right, or Left — being Lefebvrian doesn’t have to mean just being Leftist.

Khatib & Lust on “help preserve spaces for activism”: In another usage, a new CEIP Policy Brief by Lina Khatib & Ellen Lust, The Transformation of Arab Activism: New Contexts, Domestic Institutions, and Regional Rivalries (May 2014) argues for “preserving space for activists wherever they exist” in Arab societies (p. 1). Their understanding of past episodes of pro-democracy activism against authoritarian regimes shows the importance of social media for creating such space:
“[E]ven in the harshest authoritarian periods, activists carve out, sometimes unexpectedly, socio-political space to make demands. The nature of such public space is largely defined by pre-revolutionary structure. Certainly, social media was a public space that was largely left untouched by the authoritarian regimes. As a result, it emerged as a focal point for mobilization, aimed at garnering support from abroad (particularly in Egypt and Syria), communication within (Yemen), or both.” (pp. 2-3)
Thus they arrive at their primary recommendation for U.S. policy:
“1. Despite greater polarization and hostility towards reform among the region’s most influential actors, the U.S. must help preserve spaces for activism wherever they exist.” (p. 5)
There’s nothing particularly new here, but it helps further illustrate the extent to which spatial thinking has become an accepted part of skillful analytical discourse in policy circles. It, along with the preceding snippet from Levin, and the following one from Weizman, all speak to the significance of efforts to create space (or, in Lefebvrian words, produce space).

Weizman on the IDF’s “walking through walls”: As an old post by Charles Cameron reminded his readers at the Zenpundit blog, “our normal understanding of space” gets turned inside-out when considering Eyal Weizman’s write-up about an IDF operation in a Palestinian city, where the Israeli soldiers steadily blasted their way through walls, floors, and ceilings, not abiding by conventional notions of inside and outside, boundaries and thruways. Says Weizman, “Rather than submit to the authority of conventional spatial boundaries and logic, movement became constitutive of space” — a rather Lefebvrian notion — in a strategy (or is it a tactic?) of “walking through walls”:
“The maneuver conducted by units of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in Nablus in April 2002 was described by its commander, Brigadier General Aviv Kokhavi, as inverse geometry, the reorganization of the urban syntax by means of a series of microtactical actions. During the battle, soldiers moved within the city across hundred-meter-long “overground-tunnels” carved through a dense and contiguous urban fabric. Although several thousand soldiers and several hundred Palestinian guerrilla fighters were maneuvering simultaneously in the city, they were so “saturated” within its fabric that very few would have been visible from an aerial perspective at any given moment. Furthermore, soldiers used none of the streets, roads, alleys, or courtyards that constitute the syntax of the city, and none of the external doors, internal stairwells, and windows that constitute the order of buildings, but rather moved horizontally through party walls, and vertically through holes blasted in ceilings and floors. This form of movement, described by the military as “infestation”, sought to redefine inside as outside, and domestic interiors as thoroughfares. Rather than submit to the authority of conventional spatial boundaries and logic, movement became constitutive of space. The three-dimensional progression through walls, ceilings, and floors across the urban balk reinterpreted, short-circuited, and recomposed both architectural and urban syntax. The IDF’s strategy of “walking through walls” involved a conception of the city as not just the site, but the very medium of warfare — a flexible, almost liquid medium that is forever contingent and in flux.” (source)
This approach to battle, where “movement becomes constitutive off space”, has a postmodern feel to it, as Weizman’s full paper shows (here). It means that the “spatial turn” has extended far beyond philosophy and sociology into military operations. (However, I gather that doubts can be raised about aspects of what the paper relates.)

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Fields on “you basically had boxes” for telecomm businesses: Many policy issues get categorized in “boxes” — a spatial orientation — that work well for some time. Then matters evolve and become so complex that a new “out of the box” approach may be required. Here’s an illustration from a discussion about the 1996 telecommunications act, as aired on a C-SPAN2 program: Jack Fields — back then he was a Representative (R-Tex) and Chair of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance — observed that,
“Telecommunications policy had not been reformed since 1934. So there was really a compelling need in 1995 to begin a process of massive telecommunications reform. And at that time you basically had boxes. You had a box for broadcasters, a box for telephone companies, a box for long distance, you know, cable, satellite. And our view was we had to come in and try to eliminate the lines of demarcation and promote competition, believing that with competition there would be innovation, there would be more investment, more consumer choice, more innovation. And, you know, fortunately, I think the result has proven us correct. That that's exactly what's happened.” (source)
How issues are put in boxes does have lots of effects. And as Fields notes, these effects are not only jurisdictional, but may also affect the incentives for competition and innovation.

Berger on the “terrorism box”: Can a “box” become too big to fail — or succeed? A blog post by terrorism expert J.M. Berger recounts a discussion with other experts where a spatial question was posed:
“Do we need a box called terrorism?” (source)
The former FBI agent who raises it argues “against having a special category of government response for terrorism” and prefers “treating terrorism as a violent crime problem”. Berger’s write-up summarizes some basic pros and cons. In favor, for example, is that an emphasis on law enforcement may help limit terrorism’s mystique and rank “small-scale terrorism more appropriately”. But on the negative side, such an approach may underplay how dangerous terrorism can be when it seeks to “upend” a system.

Thus, Berger concludes, “we need a category for terrorism”:
“That doesn't mean we should prioritize terrorism over all other crimes and social issues, far from it. But as we have different categories for assault versus attempted murder, and insubordination versus treason, we need a category for terrorism.”
This argument has been around, in one form or another, for decades. What caught my eye here was its association with “boxes” as used by government policymakers, administrators, bureaucrats, and analysts. Indeed, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created in order to organize all sorts of boxes comprehensively, perhaps more in quantity and rapidity than any other department has had to face. Shades of Pundita’s “law” as noted in the first batch of gleanings? Whether the answer is yes or no, the question that Berger and his colleauges raised still illuminates yet another way in which spatial orientations figure in our thought processes.

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Cameron on war, peace, and religion: Some matters are too big to keep in bureaucratic boxes — they spread across all sorts of boundaries, threading through all sorts of issues areas. Religion is generally such a matter, and it arouses its own spatial meanings. Lefebvre thought so; and so did Mircea Eliade in his classic The Sacred and the Profane (1961). Apropos this, Charles Cameron, an expert on millenarian and apocalyptic trends who blogs at Zenpundit, recently fielded some expansive illuminating points about what lies ahead:
“War and peace are getting more, not less, religious as we move from the second into the third millennium.” (source)
“If religion continues to be a major element in terrorism and perhaps other forms of conflict in what remains of this century, we would do well to learn the importance of listening to and addressing the worldview of our interlocutors.” (source; ital. in orig.)
Cameron’s presentation of these propositions is not explicitly spatial, but its implications are, for it means that boxes are being burst and boundaries crossed. He is correct in calling for better attention to understanding other people’s “worldview” — that’s partly what STA can be for.

Turchin on the “sacred value” of core territories: Distinguishing between sacred and secular spaces has become a tradition. And sometimes it’s not about religion, as shown here where social-evolution theorist Peter Turchin, drawing on work by Scott Atran, links “sacred value” to geopolitical behavior in a commentary at his blog Social Evolution Forum:
“States that treat their core territories as sacred and are willing to escalate conflict to defend them, persist in the international arena, while states that treat their core territory in a rational manner are gradually eliminated. As a result, we have what might be called a coevolution of geopolitics and sacred value. Geopolitical assets become sacred values.” (source)
Territoriality is a natural motivation behind human and geopolitical behavior. Turchin fields his (and Atran’s) elaboration mainly to help with understanding the “sacred” importance of Crimea to Russians. But as he notes, it has broad application across many nations. Why some spaces /places are treated as sacred is a good question, and it’s led to a series of follow-up posts at his blog. (What I might add, with TIMN in mind, is that what is deemed sacred may well vary depending on whether people in a society are operating mainly around the tribal, institutional, market, or network form. My preliminary guesstimate is that the more tribal matters get, the more prone people are to be motivated by what’s deemed sacred. Market- and network-oriented people may be less prone to such a tendency.)

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Goffman on front stage and backstage performances: A while ago, sociologist Brayden King, blogging at, posted a reminder about the work of Erving Goffman, the social psychologist famed for The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959). Goffman’s theory of impression management — he called it dramaturgy — included a distinction between front stage and backstage that is essentially spatial:
“He laid the foundation for a theory of impression management in that book, claiming that every individual is an actor on a stage performing for an audience. The front stage is where the performance takes place, using various impression management tools to articulate particular images to the audience, and the backstage, he argues, is where the protected self resides. Goffman believed that individuals build a strong barrier between the front and backstage, partly because the individual is vulnerable in the backstage but also in order to preserve the authenticity of the front stage performance.” (source)
While Goffman’s theory is not explicitly Lefebvrian, his frontstage-backstage distinction is significant for understanding people’s spatial orientations. It sure bears on the next two gleanings below.

Collins on “secret life” backstage behind rampage killings: Lefebvre occasionally refers to hidden, concealed, and secret spaces — enough to lead me to perk up at an idea raised by sociologist Randall Collins: beware the ”secret life” inside rampage killers. According to one of his blog posts on this,
“[T]the most distinctive clue that someone is planning a rampage killing is that they lead a secret life of amassing weapons and scripting the massacre.” (source)
A fuller quote from a follow-up post adds the following elaboration, based on an earlier post about rampage killers hiding their “secret life” plans and fantasies “backstage”:
“In a previous post [Clues to Mass Rampage Killers: Deep Backstage, Hidden Arsenal, Clandestine Excitement; posted Sept. 1, 2012], I argued that the most distinctive clue that someone is planning a rampage killing is that they lead a secret life of amassing weapons and scripting the massacre. The point is not that they acquire a lot of guns; many people do that. But mass killers keep them secret; their life becomes obsessed with plans and fantasies of the attack, and energized with the excitement of being able to dupe other people about their secret life. Foremost among those who are duped is their family.” (source)
Collins focuses on the massacre at Sandy Hook. Today, he can add the massacre at Isla Vista.

Fortune Society on how guns feel: STA’s spatial dimension is partly about how people see themselves, as subjects and/or objects, in relation to other subjects/objects in the space that concerns them. This means taking into account their sense of identity, including how big or small, connected or disconnected, etc., they feel. Thus STA’s spatial dimension is partly about how powerful and/or powerless people feel, though that starts to verge into STA’s action element.

As I dug around in a very old draft for an imagined chapter about spatial orientations, I came across a set of snippets that not only speak to that point, but also to Collin’s point above. The snippets are from a survey and report by New York’s Fortune Society, as written up by Jimmy McGinley, in “Made in the U.S.A.; Works Every Time,” New York Times, January 15, 1976, p. 33. The article is about the views of former convicts who used guns in their street crimes, and I’ve extracted remarks that best reflect STA’s spatial dimension:
“There’s a lot to it, when you carry a gun. It made me feel as if I were in command of any situation. It gave me a sense of power, not power but a sense of power. It made me feel that I was larger than I was. I felt like God and that I could determine life and death.”
“There’s a lot of power in a gun. If you feel like you’re nothing, a gun can make you feel like a king.”
“With a gun, I felt like a big shot. I felt superior.”
I’d saved them to go in a draft section about macho-megalomanic terrorists as consummate spatialists who want to project their egos/identities explosively into surrounding spaces, even onto a world stage. I’ve posted about this before (here), but without including these snippets. Now I think they are appropriate to include in this post, especially in light of Collin’s points and confirmatory events in Isla Vista.

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That concludes this series. A look at Google stats for this blog indicates little interest in these posts about Lefebvre and social space. But I’m glad I’ve added them to the accumulation here about STA. And I expect to become gladder as I add prospective posts about time and action orientations. So I shall persist. Up next will be a series organized around a book about time orientations.

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