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Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Social space is neutral and independent of artistic imagination, philosophical “thoughts” and ideological discourses. If the “illusion of transparency” makes one oblivious of the surface content of social space and pursue its illumined depth, on the one hand, the “realistic illusion”, too, proves seductive enough for some thinkers to put themselves in a dangerous liaison with the naturalistic or naively “given” surface realities to the extent of denying any imaginary or symbolic dimension to social space on the other. Lefebvre looks at the living organism of “social space” from various angles and tries to map its jagged contours through multiple phases of history. For him, the axiomatic proposition of the science of “space” is that “(social) space is a (social) product”. 

Lefebvre achieves his two-fold objective: firstly, he explains successfully the self-concealing aspect of the social production of space, and secondly, he makes himself available with the theoretical platform to start on a discussion of what Edward Soja describes as “trialectics of spatiality”, which acts as “an all-inclusive and radically open mode of defining the limitlessly expandable scope of the spatial imagination”. An understanding of this “trialectics of spatiality” or Lefebvre’s “conceptual triad” is the key to see through the complex symbolism of social space having its “frontal expressions” as well as “clandestine or underground aspects”.The triad is composed of three interconnected wings of social space:

i. Spatial practice 

ii. Representations of space 

iii. Spaces of representation 

i. Spatial practice -Lefebvre defines the spatial practice as the type of social action, which “embraces production and reproduction and the particular locations and spatial sets characteristic of each social formation”. It warrants for “continuity and some degree of cohesion”, which in turn, “implies a guaranteed level of competence and a specific level of performance”. Spatial practices are productive of those empirically verifiable “perceived spaces” within a society, that is subject to measurement and description. It is the “perceived space”, which remains the centre of attention for all traditional geographers, creates all sorts of optical illusions and disciplinary hazards for political and social philosophers, and finally, in Edward Soja’s opinion, provides the “material grounding” to be re-described as “Firstspace”. 

ii. Representations of space - For Lefebvre, “representations of space” are strategically linked “to the relations of production and to the ‘order’ which those relations impose, and hence to knowledge, to signs, to codes, and to ‘frontal’ relations”, and therefore, signify “the dominant space in any society” (39). He describes these spaces further as productive of a “conceptualized space, the space of scientists, planners, urbanists, technocratic subdividers and social engineers, as of a certain type of artist with a scientific bent — all of whom identify what is lived and what is perceived with what is conceived”. 

iii. Spaces of representation - Perhaps the most fascinating and tantalizing in the trialectic group, Lefebvre’s “representational spaces” are the source of a real puzzle with its conscientiously fostered contradictions, dualities, and paradoxes. These spaces are to be regarded as “embodying complex symbolisms, sometimes coded, sometimes not, linked to the clandestine or underground side of social life, as also to art”. 

In Lefebvre’s reading, “representational spaces” turn out to be almost coterminous with his idea of “social space”, which is simultaneously different from and inclusive of the other two spaces, i.e. physical space and mental space. Commenting on Lefebvre’s initial definition of “representational spaces”, Edward Soja seems to be quite right in pointing out “the partial unknowability, the mystery, and secretiveness, the non-verbal subliminality” of these spaces, which also characteristically “foreground the potential insightfulness of art versus science”.

Lefebvre’s reading of social space, thus, brings us close to a novel discipline of “science of space”, which is radically different from the Enlightenment discourse of undialectical, immobile, and binaristic social space. 

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