116: Doreen Massey’s Space, Place, and Gender

Doreen Massey’s Space, Place, and Gender is a collection of articles from the late 1970s to the 1990s, all of which attempt to formulate concepts of space and place in terms of social relations, class and gender in particular.  Her basic arguments, many of which she develops later in For Space, have to do with the development of a decentered, relational, temporal/process-based, postmodern concept of space, and the mutually constitutive relationship between space and social relations/ inequalities.  She sees
“space-time as a configuration of social relationships within which the specifically spatial may be conceived of as an inherently dynamic simultaneity.  Moreover, since social relations are inevitably and everywhere imbued with power and meaning and symbolism, this view of the spatial is an ever-shifting social geometry of power and signification.” (3)
In other words, space is the social “stretched out.”  Hence there are echoes of Deleuze, de Certeau, Bourdieu in here, and moving space and place to the cultural plane gives her more flexibility in constructing it (yes, she insists that space and place have objective, material components, too, but what she’s talking about for the most part is meaning rather than the physical environment itself.)

While I’m not terribly interested in gendered spaces, I DO, however, like her use of feminist theory as a way in to social/ spatial difference rather than as the be-all and end-all of social difference, and I also like that she actually began with class, which I agree is probably more important than gender as far as social/spatial shaping.  

I also like that she develops her theses regarding the social construction of space, place, and gender in direct response to political issues – her empirical studies lend weight to her ideas AND provide examples for how seemingly abstract theory can actually be useful.  These case studies are particularly effective with respect to issues of gentrification (Docklands/ Isle of Dogs yuppie invasion), class and gender-based economic exploitation (siting factories where working-class or ethnic people or women will provide cheaper labor sources), or inner-city deterioration (thinking of place as porous and geography as linked to social and economic factors helps contextualize urban problems and provide support for structural solutions rather than just blaming the poor for their poverty).

Her writing is compelling and well-organized, and I can imagine using one of her case studies, or the intro to one of the sections, in a course on transportation and culture.  

Originally published on 6.8.2012.
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