In make full use of the city and to

In 1974,
Henri Lefebvre, a French sociologist and one of the most important and enduring
theorists of space and society introduced a concept of the ‘Right to the City’ in
his book The Production of Space (Lefebvre,
1974). This key idea has influenced many social scientists when creating and
transforming social public spaces in the last decades. Indeed, it has resulted
in an entirely new branch of the sociology of space and cultural geography
within the Marxist tradition from which Lefebvre himself emerged. Our current
understandings of urban space within the concept of capitalism would not exist
without the work of Lefebvre and there exists a substantial bibliography and
critical heritage concerned with his thinking (Merrifield, 2006). Within the
complex contributions of The Production
of Space, one of the most influential idea was Lefebvre’s conceptualisation
of the ‘Right to the City’. In contrast to Mayhew who claimed that it is ‘the
right to make full use of the city and to live a richly urban life’, Lefebvre
stresses the inseparable worth of cities to the urban population, and not
merely based on the physical or economic value. This essay will investigate
into the idea of the Right to the City as outlined in Lefebvre’s work, as well
as how it has been influenced and amplified in the work of other cultural
geographers, in order to evaluate the extent to which it has formed the general
understanding and shaping of spaces in social science research.

 

Theorisation
of space in The Production of Space

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In the Production of Space, the French theorist
Henri Lefebvre asserted that ‘space embodies social relations’ (Lefebvre, 1974:
27) and hence he believed that social space is the product of society. He
claimed that ‘the space thus produced also serves as a tool of thought and of
action; that in addition to being a means of production it is also a means of
control, and hence of domination, of power’ (Lefebvre, 1974: 26). Accordingly,
it can be argued that different places at different times may have produced
different spaces. While Lefebvre emphasises the dominating role of spatial
production he is also clear about the fact that socially produced space
‘escapes in part from those who would make use of it’ and moves towards an
‘uncontrollable autonomy’ (Lefebvre, 1974: 26). As his key idea is driven from
Marxism philosophy, Lefebvre supports the idea that revolution is considered to
be a means of social change. While this is not relevant to every social
situation, it can be at least seen that socially produced spaces are contested
and in some circumstances, it could be adopted to control or have power over
others, and others may use them to escape from domination.

 

The term
‘spatial practices’ is defined as ‘secret society’s space; they propound and
propose it, in dialectical interaction’ (Merrifield, 2006: 110) and have a role
to play in ‘breaking down’ of spaces. Space may exist in its natural condition
and be produced through society, but in everyday experience space becomes
significant to the individual through their own perceptions and through practices
which structure lived realities. Lefebvre claimed that these practices are
constituted through the understanding of other post-War philosophers and
sociologists, in particularly the Situationist International. It was an
inventive radical socialist and philosophical movement allied to progressive
politics which sought to find ways to bring on the liberation of the global
labour workers. The French social theorist Michel de Certeau, for example,
described how the everyday process of walking ‘traces the body onto its
environment, inscribing ‘space’ with the palimpsest of that encounter with the
body whose necessary absence allows that space to become the place of memory, a
symbolic spatial structure from which subjectivity might emerge’ (Waxman and
Grant, 2011: 81). We consider ‘walking’ as a daily ‘practice’ and at the same
time it is ‘spatial’ as it evidently takes place in and through space. In
addition, it is a ‘spatial practice’ which relates the body of the walker to
the larger collective spaces of the city and hence it is a ‘social’ activity’.

It can
therefore be argued that these overlapping conceptions of space are
particularly crucial in being utilised as an explanation for understanding the
experience of space. This applies to Lefebvre’s work as in his publication of
the Right to the City, he defined the city as a ‘work,’ where the inhabitants
collectively turn it into an artistic creation and write their own account of
the space (Lefebvre, 2008).

 

Through
linking the spaces in a city, imaging its ‘monuments, landmarks, and natural or
artificial boundaries’ Merrifield argues that this ‘aids or deters a
person’s sense of location and the manner in which a person acts’ (2006: 110).
As such, ‘spatial practices’ form a means of producing social cohesion by
ensuring a shared level of competence in the way the city is navigated and
used. Furthermore, ‘spatial practices’ can be recognised as a product of
materialisation with regards to concrete physical items such as monuments and
landmarks.  Burgin (2006) has noted how
‘spatial practices’ form one part of three key components which constitute what
we understand overall as social space. In addition to ‘spatial practices’,
Lefebvre (1974) presents the notion of ‘representations of space’ and ‘spaces of
representation.’ ‘Representations of space’ is where spaces are thought to be
‘abstract plans and mental processes’, and they are in a ‘dialectical’ relation
and also are relative to each other (Gregory et al, 2009: 590).  ‘Spaces of representation’, on the other
hand, is where spaces are shaped by those who occupy and lived and through
their experiences and actions of using the space.

 

While this
idea of dividing social space into three components can challenge the overall
understanding, it can be summarised that social space is a differentiated
phenomenon (in practice with overlapping components) which requires different
means of analysis describing space.

 

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