Of other spaces* (1967)
(translated by Lieven De Cauter and Michiel Dehaene)
This text, entitled ‘Des espaces autres’—the point of departure of this book—was a lecture given by Michel Foucault on 14 March 1967 to the Cercle d’études architecturales (Circle of Architectural Studies). From 1960 to 1970 the circle was directed by Jean Dubuisson and Ionel Schein, two important figures in French post-war architecture. It was Schein who invited Foucault to speak after hearing his address on ‘France Culture’ of 7 December 1966 on heterotopias: ‘Les Hétérotopies’ (Foucault 2004a and 2004b). In this radio talk, part of a series on literature and utopia, Foucault adopts the tone of an old traveller telling children amusing stories about the marvellous places he has visited. The lecture for the Cercle d’études architecturales was written during a stay in Sidi-Bou-Saïd, Tunisia, where he had fled to escape the commotion stirred by the publication of Les Mots et les choses. It was a setting that perfectly complemented the light, lyrical tone of the radio talk (Defert 2004). All lectures at the circle were noted down by a stenographer and the typed record distributed to the members of the circle. The rumour of heterotopia spread through these transcripts. The text however was not published for almost 20 years, although excerpts were printed in the Italian journal l’Architettura in 1968. The fact that it was based on a radio talk as well as the atmosphere of fantasy in it help to explain why both the concept and the text remained as if forgotten by Foucault till late in his life (Defert 2004). Although not reviewed for publication by the author, the manuscript was released into the public domain with the consent of Foucault shortly before his death for the Internationale Bau-Austellung Berlin (Foucault 1984a). As the theme was the renovation and even reunification of Berlin, heterotopia proved in retrospect to be the right concept. Heterotopias, like museums, cultural centres, libraries and media centres, have been the ultimate levers for urban renewal ever since. The text was finally published by the French journal Architecture, Mouvement, Continuité in October 1984 as ‘Des espaces autres. Une conférence inédite de Michel Foucault’ (Foucault 1984b). Two years later, in 1986, the text was published in English (in Diacritics and in Lotus: Foucault 1986a, 1986b). Now it is part of the posthumous edition Dits et écrits (Foucault 2001). The text is based on the transcript of the lecture that was made and circulated by the Cercle d’études architecturales. This explains the spoken character of the text and the loose punctuation (which was changed in the final publication in Dits et écrits). Our translation steers a precarious course between the three existing (fine but imperfect) translations: (1) the translation by Jay Miskowiec, which appeared in Diacritics and is available online (Foucault 1986a); (2) the translation that appeared in Lotus and was reprinted in Neil Leach (ed.) Rethinking Architecture (Foucault 1986b, 1997); and (3) the translation by Robert Hurley, which appeared in James Faubion (ed.) Aesthetics, Method and Epistemology: Essential Writing of Foucault 1954–1984, Volume II (Foucault 1998). To enhance transparency and in order to make Foucault’s voice and style of thinking audible, we have tried to translate as literally as possible. We believe in Benjamin’s idea that ‘the task of the translator’ is not to make the French read as if it were English, but rather to give the English a French flavour—in order to reveal both of them as fragments of the complete language (Benjamin 1923). Above all, we have tried to be as precise as possible on technical terms. In endnotes we supply background information, signal problems and give theoretical context (the three existing translations will be referred to as Miskowiec, Lotus and Hurley).
* * *
The great haunting obsession of the nineteenth century was, as we know, history: themes of development and stagnation, themes of crisis and cycle, themes of the accumulation of the past, the big surplus of the dead and the menacing cooling of the world.1 It is in the second principle of thermodynamics that the nineteenth century found its essential mythological resources.2 The present epoch would perhaps rather be the epoch of space. We are in the epoch of simultaneity; we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and the far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed. We are at a moment, I believe, when our experience of the world is less that of a great life developing through time than that of a network that connects points and intersects with its own skein.3 One could perhaps say that certain ideological conflicts animating present-day polemics take place between the pious descendants of time and the fierce inhabitants of space. Structuralism, or at least that which is grouped under this slightly too general name, is the effort to establish, between elements that could have been distributed over time, an ensemble of relations that makes them appear as juxtaposed, opposed, implicated by each other, in short, that makes them appear as a sort of configuration. Actually, this does not entail a denial of time; it is a certain manner of treating what is called time and what is called history.4
Yet it is necessary to point out that the space that appears today on the horizon of our concerns, of our theory, of our systems, is not an innovation. In the experience of the West, space itself has a history; and it is not possible to disregard this fatal intersection of time with space. One could say, by way of retracing very roughly this history of space, that in the Middle Ages it was a hierarchic ensemble of places: sacred places and profane places, protected places and open spaces without defence, urban places and rural places (so far for the real life of humans). For cosmological theory, there were the super-celestial places as opposed to the celestial, and the celestial place was in turn opposed to the terrestrial place. There were the places where things found themselves placed because they had been violently displaced, and then, on the contrary, the places where things found their emplacement and natural rest. It was this complete hierarchy, this opposition, this intersection of places that constituted what could very roughly be called medieval space: the space of localization.
This space of localization opened up with Galileo, for the real scandal of Galileo’s work is not so much his discovery, or rediscovery, that the earth revolved around the sun, but his constitution of an infinite and infinitely open space. In such a space the place of the Middle Ages found itself dissolved as it were; the place of a thing was nothing but a point in its movement, just as the rest of a thing was only its movement indefinitely slowed down. In other words, starting with Galileo, starting with the seventeenth century, extension supplanted localization.5 Today the emplacement6 substitutes extension, which itself had replaced localization. The emplacement is defined by relations of proximity between points or elements; formally, we can describe these relations as series, trees, or grids.7 Moreover, the importance in contemporary technology of problems of emplacement is well known: the storage of information or of the intermediate results of a calculation in the memory of a machine; the circulation of discrete elements with a random output (automobile traffic is a simple case, or indeed the sounds on a telephone line); the spotting of marked or coded elements inside a set that may be randomly distributed, or may be arranged according to single or to multiple classifications, etc. In a still more concrete manner, the problem of place or the emplacement arises for mankind in terms of demography.8 This problem of the human emplacement is not simply the question of knowing whether there will be enough space for man in the world—a problem that is certainly quite important—but it is also the problem of knowing what relations of propinquity, what type of storage, circulation, spotting, and classification of human elements, should be adopted in this or that situation in order to achieve this or that end. We are in an epoch in which space is given to us in the form of relations between emplacements. In any case I believe that the anxiety of today fundamentally concerns space, no doubt much more than time. Time probably appears only as one of the various possible operations of distribution between the elements that are spread out in space.9
Now, in spite of all the techniques invested in space, despite the whole network of knowledge that enables us to determine or to formalize it, contemporary space is perhaps still not entirely desacralized (apparently unlike time, it would seem, which was desacralized in the nineteenth century). To be sure a certain theoretical desacralization of space has occurred (the one signalled by Galileo’s work), but we may still not have reached the point of a practical desacralization of space. And perhaps our life is still ruled by a certain number of oppositions that cannot be touched, that institution and practice have not yet dared to undermine; oppositions that we regard as simple givens: for example, between private space and public space, between family space and social space, between cultural space and useful space, between the space of leisure and that of work. All these are animated by an unspoken sacralization.
Bachelard’s monumental work, the descriptions of phenomenologists have taught us that we do not live in a homogeneous and empty space, but on the contrary in a space thoroughly loaded with qualities and perhaps also haunted by fantasy. The space of our primary perception, the space of our dreams and that of our passions hold within themselves qualities that seem intrinsic: it is a light, ethereal, transparent space, or again it is a dark, rough, encumbered space; it is a space from above, a space of summits, or on the contrary a space from below, a space of mud; it is a space that can be flowing like lively water, or it is a space that is fixed, solidified, like stone or like crystal.
Yet these analyses, while fundamental for reflection in our time, primarily concern inner space. It is of outer space10 I would like to speak now. The space in which we live, which draws us out of ourselves, in which the erosion of our lives, of our time and our history occurs, the space that torments and consumes us, is also, in itself, a heterogeneous space. In other words, we do not live in a kind of void, inside which we could place individuals and things. We do not live inside a void that could be coloured with diverse shades of light; we live inside a set of relations that delineate emplacements that cannot be equated or in any way superimposed.
Of course one could no doubt take up the description of these different emplacements, by looking for the set of relations by which a given site can be defined. For example, describing the set of relations that define the emplacements of passage, the streets, trains (a train is an extraordinary bundle of relations because it is something through which one passes, it is also something by means of which one can go from one point to another, and then it is also something that passes by). One could describe, via the cluster of relations that allows them to be defined, the emplacements of temporary halts—cafés, cinemas, beaches. Likewise one could define, via its network of relations, the closed or semi-closed emplacements of rest that make up the house, the bedroom, the bed, and so forth. But what interests me, among all these sites, are the ones that have the curious property of being in relation with all the other sites, but in such a way as to suspend, neutralize, or invert the set of relations designated, mirrored, or reflected by them. These spaces, as it were, that are linked with all the others, that nevertheless contradict all the other emplacements, are of two main types.
First there are the utopias. Utopias are emplacements with no real place.11 They are emplacements that have a general relation of direct or inverted analogy with the real space of society. It is society itself perfected, or else it is society turned upside down, but in any case, these utopias essentially are fundamentally unreal spaces. There are also, and this probably in all culture, in all civilization, real places, effective places, places that are written into the institution of society itself, and that are a sort of counter-emplacements, a sort of effectively realized utopias in which the real emplacements, all the other real emplacements that can be found within culture, are simultaneously represented, contested and inverted; a kind of places that are outside all places, even though they are actually localizable. Since these places are absolutely other than all the emplacements that they reflect, and of which they speak, I shall call them, by way of contrast to utopias, heterotopias.12 And I believe that between utopias and these absolutely other emplacements,13 these heterotopias, there might be a sort of mixed, in-between experience, which would be the mirror. The mirror is, after all, a utopia, since it is a place without place. In the mirror, I see myself there where I am not, in an unreal space that virtually opens up behind the surface; I am over there, there where I am not, a sort of shadow that gives me my own visibility, that enables me to see myself there where I am absent. Utopia of the mirror. But it is also a heterotopia in so far as the mirror does really exist, and as it exerts on the place I occupy a sort of return effect; it is starting from the mirror that I discover my absence in the place where I am, since I see myself over there. Starting from this gaze that is, as it were, cast upon me, from the depth of this virtual space that is on the other side of the looking glass, I come back towards myself and I begin again to direct my eyes towards myself and to reconstitute myself there where I am.14 The mirror functions as a heterotopia in the respect that it renders this place that I occupy at the moment when I look at myself in the looking glass at once absolutely real, connected with all the space that surrounds it, and absolutely unreal, since, in order to be perceived, it has to pass through this virtual point, which is over there.15 As for heterotopias properly speaking, how can we describe them? What meaning do they have? We might imagine, I do not say a science because that is a word that is overused today, but a sort of systematic description that would have as its object, in a given society, the study, analysis, description, and ‘reading’, as some like to say nowadays, of these different spaces, of these other places, as a sort of simultaneously mythic and real contestation of the space in which we live. This description could be called heterotopology.16
A first principle is that there is probably not a single culture in the world that does not constitute heterotopias. That is a constant in every human group. But heterotopias obviously take on forms that are very varied, and perhaps one would not find one single form of heterotopia that is absolutely universal. We can, however, classify them in two major types.
In so-called ‘primitive’ societies, there is a certain form of heterotopia that I would call heterotopias of crisis, that is to say that there are privileged, or sacred, or forbidden places, reserved for individuals who are, in relation to society and to the human environment in which they live, in a state of crisis: adolescents, menstruating women, pregnant women, the elderly, etc.
In our society, these heterotopias of crisis are steadily disappearing, though one can still find a few remnants. For example, the boarding school, in its nineteenth-century form, or the military service for boys have certainly played such a role, as the first manifestations of male sexuality were in fact supposed to take place ‘somewhere other’ than at home. For girls, there was, until the middle of the twentieth century, a tradition called the ‘honeymoon trip’; it was an ancestral theme. The young girl’s deflowering could take place ‘nowhere’ and, at the moment of its occurrence the train or honeymoon hotel was indeed the place of this nowhere, this heterotopia without geographical markers.
But these heterotopias of crisis are disappearing today and are being replaced, I believe, by what could be called heterotopias of deviation: those in which individuals are placed who...