Space, Place and Gender
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Space, Place and Gender

Doreen Massey

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eBook - ePub

Space, Place and Gender

Doreen Massey

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This new book brings together Doreen Massey's key writings on three areas central to a range of disciplines. In addition, the author reflects on the development of these ideas and outlines her current position on these important issues.

The book is organized around the three themes of space, place and gender. It traces the development of ideas about the social nature of space and place and the relation of both to issues of gender and debates within feminism. It is debates in these areas which have been crucial in bringing geography to the centre of social sciences thinking in recent years, and this book includes writings that have been fundamental to that process. Beginning with the economy and social structures of production, it develops a wider notion of spatiality as the product of intersecting social relations. In turn this has lead to conceptions of 'place' as essentially open and hybrid, always provisional and contested. These themes intersect with much current thinking about identity within both feminism and cultural studies.

Each of the themes is preceded by a section which reflects on the development of ideas and sets out the context of their production. The introduction assesses the current state of play and argues for the close relationship of new thinking on each of these themes. This book will be of interest to students in geography, social theory, women's studies and cultural studies.

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Space and Social Relations


The main burden of the papers in this part is a theoretical one. It concerns the conceptualization of the spatial, and it moves from a critique of a certain kind of spatial fetishism to an attempt to think the spatial in terms of social relations. At this level it is an extremely abstract argument; and it concerns a debate which still continues.
The origins of this debate, however, at least within the discipline of geography in the United Kingdom were to a large extent grounded in arguments about very concrete issues. This is important to recognize for two reasons. First, the particular nature of the issues within which the broader conceptual arguments took shape moulded the development of those arguments. The issues concerned primarily questions of the economy and of class structure, rather than, for instance, politics or cultural identity. But second, it is important to recognize this grounding in concrete questions because it brings home quite clearly that these philosophical debates matter. The questions which were at issue when these papers were written concerned the industrial geography and the changing social structure of the country. And these questions were fundamentally political. In the late 1970s ‘the inner-city problem’ had risen to prominence on the political agenda. The combination of dramatic economic decline, crushing poverty and incipient social unrest kept them in the public eye. As had been the case with ‘the regions’ before them the easy response of the politicians was to look within the areas themselves for the cause of their malaise. A geographical version of the well-established strategy of blaming the victim for their own misfortune was widely adopted. It therefore became urgent to argue that events in the cities could not be so explained, that the cities really were in some sense victims, but victims of wider circumstances; that the fortunes of individual places cannot be explained by looking only within them; that the loss of jobs in urban areas was due to the particular form being taken by a wider and even more fundamental problem: the lack of international competitiveness of much of British manufacturing industry. It was an industry which had largely slept through the expansive 1950s, padded by Commonwealth Preference, the Korean War, and cost-plus contracts with the state. In such a context, while ethnic minorities, single-parent families, ‘the unemployable’, and local authority planners were all in various ways being blamed for the misery in the cities, it was important – or so it seemed to me – to demonstrate (and to demonstrate through detailed empirical work) that the situation was exactly the contrary. It was not the cities (nor, indeed, the regions) which had failed industry, but British industry which had failed the cities.
There were similar, immediately political, issues at the regional level about, for instance, the degree of success of regional policy. The questions here revolved around the degree to which changes in the geography of industry could be attributed to regional policy, and the degree to which an equalization of unemployment rates between regions could anyway be seen as an unmitigated success. Again the arguments involved setting individual spaces (in this case the regions) within the larger spaces of capitalism – in what sense were these regional problems? But they also involved introducing the notion of power relations between regions (through spatial structures, or spatial divisions of labour).1 Different levels of unemployment, it had to be argued, are not the only component of, nor even necessarily the best way of thinking about, uneven development.
There were debates, too, which emerged directly from the labour movement. There was the divisiveness introduced by industrial transfer – in particular at this period, workers in the cities blaming regional policy for what looked like the loss of their jobs to the regions. It was issues such as these which provoked the first forays into what was to prove to be the ever-expanding debate over the nature of social space.
The papers in this part cover, in their content, the period from Wilsonism to Thatcherism, from a modernizing social democracy supposedly run by experts to a neo-liberal free market (though heavily subsidized in its most symbolically important bits) supposedly run by entrepreneurs. The contrast between the two is sharp; from the Wilsonian emphasis on government intervention and on the need for scale, to the Thatcherite era of casualization and the rhetoric of small firms. Yet throughout this whole very varied period geographical inequality (more broadly, the spatial organization of society) was of crucial importance, either as an explicit political issue or as a less-recognized but fundamentally significant component of the changes under way in economy and society. Indeed, it could be argued that regional inequality was one of the rocks on which Thatcherism foundered (having been one of the bases on which initially it was built). Looking back now, from the grotesque inequalities of the 1990s, it is important to be reminded of the problems entailed in Wilsonian social democracy. The emphasis on modernization (of a particular sort), on size, and above all on technocratic expertise, were what lay at the basis of the newly emerging form of geographical inequality of the late 1960s. It was this new form of uneven development (crudely caricatured as the spatial separation of conception from execution) which gave birth to the concepts of spatial structure and spatial division of labour. What was clear, as one watched that combination of the financial concentration of capital with its geographical (and differential) dispersal which so characterized the UK in the sixties and seventies, was that what we were watching and experiencing was the reorganization of the relations of production over space.
But if there are contrasts between the periods there are also things which unite them; most particularly the seemingly endless search for a way out of British economic decline and the continuing debate about the nature of the changes going on in social structure. This latter was a particularly crucial issue within the left, for the conclusion one drew related closely to the political line one took on strategy. To what extent was ‘the old working class’ a thing of the past, and along with it the trade union movement? To what extent had the old-time labour movement (sometimes known as the men’s movement) been such a great success even in its heyday? Here too spatial thinking could be integral to political debate, for the highly varied geography of the changing social structure, from the fragmenting working-class communities to the new and increasingly important bases of middle-class power, forbade any simple national-level conclusions to be drawn. Here again was a practical political issue where a geographer’s voice could contribute.
What emerged from these attempts to investigate such issues from a geographical point of view was a theoretical/conceptual message about the nature of the spatial, in particular the nature of economic space and the space of class structure. It involved a process in which the spatial had first to be demoted in importance before its significance could be reunderstood in completely different terms. The first task was to blow apart the notion of a spatial world which was internally self-explanatory – where spatial change was explained by spatial factors (the movement of industry explained by regional policy), where the fortunes of areas were explained by their characteristics (blaming the cities). Thus it is that the main message of ‘Industrial restructuring versus the cities’ (written with Richard Meegan), the earliest paper in this collection, is devoted to countering a spatial explanation. So, too, is the argument about regional policy in ‘In what sense a regional problem?’ Spatial form, it is being argued in both these cases, is to be explained not by ‘spatial’ factors but by, for instance, what is going on in the economy. The spatial is, in that very material sense, socially constructed; and an understanding of the spatial must entail an analysis of the economy and society more generally. In that sense there is no hermetically sealed discipline of geography.
Yet the very form of the spatial reorganization taking place over these decades raised further issues. Within the economy what was under way was a reorganization of the spatial shape of production in its widest sense. The proliferation of branch plants of various types, the separation-off of headquarters, the burgeoning of separate locations for research and development and a host of production-related professional services, all of these pointed to a notion of the spatial organization of economic functions and thus of the spatial stretching-out of the social relations which connected them. Economic space could be conceived of as constituted by the geographical organization of the relations of production.2 Similarly with class structure. If the emerging geography of social structure (‘The shape of things to come’) could be analysed, and if classes were conceived as mutually constituted through their interrelationships (‘Uneven development’) then class relations too could be understood as having a spatial form. The geography of social structure is a geography of class relations, not just a map of social classes; just as the geography of the economy should be a map of economic relations stretched over space, and not just, for instance, a map of different types of jobs. Most generally, ‘the spatial’ is constituted by the interlocking of ‘stretched-out’ social relations.3
Moreover, since it is those relations which constitute the social phenomena themselves (jobs, economic functions, social classes), the nature and the development of the phenomena and their spatial form are necessarily intimately related. And since social relations are bearers of power what is at issue is a geography of power relations in which spatial form is an important element in the constitution of power itself.
Seeing things this way gives a very different meaning to the term uneven development from that which is implied by looking only at, for instance, the differential distribution of employment/unemployment.4 It points to its intractability, locates its sources in class power rather than in the immediacy of, say, a lack of jobs; and it points to the fact that the nature, and not merely the degree, of uneven development can change over time.
The concepts of spatial structure and of spatial division of labour were a means of getting to grips, in the economic sphere, with this notion of social relations stretched over space. Moreover, they also raised another issue for they were concerned with the way in which capital made active use of the forms of geographical variation and inequality which were presented to it. This was a very different formulation from that of industry responding to location factors. And its implication was that spatial form was implicated in the development of the economic (and by extension in the social more generally). This theme, which was to flower into the claim that ‘geography matters’, and which was explored in an earlier critique of industrial location theory,5 is gradually developed in a number of directions in the papers here. At first it is the active use by individual companies of spatial variation and spatial movement that is stressed (see especially ‘Industrial restructuring’ and ‘In what sense a regional problem?’). In ‘The shape of things to come’ and ‘Uneven development’ the more general case is made for the importance of geographical strategies in the reorganization of British capital and in, for instance, its often vain attempts to preserve UK Fordism through spatial decentralization. ‘The shape of things to come’ pulls out the importance of geographical change in the reconstitution of, and the problems facing, the trade union movement, and argues strongly for the significance of geographical variation within the processes of class restructuring and the importance of spatial specificity in the construction of political interpretations and responses and in the maintenance, and fragmentation, of political traditions. ‘Uneven development’ completes the circle by arguing that spatial form and geographical location are themselves significant in forming the character of particular social strata. Thus the very fact of social relations being ‘stretched out over space’ (or not), and taking particular spatial forms, influences the nature of the social relations themselves, the divisions of labour and the functions within them (‘Uneven development’). Social change and spatial change are integral to each other.


1 There was some evolution in the definition of these terms. In my book Spatial Divisions of Labour: Social Structures and the Geography of Production (Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1984), where the main statement takes place, and in most other papers, a spatial structure refers to a particular geographical organization of the relations of production, most often within individual firms and possibly typifying individual sectors or parts of sectors. A spatial division of labour is a broader concept referring to the form of uneven development which results from the combining of a range of concurrent spatial structures. In ‘In what sense a regional problem?’, where the terms were first used, spatial division of labour had rather more of the former sense.
2 For the full argument on this see Massey, Spatial Divisions of Labour.
3 It is interesting to note that these ideas have a lot in common with Giddens’s ideas of time–space distanciation. (See Anthony Giddens, The Constitution of Society [Cambridge, Polity, 1984].)
4 It also differentiates it very clearly from that view of uneven development as a kind of alternately tipping balance, sometimes expressed in the terminology of a ‘see-saw’.
5 See Doreen Massey, ‘Towards a critique of industrial location theory’ in R. Peet (ed.) Radical Geography (Chicago, Maaroufa, 1977 and London, Methuen, 1978), originally published in Antipode, vol. 5, no. 3, 1973, pp. 33–9. This analysed in detail the disruptive impact of introducing the spatial dimension into the formal models and neo-classical frameworks of the then dominant line of industrial location theory.


Industrial Restructuring versus the Cities

Introduction and methodology

The industrial location project

The decline of manufacturing in the cities has been the subject of much recent research. One unfortunate side effect of this concern, however, has been the tendency for the problem to be defined in spatial terms, and, consequently, for the causes of the problem to be sought within the same spatial area. This tendency to study the workings of the city in economic and spatial isolation from the rest of the national economy has often seen emphasis being placed, for example, on assessment of the influence of such factors as the built-environment of the inner-city areas (congestion, dereliction, site availability, etc.) or the personal characteristics of their residents (relating unemployment, say, to age, race or skill). The outcome of such research is often to blur and confuse the issue of causality.
The present decline in manufacturing in the cities is oc...