Study Guides

Understanding Doreen Massey's Politics of Space & Place

PhD, English Literature (Lancaster University)

Date Published: 07.03.2023,

Last Updated: 09.01.2024

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Summarising Massey’s Politics of Place & Space

Doreen Massey (1944-2016) was a renowned geographer and social scientist whose work predominantly used Marxist and feminist theory to challenge conventional understandings of place and space. Massey’s research focused on globalisation, industrial development, regional inequality and how the experience of space can impact ideologies and politics and shape the communities in which we live. 

Massey moves away from traditional arguments made by geographers and social scientists that have tended to separate time and space, often viewing space as static and unchanging. Instead, she suggests that space is dynamic, changing and contains a multitude of identities. Her work has been enormously influential, shedding light on how space both conveys and produces social inequality as well as illuminating how space is experienced differently depending on our identity. Her work Space, Place and Gender (1994) brings together key papers from across her career as well as providing further insights into her theories of space, place and gender. As such, this study guide will refer to the papers compiled in Space, Place and Gender to discuss the key concepts within Massey’s work. Other key works of Massey’s include For Space (2005) and World City (2015), all three of these books are detailed below.

Space, Place and Gender book cover

About this book

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.

Format ePUB (mobile friendly)

Year 2013

For Space book cover

About this book

This book is for space in that it argues for a reinvigoration of the spatiality of our implicit cosmologies. For Space is essential reading for anyone interested in space and the spatial turn in the social sciences and humanities. Serious, and sometimes irreverent, it is a compelling manifesto: for re-imagining spaces for these times and facing up to their challenge.

Pages in book 232

Format ePUB (mobile friendly)

Year 2005

World City book cover

About this book

Cities around the world are striving to be ‘global’. This book tells the story of one of them, and in so doing raises questions of identity, place and political responsibility that are essential for all cities.

World City focuses its account on London, one of the greatest of these global cities. London is a city of delight and of creativity. It also presides over a country increasingly divided between North and South and over a neo-liberal form of globalisation – the deregulation, financialisation and commercialisation of all aspects of life – that is resulting in an evermore unequal world.

Format ePUB (mobile friendly)

Year 2013

Key Concepts in Massey’s Formulation of Space 

In Space, Place and Gender, Massey discusses how space is not neutral, but is charged with political and social meaning, infused with complex power dynamics. To articulate this, Massey refers to the concept of time-space compression and power-geometry. 

Time-space compression

The Marxist idea of time-space compression is often referred to by Massey as a way to understand power and spatial relations in capitalism’s new phase of globalisation. Time-space compression refers to the processes by which places that are far apart start to appear closer. We can see examples of this in our everyday lives, as Massey highlights, with technology such as email and telephones bringing geographically distant people into close proximity in the blink of an eye. Massey argues that we can see that time-space compression is occurring through the ‘almost obligatory use in the literature of terms and phrases such as speed-up, global village, overcoming spatial barriers, the disruption of horizons’ (‘A Global Sense of Place’, 1994). Massey further adds to discussions of time-space compression by querying the ‘ethnocentricity of the idea of time-space compression and its current acceleration’ and how our degrees of mobility are influenced by power-geometry. See our in-depth guide on time-space compression here.


Power-geometry, a term coined by Massey, describes how space and mobility are determined by power relations. As Massey writes of the mobility of different groups:

It is not simply a question of unequal distribution, that some people move more than others, and that some have more control than others. It is that the mobility and control of some groups can actively weaken other people. Differential mobility can weaken the leverage of the already weak. The time–space compression of some groups can undermine the power of others (1994). 

An example Massey gives is the use of transport. Every time someone uses their own car, they have increased personal mobility. However, the impact of people using private transport is that public transport becomes less financially viable and thus the people who rely upon that system have their mobility decreased. She further argues that to maintain the lifestyles of the wealthy in First World societies, resources from across the world are depleted resulting in numerous environmental and social consequences.


Characteristics of Place 

Massey argues for the dynamic and relational nature of space. To demonstrate this, Massey puts forward four main characteristics of place. 


1. Places have multiple identities

According to Massey, places resist one fixed, unique identity but are ‘full of internal conflicts’, something which is revealed by attempts of groups to define and control a particular space (‘A Global Sense of Place’, 1994). An example Massey gives in her paper ‘A Place Called Home?’ is the urbanisation of the ‘Isle of Dogs’ and the emergence of London’s ‘Docklands’. The development at London’s Docklands in the 1980s showed groups seeking ‘the identity of a place by laying claim to some particular moment/location in time–space when the definition of the area and the social relations dominant within it were to the advantage of that particular claimant group’ (1994). This means, as Massey goes on to argue, that ‘the identity of any place, including that place called home, is in one sense forever open to contestation’ (1994).  By having a multitude of identities, a place is continually reproduced and reinterpreted throughout time.


2. Places are not static; they are processes

Conventional readings of space, such as those by Ernest Laclau in New Reflections on the Revolution of Our Time, have positioned it as the counterpart of ‘time’; space is seen as static and time as mobile and dynamic (1990). Massey refutes this notion by conceptualising space as being equally dynamic, containing multitudes which span across all dimensions. Globalisation confirms much of this if we take a city such as London. London is a key figure for financial trade across the entire world – powerful institutions are based there and neo-liberal economies were first envisioned there. This gives London power over other places across the globe and allows it, as an abstract space, to dominate. While London geographically appears static, it is dynamic due to its ability to influence, control and domineer other places across the world.


3. Places are not enclosures with clear boundaries

While we often think of a place as being enclosed or having clear boundaries, Massey suggests, instead, that places must be understood through their relationship to the outside world. As such, Massey argues that places are boundless and can be ‘imagined as articulated moments of networks of social relations and understandings’ (‘A Global Sense of Place’, 1994). Boundaries are set up to divide regions and communities, categorising ‘them and us’; Massey’s reading allows for places to be read as ‘open and porous’(‘Introduction’, 1994).  Giving the example of Kilburn in London, Massey demonstrates how places come to be boundless; Kilburn has a history which encompasses many communities and groups of people and the effects of globalisation and immigration can be seen in its diverse population. By encompassing the ‘outside’ in the definition of what constitutes a place, we can ‘get away from the common association between penetrability and vulnerability. For it is this kind of association which makes invasion by newcomers so threatening’ (‘A Global Sense of Place’, 1994). 


4. The uniqueness of a place is defined by social relations

Massey’s reconceptualising of space, however, does not deny the importance of the uniqueness of place. Instead, Massey argues that ‘the specificity of place is continually reproduced, but it is not a specificity which results from some long, internalized history’ (‘A Global Sense of Place’, 1994). Massey sees globalisation and the subsequent uneven geographical development as a source of a place’s uniqueness. Places like Kilburn have specificity not because of a singular, unchangeable identity but because of the vast network of social relations found within the community. Moreover, as places do not have a fixed identity marked by their heritage, they are made all the more unique. Massey states that ‘a further element of specificity from the accumulated history of a place, with that history itself imagined as the product of layer upon layer of different sets of linkages, both local and to the wider world’ (‘A Global Sense of Place’, 1994). A space, therefore, derives its uniqueness from its multitude of identities and its importance and historical significance to different groups at different time periods.


Gender and Geography

In examining gender in relation to spatial inequality, Massey argues that women have often been confined to private spaces such as the household, whereas men are able to move through public space unhindered. As previously mentioned, Massey argues that time is associated with dynamism and movement, whereas space is seen as flat and static. This distinction, Massey argues, contributes to our understanding of why space is typically ‘coded female and denigrated’ (‘Politics and Space/Time’, 1994). Women too were confined to and associated with this fixed space as Massey goes on to state that ‘women’s mobility… is restricted – in a thousand different ways, from physical violence to being ogled at or made to feel quite simply ‘out of place’ – not by “capital”, but by men’ (‘A Global Sense of Place’, 1994).  Women, therefore, comprise one of the groups which Massey argues are ‘effectively imprisoned’ by ‘differentiated mobility’ due to obstacles which prevent them from initiating ‘flows and movement’ (‘A Global Sense of Place’, 1994). 

Reactions to the transition of women to the workplace in the nineteenth century support Massey’s argument that gender impacts spatial inequality. Massey finds that it wasn’t the idea of work which threatened the patriarchal order, but the idea of women working outside the home, thereby moving away from their domestic roles and into a public, individual life, defined not solely by the family. Massey writes that:

It was…a change in the social and the spatial organization of work which was crucial. And that change mattered to women as well as men. Lancashire women did get out of the home. The effects of homeworking are different: the worker remains confined to the privatized space of the home, and individualized, isolated from other workers. Unionization of women in cotton textiles has always been far higher than amongst the homeworking women in London. (‘A Woman’s Place?’, 1994) 

The organisation of space, therefore, can uphold or disrupt patriarchal norms.

Massey goes on to give a later example of the limitation of women in her discussion of modernist art. These cultural products of modernism often depicted women as illustrated by men – often these artworks presented women in spaces they were excluded from. In the art world, and in other public spaces such as the bar or the brothel, women who existed in these spaces were there solely to be consumed by men. This can particularly be seen in the flâneur – a prominent male figure of nineteenth and early-twentieth century urban life – who would idly stroll through the metropolis, objectifying with his gaze. The privileging of this gaze, and therefore a male perspective of the city, carries through into spaces of modern art as Massey notes, and establishes in which spaces women are agents and in which spaces they are objects. 

Massey does provide a potential remedy to the gendered division of spaces, writing that ‘[o]ne gender-disturbing message might be – in terms of both identity and space – keep moving! The challenge is to achieve this whilst at the same time recognizing one’s necessary locatedness and embeddedness/embodiedness, and taking responsibility for it’ (‘General Introduction’, 1994).  Interactions with space, therefore, can be controlled through the movements of a particular group and can be fundamentally changed by their resistance in such spaces, resistance in this case being characterised by an unfettered and unapologetic mobility.  


Influence and Critique

Doreen Massey has been highly influential with her work being praised by social scientists and geographers for its radical concepts of space. There are, however, areas scholars argue Massey has neglected. In a review of Space, Place and GenderRagnhild Skogheim wrote that,

What [Massey] may be criticized for is neglecting the symbolic, historic and cultural aspects of places, which may be important for the identity of people (living in these places, but not necessary), although she argues that ‘traditions’ are frequently invented, and the past may not be more authentic than the present. Phenomenological perspectives may be relevant for understanding different meaning and perception attached to places for different groups of individuals. (1995)

Skogheim further criticises Massey on the grounds that the book is primarily for an English audience and, as such, many of the examples and issues outlined in the text cannot be readily applied to other places.

In addition, Jamie Peck in Work-Place: The Social Regulation of Labor Markets has drawn attention to a ‘conceptual blind spot’ in Massey’s research: the local labour market. While Peck acknowledges that Massey discusses the processes of industrial restructuring and local outcomes, she fails ‘to specify the intermediating function’ between these (1996, 159).

Massey continues to influence the work of geographers and social scientists alike who have applied her work to the changing social and geographical landscape.

Kendra Strauss’s chapter ‘Geographical Imaginations of Pension Divestment Campaigns’ in Doreen Massey: Critical Dialogues (2018) suggests how Massey’s work can be interpreted in order to further our understanding of relational space. Strauss writes that ‘if economic geographers are to use Massey’s work to further enrich the project of relational thinking and analysis, power-geometrics themselves must be treated as multiplicities.’ Strauss stresses that this is not a critique of Massey but of the interpretation and usage of her work which undermines ‘their relationality and their contingent geographical imaginations’ (2018). 

Moreover, Jayne Rodgers discusses the impact of Massey on our understanding of technological communication in ‘Doreen Massey, Information, Communication & Society’. Rodgers writes that, ‘[f]or those trying to make sense of the new forms of interactivity the Internet brings… Massey’s work provides a strong theoretical tool for interpreting the impact of these complex and apparently contradictory developments (2004, 274).’ Massey’s theories on space can be used to explore various other modern concerns such as food inequality as discussed by Alice Brooke Wilson in Spatial Politics: Essays for Doreen Massey  thus demonstrating Massey’s continued influence and the political potential of her work. 

Massey’s work has helped to shape the fields of social science and has been pivotal in our understanding of space. Moreover, as Callard identifies, Massey has contributed to encouraging geographers to engage with social theory as well as advocating for the recognition of the role of space and place within the social sciences (2004). This interdisciplinary approach and nuanced insights have led to widespread praise of her research. In the words of Jamie Peck and others in Doreen Massey: Critical Dialogues (2018), ‘Doreen Massey changed geography…She launched critiques, both in the relatively small world of economic geography and the much bigger worlds of social theory and progressive politics’ (2018). 

Doreen Massey Space & Place FAQs


Callard, F. (2004). Doreen Massey. In P. Hubbard, R. Kitchin, & G. Valentine (Eds.), Key thinkers on space and place (pp. 219–225). London: Sage

Featherstone, D and J. Painter. (2013) Spatial Politics: Essays for Doreen Massey. John Wiley and Sons. Available at:

Laclau, E. (1990). New Reflections on the Revolution of Our Time. Verso Books. 

Massey, D. (2013). Space, Place and Gender. Polity Press. Available at:

Rodgers, J. (2004). Doreen Massey. Information, Communication & Society7(2), 273-291.

Skogheim, R. (1995). Space, Place and Gender. Acta Sociologica, 38(3), 278-281.

Werner, M, J. Peck, R. Lave and B.Christophers. (2018) Doreen Massey: Critical Dialogues. Agenda Publishing. Available at:

PhD, English Literature (Lancaster University)

Sophie Raine has a PhD from Lancaster University. Her work focuses on penny dreadfuls and urban spaces. Her previous publications have been featured in VPFA (2019; 2022) and the Palgrave Handbook for Steam Age Gothic (2021) and her co-edited collection Penny Dreadfuls and the Gothic was released in 2023 with University of Wales Press.