Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Unravelling Heterotopias

Utopias are fundamentally unreal spaces yet existing parallel to society’s real space. Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopias points toward counter-sites with a utopian notion, they are outside places within society following their own rules. Exploring heterotopias could mean to look into defined spaces and reveal ruptures in society, question modes of inclusion/exclusion and read space and its inhabiting people.

Six principles shape this roughly sketched concept of a ‘placeless place’ and a short summary follows:
Heterotopias can be found on the ground of every society, emphasizing on spaces of human crises and deviation (e.g. psychiatric hospitals, rest homes, prisons). Within this concept Foucault refers to time as heterochronies. Traditional time is broken and he refers to slices of duration, which are transferred in museums, archives and libraries, these places are ‘indefinitely accumulating time’ and stress on eternity. Moreover, history can even change the function of heterotopias evident in the cultural space of cemeteries. In the 18th century a graveyard was placed in the centre next to the church, had a charnel house, a hierarchy of tombs and statues that led also in the church itself. On the other hand, the concept of time in its ‘most flowing’ form leads to festivals, fairgrounds or vacation villages. Besides the aspect of time, seen as temporal or eternal, heterotopias are also identified on restricted accession. Either one has to undergo rituals or need a special permission; the entry could even be compulsory as in prison. Furthermore, the concept encompasses spaces of illusion, brothels, spaces that are other, colonies, and floating spaces in time as in a boat.

Michel Foucault: Of Other Spaces (1967), Heterotopias.

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