In 1974,Henri Lefebvre, a French sociologist and one of the most important and enduringtheorists of space and society introduced a concept of the ‘Right to the City’ inhis book The Production of Space (Lefebvre,1974). This key idea has influenced many social scientists when creating andtransforming social public spaces in the last decades. Indeed, it has resultedin an entirely new branch of the sociology of space and cultural geographywithin the Marxist tradition from which Lefebvre himself emerged. Our currentunderstandings of urban space within the concept of capitalism would not existwithout the work of Lefebvre and there exists a substantial bibliography andcritical heritage concerned with his thinking (Merrifield, 2006).
Within thecomplex contributions of The Productionof Space, one of the most influential idea was Lefebvre’s conceptualisationof the ‘Right to the City’. In contrast to Mayhew who claimed that it is ‘theright to make full use of the city and to live a richly urban life’, Lefebvrestresses the inseparable worth of cities to the urban population, and notmerely based on the physical or economic value. This essay will investigateinto the idea of the Right to the City as outlined in Lefebvre’s work, as wellas how it has been influenced and amplified in the work of other culturalgeographers, in order to evaluate the extent to which it has formed the generalunderstanding and shaping of spaces in social science research. Theorisationof space in The Production of SpaceIn the Production of Space, the French theoristHenri Lefebvre asserted that ‘space embodies social relations’ (Lefebvre, 1974:27) and hence he believed that social space is the product of society.
Heclaimed that ‘the space thus produced also serves as a tool of thought and ofaction; that in addition to being a means of production it is also a means ofcontrol, and hence of domination, of power’ (Lefebvre, 1974: 26). Accordingly,it can be argued that different places at different times may have produceddifferent spaces. While Lefebvre emphasises the dominating role of spatialproduction 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 fromMarxism philosophy, Lefebvre supports the idea that revolution is considered tobe a means of social change. While this is not relevant to every socialsituation, it can be at least seen that socially produced spaces are contestedand in some circumstances, it could be adopted to control or have power overothers, and others may use them to escape from domination.
The term’spatial practices’ is defined as ‘secret society’s space; they propound andpropose it, in dialectical interaction’ (Merrifield, 2006: 110) and have a roleto play in ‘breaking down’ of spaces. Space may exist in its natural conditionand be produced through society, but in everyday experience space becomessignificant to the individual through their own perceptions and through practiceswhich structure lived realities. Lefebvre claimed that these practices areconstituted through the understanding of other post-War philosophers andsociologists, in particularly the Situationist International. It was aninventive radical socialist and philosophical movement allied to progressivepolitics which sought to find ways to bring on the liberation of the globallabour workers. The French social theorist Michel de Certeau, for example,described how the everyday process of walking ‘traces the body onto itsenvironment, inscribing ‘space’ with the palimpsest of that encounter with thebody whose necessary absence allows that space to become the place of memory, asymbolic spatial structure from which subjectivity might emerge’ (Waxman andGrant, 2011: 81). We consider ‘walking’ as a daily ‘practice’ and at the sametime it is ‘spatial’ as it evidently takes place in and through space.
Inaddition, it is a ‘spatial practice’ which relates the body of the walker tothe larger collective spaces of the city and hence it is a ‘social’ activity’. It cantherefore be argued that these overlapping conceptions of space areparticularly crucial in being utilised as an explanation for understanding theexperience of space. This applies to Lefebvre’s work as in his publication ofthe Right to the City, he defined the city as a ‘work,’ where the inhabitantscollectively turn it into an artistic creation and write their own account ofthe space (Lefebvre, 2008). Throughlinking the spaces in a city, imaging its ‘monuments, landmarks, and natural orartificial boundaries’ Merrifield argues that this ‘aids or deters aperson’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 byensuring a shared level of competence in the way the city is navigated andused. Furthermore, ‘spatial practices’ can be recognised as a product ofmaterialisation with regards to concrete physical items such as monuments andlandmarks.
Burgin (2006) has noted how’spatial practices’ form one part of three key components which constitute whatwe understand overall as social space. In addition to ‘spatial practices’,Lefebvre (1974) presents the notion of ‘representations of space’ and ‘spaces ofrepresentation.’ ‘Representations of space’ is where spaces are thought to be’abstract plans and mental processes’, and they are in a ‘dialectical’ relationand also are relative to each other (Gregory et al, 2009: 590). ‘Spaces of representation’, on the otherhand, is where spaces are shaped by those who occupy and lived and throughtheir experiences and actions of using the space.
While thisidea of dividing social space into three components can challenge the overallunderstanding, it can be summarised that social space is a differentiatedphenomenon (in practice with overlapping components) which requires differentmeans of analysis describing space.