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1 I recall [1] Georges Perec once beginning a talk he gave at a conference in Venice with these words: “Snoopy, my favourite hero, notes with satisfaction that we never say ‘cats and dogs,’ it’s always ‘dogs and cats.’” [2] Many who follow in Snoopy’s footsteps no doubt rejoice in the fact that we say “spaces and societies,” and not the other way round.

2 For my part, I was trained to think of space as coming second, since space was a product of society. I would like to explain here my initial interest in the production of space, how my interest in the production of space was balanced by a competing interest in how we experience (as well as use) space and how my interest then turned to a consideration of the nature itself of space. I will go on to describe how, at a time of radical shifts in the nature of space, thinking on the relationship between space and society is entering a new phase with the focus more on the notion of place, on the definition and expansion of that notion and on its wider application within academic research.

The social production of space: System, process and the interplay of different agents

3 It is said that when Kevin Lynch’s book The Image of the City (1960) was translated into French in 1969, the organizers of a panel discussion on the book apparently invited Pierre Francastel to contribute. He is supposed to have replied that he had nothing to say about space, save in the context of painting. Whether true or not, this anecdote serves to illustrate a certain atomization in the thinking on this subject, something that Henri Lefebvre criticized: “What is always overlooked is the fact that this sort of fragmentation tallies not only with the tendency of language itself, not only with the wishes of specialists of all kinds, but also with the goals of existing society, which… splits itself up into the most heterogeneous spaces” (translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith 1991: 91). In the 1970s, however, a much more global vision was decreed by Marxism and structuralism. Scholars emphasized the connection (or relationship) between the mode of production, or the social system, and the organization of space, which is far more than just “society projected onto the ground.” [3] Even if they discussed the various processes for the production of space, they placed too much emphasis on “macro” arguments at the expense of detailed analysis of what was actually happening in practice.

4 Around the same time, in a seminar series led by Jean Duvignaud on the sociology of art, [4] a researcher was explaining how the discovery of natural landscapes in the eighteenth century, in part an artistic invention, had coincided with use of the “Claude (Lorrain) glass”, or black mirror, by young aristocrats on their Grand Tours across Europe. These young aristocrats would turn with their back to a scene and then view the scene through the mirror, so that it took on the characteristics of a painting (or photograph of some kind) which they could then turn into a landscape. This example shows the connection between artistic space, everyday space—even if limited here to the travel habits of a happy few—and social representations, including the “natural” landscape with all that that signifies. The importance attached to the process of production in this example did not mean other aspects of space were ignored. This can be seen in Lefebvre’s work.

5 At the time, I was looking into historic urban districts that were in the process of being restored under what was known as the Malraux law of August 4, 1962 [5] (Bourdin 1984), whereas most social science research in the field of space was concerned either with urban expansion or much less frequently with the transformation of rural areas. I lived in one of these historic urban districts in Tours. The sociology work was hampered by the timescales involved, with a history that was being written day by day and across periods of more than a decade: the inhabitants of a little island—demolished to allow for construction of a university—who had been relocated and re-housed in a nearby tower block and were unable to acclimatize to it; the successful reconversion of an old shop that had become a storeroom for a laundry business and been adopted by the new educated middle-class inhabitants; the closure of the deli-bars (with their stock of local cheeses straight from nearby farms and their fair share of alcoholics) to be replaced by modern cafés and restaurants that, within a decade of the restoration work, would turn into ugly tourist traps; the daily interventions by the body in charge of the public restoration project and responsible for resolving a mass of detail, responding to local inhabitants and directing the work of the craftsmen; in other cities too that I studied, the essential role played by local associations and, in addition to that, a host of policies—in property construction and use—that led to the transformation of these urban districts.

6 All this prompted me to view the relationship between space and society through the production of space as a system and process.

7 Lefebvre was one of the first at the time to suggest a relevant approach in his book The Production of Space (1974; translated 1991). [6] For me, one of the most striking illustrations was the example of Tuscany in the Middle Ages, when the great land-owners were establishing a sharecropping system:


The urban bourgeoisie needed at once to feed the town-dwellers, invest in agriculture, and draw upon the territory as a whole as it supplied the markets that it controlled with cereals, wool, leather, and so on. Confronted by these requirements, the bourgeoisie transformed the country, and the countryside, according to a preconceived plan, according to a model. The houses of the métayers, known as poderi, were arranged in a circle around the mansion where the proprietor would come to stay from time to time, and where his stewards lived on a permanent basis. Between poderi and mansion ran alleys of cypresses. Symbol of property, immortality and perpetuity, the cypress thus inscribed itself upon the countryside, imbuing it with depth and meaning. These trees, the criss-crossing of these alleys, sectioned and organized the land. Their arrangement was evocative of the laws of perspective, whose fullest realization was simultaneously appearing in the shape of the urban piazza in its architectural setting.
(Lefebvre, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith 1991: 78)

9 Lefebvre maintains that this space “which it would fall to the painters, and first among them in Italy to the Siena school, to identify, formulate and develop” (translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith 1991: 78) is the result not of any pre-existing form but of a new spatial relationship between town and country, prompted by radical economic change, itself spurred by “groups which were the motor of development: the urban oligarchy and a portion of the peasantry” (ibid).

10 In that analysis, Lefebvre seems to attach at least as much importance to the processes of production as he does to the choices underpinning them, hence inviting a more historical approach. In that respect, Henri Raymond (1984) extends and lends weight to Lefebvre when he describes the stories behind Palladian architecture—notably the Venetian palazzi built on terra firma—or the reconstruction of Sicilian towns after the earthquake of 1693.

11 Raymond Ledrut (1977, 1979) suggests another way of looking at the production of space via different modes of spatialization. He draws heavily on the conceptual framework developed by Wilhelm Dilthey, Karl Mannheim, and Georg Lukács, and used by Lucien Goldmann (1955) to analyze works by Racine and Pascal. In place of ideology, this framework proposes “vision of the world as a structural and functional expression of the relative situation of a social group within a larger whole” [7] (Heyndels 1977, 135). In his view, even when serving a very specific set of interests, the production of space always proceeds from a particular way of interpreting the world that varies by social group and by the view that each group holds of its own position and role; and the production of space proceeds from values too that have been built up by societies over long periods of time and cannot be reduced simply to matters of social determinism, hence the idea in Ledrut’s work of “civilization’s vision of the world” that generates a “dominant mode of spatialization”. Out of all of that, what particularly stayed with me at the time was the fact that different social groups in a society, or different societies, develop modes of production for constituting and using space based not only on the objectives they want to achieve but also on a corpus of ideas that gives meaning to the space that is produced. [8] In other words, I retained the fact that, for the aristocracy, the proletariat, the clergy, the Chinese, the Kanaks, or the great nomadic peoples, space differs for each of them not simply due to the different uses they make of it or even the different religious or metaphysical meanings they associate with it, but above all due to their different modes of production and transformation—their modes of spatialization. At a concrete level, this leads to the conclusion (the firm conclusion, in fact) that several modes of spatialization can sit alongside each other, comprise each other, contradict or form a hierarchical relationship with each other as part of the process of urban production. In my area of study (restoration of historic town centers), it was possible to observe a whole range of different modes of spatialization and not just a series of power dynamics or conflicts within a single mode. The traditional landowners had a different mode of spatialization from the new, educated middle-class population, even if their interests happened to coincide. Those seeking to preserve historic monuments had a different mode of spatialization from the people who had moved to the city in search of authenticity and an “alternative” way of living and relating to space and the city. [9] And the powerlessness of residents who had lived there a long time was not just due to their precarious financial position. Far more than that, it may have resulted from the fact that they were seeking to fit themselves into a mode of spatialization—“archaic” compared with the social and technological changes taking place—whose levers (reflecting the new urban dynamics) were completely alien to them.

12 For anyone studying how towns are produced in contexts such as these, the need to study how the various players interact with each other was obvious. While I was working with heritage preservation (and promotion) organizations, I noticed how much weight they attached to the legal framework and to the various interlocutors with whom they were in dialogue: elected representatives, technicians, architects, craftsmen. This led me to focus part of my research on this issue. Michel Crozier and Erhard Friedberg (1977) came up with the theory of “concrete action systems” which allowed us to account for various different types of cooperation that did not all fit neatly into one single institutional model. These cooperative structures were generally coordinated by what I termed a “synthetic operator”, in this context a public-private partnership belonging to a vehicle specifically set up for the purpose by the Caisse des dépots et consignations (Deposits and Consignments Fund) [10] or else a non-governmental body, partly private and closely linked to the local communities, an Association de restauration immobilière (ARIM) (Real Estate Restoration Association). The complex relationships established between the various players covered four main areas:

  • funding and economic equilibrium between the various different operations;
  • implementation of the legal framework, with arrangements for stakeholder involvement through delegated management contracts, [11] in contrast with the process of expropriation deployed in the cases that sociologists were usually in the habit of studying, plus a set of planning rules (the Safeguarding and Development Plan) that differed from what was in place elsewhere, in particular in the key role given to various official architects; [12]
  • restoration techniques and strategies, being an activity with a high degree of technical uncertainty that was expertly navigated by seasoned professionals such as members of the Association ouvrière des compagnons du devoir (Craftsmen’s Guild); [13]
  • compiling a formal record of the project, a practice that became commonplace as urban projects developed but was still unusual compared with the simple, stereotypical accounts of construction projects.

13 Whereas other researchers studying the urban environment found themselves looking at situations that were brutal but relatively simple, we by contrast were faced with the complexities of collective action. All of a sudden, the classic way of thinking about decision-making was found wanting and studies such as those carried out by Lucien Sfez (1973) proved timely for us.

14 We started to view the production of (urban) space as a process made up of many different interactions, albeit ones that were also subject to wider economic and social pressures and political constraints.

Lived space

15 Space is not just something conceptual, perceptual, or representational. It is also something lived, as Lefebvre would put it. This is the space “of ‘inhabitants’ and ‘users’, but also of some artists” (Lefebvre translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith 1991: 39). It may provide as many clues to the space-society relationship as its production. Lived space is constituted either by the way it is used or by the way it is experienced, and we get a different perspective depending on which of those two aspects is given more weight. Usage emphasizes the functions of space. It is something that can be measured.

16 In the fifties, Paul-Henry Chombart de Lauwe’s team described the uses made of space in terms of residence (1959) or alternatively in terms of the town (1952). Sociologists from his team, and also sociologists from a Marxist background who were more focused on modes of living, would go on to pursue that same approach. In one study of inhabitants’ day-to-day “needs” (corresponding to the growth in the labor force, Castells would say), they defined certain norms, which essentially concerned public amenities and would later be put to use in urban planning. Research into urban problems, in particular the research done by Duc Nhuân Nguyên (1975), highlighted other ways in which space was used, linked in particular to the symbolism of place. In the Les Pavillonnaires trilogy, the volume that Nicole Haumont dedicated to symbolism and different uses of the home describes how space shapes our daily life and the meaning we give to it. Analysis of day-to-day habits and “lived space” is enhanced considerably by studying cultural artefacts too, both those classically found in folk museums and all the other myriad things that fill French homes—a visible shift resulting from the success of a technique used by architects, geographers, sociologists and the like, namely the technique of writing a kind of guided tour (Thibaud 2001: 79–99, Toussaint 2014).

17 From then on, the focus was on our experience of space, rather than our use of it. Three scholars were instrumental in drawing attention to the relationship between our experience of space and our experience of the “other”. The first of these was Erving Goffman. Publication of the French translation of The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1973, in an Éditions de Minuit collection edited by Bourdieu) marked an important milestone for those interested in the issue of space. The grammar of the various interactions and relationship rituals that Goffman describes (in this and other books) is based on notions of space, for example the “regions” referred to in the theater metaphor—the front region (the stage), the back region (the wings) and the external region—and equally the whole concept of “territories of the self” and our ability to find our own spot, and hold on to it in a non-metaphorical sense, or the various notions around physical contact, avoidance, collision, light touching. This approach later forms the very heart of Edward T. Hall’s research (1971). Hall essentially based his theory of proxemics on the physical distance between individuals in their interactions with each other. He showed how physical distance plays a part in shaping those interactions, and how cultures interpret the degrees of distance between people differently. For Hall, the way in which that distance is interpreted constitutes a way of “inhabiting the world” that is personal to each of us but takes place against a specific cultural backdrop. Hall’s ideas make one think of Georg Simmel and the emphasis he placed on the connection between proximity and distance, and also the territoriality approach elaborated by Jean Remy and Liliane Voyé in their book Ville, ordre et violence (1981). A third inspiration comes from Richard Sennett whose 1974 book The Fall of Public Man analyzes how the distinction between public and private life is reflected in urban space and discusses equivalent expectations in the public space, which then leads on to a reflection on urban life generally. [14]

18 These various influences [15] show the significance and richness of approaches that focus on the use and experience of urban space, and they tell us as much about the relationship between space and society as the studies of production.

19 From all this, the main point that sticks in my mind is the fact that the relationship between space and society cannot be reduced to a set of one-dimensional schemas, be they simple or complex. Also, the fact that the relationship between space and society necessarily remains opaque, always uncertain, always to be redefined, re-worked, and characterized perhaps by a “gaping hole.” [16] This is what the “Please insert” slip that Georges Perec places inside Species of Spaces and Other Pieces is expressing in its own particular way:


The space of our life is neither continuous, nor infinite, nor isotropic. But do we know exactly where it breaks off, where it curves, where it disconnects and comes together? We confusedly experience cracks, gaps and points of friction, sometimes vaguely aware that something is stuck, that it breaks loose or collides. Though we seldom seek to learn more about it and more often than not, wander from one spot to another, from one space to another, without measuring, without taking into account or considering the course of space. The issue is not to invent space… the problem is rather to question space, or more exactly, to read space; for what we call everydayness is not the obvious, but opacity: a kind of blindness, or deafness, a sort of anesthesia.
(Translated by John Sturrock 2018)

The essence of space lies in “the infinite potentiality for relations within it”

21 Spatial uncertainty, opaque space, what then can we do with it? In the previous section, the discussion on the relationship between space and society was not based on any explicit definition of either space or society. But there was an implicit definition which placed certain limits on the logic of the argument. This implicit definition has two main features:

22 1. Dualism—in other words, treating space as a container, or object, and social interactions as contained within that container, or as the using of that object. Notions of property and territory feed off that dualism. It is something that makes its presence felt by way of contrast when we learn from cultural anthropologists of the existence of societies where, in short, it is not the earth that belongs to man but man who belongs to the earth. That way of conceiving things is not at odds with the fact that space is something produced: each social group, each individual, prepares and creates their own space, but in the same way that an object is manufactured, hence with a certain exteriority. This makes it hard to see the spatial dimensions of human beings or societies and, for example, it sets certain bounds on what conclusions can be drawn from all the studies on proximity and distance. Now, it would be possible instead to view human beings and space as intrinsically linked, [17] to see man as being not in space but composed of space. Looked at this way, society is not the producer of a space in which it then lives but instead is itself a spatial phenomenon. These days, this way of looking at things could also be formulated in terms of the fact that ecosystems do not distinguish between what is social and what is “natural.”

23 2. Immutability—according to this implicit definition, the contents of space are forever being transformed through the action of societies and the action of nature. Yet, as a form, [18] a concept, or even a category, space does not change. It always displays the same attributes, those conferred on it in fact by Euclidean geometry, for instance its non-reversibility. Is Einstein’s space—the space of relativity—purely the business of physicists? Are the (theoretically speaking) universal characteristics of space not also themselves subject to transformation?

24 Martina Löw’s 2016 book The Sociology of Space offers a rich fusion of these different lines of thought. [19] I would principally highlight the following ideas from her book:

25 1. The Euclidean-Newtonian conception of space, transmitted by means of powerful processes of socialization operating almost everywhere across the globe, limits our understanding. But we are aware of these limits since, all around us, space is constantly redefining itself, notably through the transformation of our notion of distance and the practical disappearance of the virtual/real distinction as a result of video games (including the most extreme example in the game Second Life) and devices for delivering augmented reality. One obstacle to be removed in the first instance is the over-dominant association between sight and space, since space is always multi-sensory.

26 2. Einstein’s formula that “Space must be thought of as a position relative to the world of material objects” serves as the basis for the idea of the constitution of space. This idea allows us to go beyond notions of production. It implies that space does not exist without some action, and that it allows the production and the experience of space, as examined above, to be looked at together within the same analysis.

27 3. Space serves to relate resources, objects, and living beings to each other by virtue of their position or place. As such, space is prey to a range of social mechanisms which mean that access to resources is not equal, and hence it differs by social category. This “relating” operates through a dual process of spacing and synthesis. On the one hand:


The placement of social goods or people, or the layout of essentially symbolic markers indicating collections of people or social goods… By way of example, one could cite the way merchandise is displayed in a supermarket, the respective positions that human beings adopt vis-à-vis each other, the construction of housing, the delineation of national borders, the connecting up of computers in virtual space.
(Löw, 2016: 159)

29 On the other hand, the placement of these things operates with reference (“through processes of perception, imagination, and memory,” translated by Donald Goodwin 2016: 135) to what it is that unites them, in other words to a synthesis, and in turn adds to this synthesis. But two or more different syntheses (for instance, that of judges and defendants in a court) can correspond to the same placement and hence constitute different spaces within the same place.

30 4. Since places can have more than one space (that of the judge and the defendants), they have a power of their own that far exceeds the placement that gave birth to them: “If the Wailing Wall was razed to the ground, the place itself would continue to exist for a long time after.” A place is characterized not by its form but by its atmosphere, hence a perceptual “mix” along with the meanings associated with it. Atmosphere determines whether or not one feels a connection with a place, and the power of a place depends on its atmosphere. This then prompts questions about the intensity of place.

31 5. Space is movement, and this flux itself creates space. This can be demonstrated by a simple example. When you find yourself in a moving crowd, it is the movement itself that creates the space, not the context in which the movement occurs. This idea also links up with with John Urry’s studies (2005) into the relationship between movement and society.

32 6. Lastly, the main lesson to be drawn from the book can perhaps best be summed up in the following quote from Sigfried Giedion: “The essence of space as it is conceived today is its many-sidedness, the infinite potentiality for relations within it. Exhaustive description of an area from one point of reference is, accordingly, impossible” (2008: 435).

Spaces and societies, when “here” and “elsewhere” blur into one and place takes precedence

33 The previous sections are merely a long preamble to justify and illuminate the approach that I now take regarding the relationship between space and society. They retrace the journey that has brought me to my present position.

34 The main feature that characterizes my present position is a deep mistrust of all definitions that claim to objectify and reduce the space/society relationship to a simple schema. I summon Perec to my defense, as quoted earlier: “We confusedly experience cracks, gaps and points of friction, sometimes vaguely aware that something is stuck, that it breaks loose or collides,” Parain too with his notion of the gaping hole, and also Giedion: “the infinite potentiality for relations within it.” François Ascher (2000) developed the idea of a “hypertext society” using the notion of a space with n dimensions as a metaphor, to show that within contemporary societies, the possibilities of connection (of whatever kind) are infinite. This goes far beyond any idea of multiple allegiances. Nowadays, spatial configurations (from micro to macro) are mobile, Protean, and extremely diverse, and the hypertext metaphor seems very apt for them. We all produce our own configurations and, as a result, drawing a watertight boundary between the production of space and our experience of space seems unsustainable.

35 But if that is the case, what practical conclusion can we draw from it? At least it can serve to enrich three ideas that are very current amongst urban planners today, namely adaptability, mutability, and reversibility. Adaptability refers to the possibility of being used in a number of different ways, each use constituting a different space within the same place. This is the very thing that urban projects, brimming with all their good intentions about social diversity, are rarely able, in fact, to offer. Mutability refers to the readiness to be transformed, in other words giving maximum weight to the concept of use as a factor in the constitution of space. Reversibility (see in particular Franck Scherrer and Vanier Martin [ed.] 2013) refers to the ability to abandon a particular logic—a dominant spatiality, as described below—and either move back to how things were before or simply enter a new spatiality. These ideas serve as philosophical scaffolding for a group of practices in urban planning and hence in the provision of facilities and services for residents and users. In fact, it is easy to see that over-investment in services, innovation, and other factors that are considered to strengthen and promote a healthy society—everything that tends to make up an exclusive members-only offer—harms the “potentiality for relations within it” and, conversely, that the creation of hybrid places, whether or not ones in perennial change like those we see in temporary urbanism experiments, is far more than an urban planning gimmick.

36 Spaces are the starting point for constituting place. Places give expression to the dominant spatiality [20] produced by the power of a particular group and/or the operation of societies and civilizations. Dominant spatiality corresponds (to use Löw’s definitions again) to a particular manner of place-making, and to the power of such places. Ledrut wrote: “The dominant mode of spatialization at present has given rise to a space that could be described as infinite, continuous, homogenous, closed, [21] formal (in other words, distinct and separate from the matter that can inhabit it) and where the relations between things are fundamentally ones of exteriority” (1979: 124). Even staying within the European context, this definition appears relevant, but insufficient—not least because, through the various devices for augmented reality and ubiquitous computing that digital technology enables, relations of exteriority are now being transformed, reflecting in a different form a tendency that is more of a cultural nature, namely the demand for authenticity. The fact that, as Sharon Zukin (2010) shows, authenticity is ultimately becoming a consumer product does not preclude it from also acting as a challenge to the notion of exteriority, currently present in equal measure in the field of ecology too. Without entering too far into this debate, we should still note, therefore, that a dominant spatiality can itself be subject to relatively rapid transformation and sometimes to a degree of instability. The predominance of place (and atmosphere) serves to indicate the artificial nature of boundaries and territories—or, more precisely, the fact that they are constructed by and for action and not merely there as a fixed asset. [22] This is what the example of the bassins de vie (living areas) shows. A bassin de vie[23] refers to a geographical area where the inhabitants living within it can find everything they need for their day-to-day living (work, provisions, education, leisure, culture, health care, administration). In a rural area comprising a network of small towns, the bassin de vie can be identified fairly easily. But in a large metropolis, it is far less clear-cut. What does this tell us? First, from a statistical point of view, a geographical area defined by home/work migration is not the same thing as one defined by other habits, in particular consumer spending, socializing, leisure, and culture. If we dig deeper, we find that every consumer unit (the family, etc.), indeed every individual, constructs their own living area based on two factors: ease of movement and local surroundings. These may be quite different things—the shopping mall at one end to the “natural area” at the other. It is therefore possible to establish a range of different places that constitute living areas, and to analyze their particular attributes (hence also their power and how far different spaces can be constructed there) plus the way they differ in terms of accessibility. Living areas overlap to a greater or lesser extent, but that does not necessarily mean that, in aggregate, they form a distinct identifiable unit for users, or even a perceived one. Nonetheless, this is how composites are formed based on movements, habits, and places. Some take traditional forms, for example that of the small town, with its historic center and its suburbs, and give the illusion of a definite boundary. Others most definitely do not. It is time to recognize that geographical units are not defined by their boundaries.

37 At the same time, the fundamental link between “here” and “elsewhere” is undergoing a radical shift, as distances are almost eliminated with the speed of transport (which is nothing new), and vast quantities of information are able to circulate extremely quickly. Movement has taken on such importance in the organization of time and space that it is itself becoming a major mode of existence for space and its relationship with society. How should we consider movement whilst at the same time battling to achieve reductions in the greenhouse effect?

38 The second phenomenon that is currently emerging is that of ubiquity brought about by the mobile phone and certain social networks (and brand new uses for photography), as well as by the introduction of working from home and coworking, which mean that even if I am physically somewhere, I can also at the same time be somewhere else. [24] The rapid rise of temporalities (Gwiazdzinski 2003, 2019)—initially through phenomena that now seem quite dated but progress over time, such as urban desynchronization, with significant disruption to our Circadian rhythms, both in our professional work and private life—plays a part, too, in the transformation of space. All of these factors are fairly diverse in origin, but they help us to see that the dominant spatiality is less the result of the actions of a particular group and more the result of a series of events that nobody really controls.


39 I am writing this paper from the perspective of a sociologist who became an urbanist—as someone close to the coal-face. This means I must say something about the consequences, as I see it, of the thinking described above.

40 In the real world, one of the major challenges is to introduce the idea of place into urbanism—not just into architecture. The body of knowledge that makes up urbanism will never reach that point while it remains stuck in a territorial mindset with sectoral divisions. It is necessary to take a step back from Euclidean-Newtonian ideas of territory and perimeter. Perhaps we cannot abandon them altogether as tools (especially for dealing with some institutional questions) but we should stop imagining that they allow us to truly understand space and the relationship between space and society. Instead, we should prioritize place, as a system of co-existence between objects, human beings, other living things, information, and resources (and notably services).

41 To enrich our conception of place, and of the atmosphere and intensity of place, is something that can be done in many different ways and from many different angles, not just from those that have already been largely laid bare. This is one of the reasons why I think it is interesting to look more closely at both the theory in this area as well as experiments like the ones being conducted within the various different currents of “place-making” (Bourdin 2019, Paris 2017, Ponzini and Palermo 2014, Relph 2008).

42 As Stephen Tonnelat shows (2007), place is also movement; a play of different movements. There are macro places and micro places. There are also networks of places. What kind of a place is a metropolis? How should we organize networks of places?

43 At present, I am not sure this type of reasoning can itself give rise to new operational approaches, except at the margins, but it can still serve as a tool for undertaking critical analysis of what is happening. This is valuable in itself.

44 How far can this help us to face the four big challenges endangering the relationship between space and society—namely, the transition to new energy sources, environmental risks, upheavals (notably climactic ones) due to population growth, migration, and the digital revolution? The conceptual framework sketched out here seems to work fairly satisfactorily so far as the fourth of those challenges is concerned. The other three require a conception of the planet that is no longer imprisoned within a Euclidean-Newtonian mindset and that can be articulated alongside a conception of place.


  • [1]
    I Remember is a book by Georges Perec, trans. Philip Terry and David Bellos (London: Editions Gallic, 2020).
  • [2]
    In this way, Snoopy is seen to view dogs as superior to cats. Of course, when this quote of Perec’s is translated into English, the English reader knows that “cats and dogs” is indeed a phrase common to the English language.
  • [3]
    See Erwin Panofsky’s remarkable book on Gothic art (1976).
  • [4]
    A seminar series in Paris that moved between different academic institutions, without being attached to any single one.
  • [5]
    Law no. 62-903 of August 4, 1962 forming part of the legislation on the protection of the historic and aesthetic heritage of France and aiming to facilitate the restoration of properties (Légifrance).
  • [6]
    I attached considerable importance to Lefebvre’s book. In contrast, the wave inspired by Althusser and Poulantzas and taken up by Manuel Castells, Francis Godard, etc., did not move me (which is not to say that I wish to minimize its significance).
  • [7]
    Translator’s note: Our translation. Unless otherwise stated, all translations of cited foreign language material in this article are our own.
  • [8]
    This led me to place particular importance on the cognitive tools used for the production of space. In this respect, the work of Pierre Pellegrino and his team was enormously helpful—in particular, the use they make of Jean Piaget’s genetic psychology in their study of the social construction of space in two regions of the French-speaking part of Switzerland (Pellegrino et al., 1983).
  • [9]
    These people were subsequently labelled gentrifiers—an excellent way of avoiding questions that are too complicated. This evocative label covers some very different situations, for example depending on whether the aim is to recognize the “filtering up” process in a local population linked to a rise in property prices, based simply on location, or by way of contrast to recognize an investment made by members of the educated middle-class—often with reduced economic means—more for reasons of culture, such as the search for “authenticity” (Zukin 2010, Bridge 2001). But there are lots of other differences too, for example related to the timescales of the change, the history of the urban district in question, the economic and social context, the role played by public officials, the way of life of the local inhabitants, both longstanding ones and those recently arrived. The concept of gentrification is like a net that would only catch whales.
  • [10]
    The Deposits and Consignments Fund is a public bank created in 1816 to safeguard the savings of French people. It remains a major public sector institution today, particularly in the fields of housing and economic and urban development.
  • [11]
    This did not exclude the possibility of a complex structure based around the property market where the main protagonists were “property investors” (a tax status, not a profession) who bought run-down properties, took responsibility for the restoration work, then sold on the restored building in chunks.
  • [12]
    Chief architect for the heritage division, architect for national buildings and, where important monuments were involved, chief architects for the historic monuments.
  • [13]
    A French organization that trains craftspeople and artisans. The Association dates back to the Middle Ages, when its members (Compagnons) would build the country’s churches and castles.
  • [14]
    I might have cited the work of the CNRS group CRESSON (Research Center on Sonorous Spaces and the Urban Environment) here but, although fascinated by Pas à Pas (Augoyard 1979), I drew nothing from it. I did, however, go back to CRESSON’s work much more recently, in particular to the way in which it deals with the notion of ambience.
  • [15]
    I should also add the writing of Isaac Joseph, certain works of the Chicago School (especially the 1979 collection of texts edited by Yves Grafmeyer and Isaac Joseph), the writings of Pierre Sansot (2004) in the Bachelard vein, and also Abraham A. Moles and Élisabeth Rhomer’s 1972 book on space.
  • [16]
    Brice Parain (1972) claims there is a gaping hole between my self and my language.
  • [17]
    I shall leave to one side all the fundamental philosophical debates around Kantian and Heideggerian conceptions of space.
  • [18]
    In simple terms, we may say that form does not contain content in the way that a container does. Rather, it structures content. In this sense, form is not external to content.
  • [19]
    The analysis that follows is largely inspired by the preface I wrote to that book.
  • [20]
    A way of “making space,” a concept that, unlike spatialization, does not give rise to the dualist idea of entry into a space.
  • [21]
    In the sense that it forms closed elements (e.g., a house) that are subsequently linked together externally.
  • [22]
    See my book La question locale (2000).
  • [23]
    I shall not go into the literature and discussions on bassins de vie, and shall confine myself instead to the question of boundaries and to my own studies: Bourdin, Ozdirlik, and Silvestre (2013); Bourdin and Silvestre (2015, 2017).
  • [24]
    From a wide bibliography, see in particular Jauréguiberry (1995, 2003, 2011) and Englebert (2017) who illustrate different approaches. Note that Jean Cazeneuve (1972) used to talk about a ubiquitous society in the context of television.

The author draws on his own professional story to illustrate different ways of thinking about the relationship between space and society. Studying the production of space in the footsteps of Henri Lefebvre and Raymond Ledrut led the author to become interested in the actors and action systems that produce space, in line with Michel Crozier and Erhard Friedberg. Other scholars in this area (Irving Goffman, Edward T. Hall, Jean Remy and Liliane Voyé, Richard Sennett, Georges Perec) helped the author to become more aware of the different uses of space, and then of the existential dimension to our experience of space. Notions of place and atmosphere then assume central importance. But closer investigation of the relationship between space and society inevitably provokes a fundamental re-think of the Euclidean concept of immutable space. In contrast with that concept, “the essence of space as it is conceived today is its many-sidedness, the infinite potentiality for relations within it” (Sigfried Giedion, Space, Time and Architecture, 2008: 435). These theoretical ideas have many practical implications in the real world.

  • production of space
  • experience of space
  • place
  • action
  • adaptability
  • mutability
  • reversibility

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Alain Bourdin
Lab’urba—École d’Urbanisme de Paris (EUP) (Paris School of Urbanism)
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