Sociological readings on space?

Posted by Laura Doering, community karma 215

After months of interviewing small business owners in Latin America, I've realized the importance of space in understanding these organizations. Whether one works indoors
or outdoors, at home or in the public sphere makes a big difference in
terms of the legitimacy awarded to the owner and the organization itself.  The phenomenological experience of working also differs drastically depending on where the business is
physically located.

I haven't been able to find much work on organizations & space, and it seems like this might be a worthwhile contribution. Can anyone recommend some of good works on space--perhaps some on legitimacy and phenomenology? Thanks!

over 12 years ago

1 Comment

Gordon Douglas, community karma 549

There is so much to say (and to read) on 'space' as it continues to make it's way back in to sociology. One first place to look for quick catch-up purposes would be a good review article. Here's slightly old but good one from the Annual Review that ought to give you some sort of overview and a fairly comprehensive bibliography: Gieryn, T. (2000) A Space for Place in Sociology, Annual Review of Sociology. 26:463-96.

In terms of grand 'social theories' of space: Henri Lefebvre is someone to familiarize yourself with a little bit of course - though much of it is explicitly urban and highly political/marxist in nature, he is the fundamental spatial thinker in 20th C. critical social theory and you'll find early early glimmers of ideas about 'everyday life' in 'everyday space' (which you could think about some of what you describe) in a lot of his books, especially parts of Critique of Everyday Life vol. 2 I think, and foundational stuff in La Droit a la ville, The Explosion, and The Urban Revolution (if you can read past a bit of political vitriol). The Production of Space may be more directly relevant to you, but is not a book I'm as familiar with... I've just read selections from it. With regard to space and formal organizations, you might check out his stuff on the state and on autogestion (by which he means grass-roots, 'organic' self-sufficiency and self-governance), both of which are well represented in small pieces collected in Brenner and Elden (eds) State Space World. Frankly all of Lefebvre is pretty dense, sometimes inconsistent, highly and almost meanderingly theoretical, and not necessarily of specific relevance to you without more "delving in" than you may feel like doing right now. Key Writings (Elden, Lebas & Kofman, eds) and, again, State Space World (Brenner & Elden, eds) are two decent collections with shorter pieces. The latter also contains a wonderful transcribed lecture called 'Space: Social Product and Use Value' that is a nice short and relatively straightforward bit of Lefebvre-on-space-in-general... You can find that on google books right here.

Sticking with the more theoretical tip for a second longer, do you know Goffman's Behavior in Public Places? I suspect it might be relevant to you. Another book I always recommend is Michel de Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life, especially Part III and especially chapter 7 therein. Great semiotic (and I suppose phenomenological) theorizing of space in everyday life. Ed Soja's Postmodern Geographies and Postmetropolis both contain wonderful spatial theory as well, which you would find further from the culture/everyday life stuff but closer to the organizations stuff (at least at the scale of large economic/civic/state/industrial organization). I feel like I should be recommending some Harvey and N. Smith too here, they're great, but nothing in particular comes to mind and I've just given you plenty of marxists already...

More practically speaking: Maybe check out Setha Low's work on public space, especially on Latin American plazas. It's good, highly cited, and potentially topically relevant, and I suppose even concerns both legitimacy and phenomenology in some sense. The book is here and the similar article is Low (1996) "Spatializing Culture: the Social production and social construction of public space in Costa Rica," American Ethnologist (23)4. Dolores Hayden (e.g. on "The power of place") is also good. And you might find some interesting ideas, even if only by analogy, in some of the better and more economically/organizationally-minded gentrification literature (Sharon Zukin, David Ley, and others).

Along these lines, you should definitely include 'environmental psychology' in your search terms and do some keyword searches for your own themes within the Journal of Environmental Psychology. This stuff sometimes tends to be a bit on the urban planning/design side of things, but may be quite relevant. I keep thinking there should be some stuff out there on, for instance, korean shopkeepers in latino neighborhoods, etc etc. that would be useful, just don't know anything in particular off hand. And then there's the actual geography and planning stuff... for instance, here's an article I havent' read but have seen cited, it may be good itself or at least refer you to better things: Jakle, J. and Mattson, R. (1981). “The evolution of a commercial strip.” Journal of Cultural Geography. 1: 21 -25. See if that sort of thing is relevant.

As far as organizations specifically, in my limited exposure (there are probably some great exceptions I'm just not aware of) it seems the organizational and economic sociology literature has really slacked in terms of space, other than that concerning urban development and gentrification... you might find good old Urban Fortunes (Logan and Molotch) worth another look, though it's pretty 'macro', or maybe Brenner's New State Spaces (he also has a good review of Lefebvre).

There is plenty that would be worth reading, and tons I'm not even familiar with despite my best efforts to keep one foot in the worlds of geography and environmental psych - every time I have the chance to speak with 'real' geographers at a conference or something I'm reminded of how much more there is out there. Hopefully others can add to this!!

over 12 years ago
I love this characterization of Lefebvre: "Frankly all of Lefebvre is pretty dense, sometimes inconsistent, highly and almost meanderingly theoretical, and not necessarily of specific relevance to you . . ."
Brian Cody – over 12 years ago
Truth. But when he IS relevant, and sensitively interpreted, he kicks ass.
Gordon Douglas – over 12 years ago
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