Spatial Trialetics

Political geographer and urban planner Edward Soja, by building on Henri Lefebvre’s concept of the spatial triad, offers the theory of spatial trialectics which includes his reference to the thirdspace. Soja’s theory of thirdspace acts as “an-Other way of understanding and acting to change the spatiality of human life, a distinct mode of critical spatial awareness that is appropriate to the new scope and significance being brought about in the rebalanced trialectices of spatiality–historicality–sociality.” (Soja 1996, 57) Soja’s thirdspace, where reality and imaginings come together, not unlike Lefebvre’s philosophies, allows us to understand space in new ways, “everything comes together… subjectivity and objectivity, the abstract and the concrete, the real and the imagined, the knowable and the unimaginable, the repetitive and the differential, structure and agency, mind and body, consciousness and the unconscious, the disciplined and the transdisciplinary, everyday life and unending history.” (Soja 1996, 57)

For Soja, most importantly, this thirdspace is a space that enables activation of the political, more precisely how space is relevant to understanding social theory to do political action that addresses injustice. Describing spatial justice as not only being that of the environmental, or the social, or of this thing or that, but rather that spatial justice is “actually close to the notion of Right to the City… provided this is taken in its radical, Lefebvrian acceptation.” For Soja, “spatialising the ideas of societal development, social capital and social justice is imperative, as Lefebvre stressed…we made space, we made our geographies, and therefore it is our responsibility to intervene on them, to make them more just.” (Pavoni, 2010) With regards to this responsibility, thinking about space in a particular way “can shake up the manner in which certain political questions are formulated, can contribute to political arguments already under way, and- most deeply- can be an essential element in the imaginative structure which enables in the first place an opening up to the very sphere of the political.” (Massey 2005, 9)

The spatial triad of Lefebvre that Soja relies on for his construction of the thirdspace “that being spatial practice, representations of space and representational space are at once corresponding to the “bodily triad of perceived-conceived-lived” (Lefebvre 1991, 40) and is a space which is often defined in both the physical and perceived through various social gestures and rules, enacted laws and forms of inclusion and exclusion. Of which this can be seen to be determined by such indicators as gender, ethnicity, skin colour, faith or socio-political association (or assumption of association) and social status (through fiscal access) just to name a few. Furthermore, as perceived space is closely related to spatial practice, in that it is the space “secreted by society, recursively reifying it” (Conrad 2006, 3) it is within this concept that injustice becomes apparent.

It is the absence of presence, through denied or limited access to a space that relays one of the important indicators of spatial justice. “To focus on this question of how space makes it possible for anything to be, and thus justice, at root, always a question of spatial access” (Mitchell, 2007, 9) This absence is perpetrated by more than the obvious imperfections of place making or the financially strategic reconstruction of space through the gentrification and privatization processes that physically mark and claim space – this is reliant on a dominant discourse that, through language, creates a public picture of how spaces are perceived to be occupied and thereby are occupied. We can now begin to think of space in both its materiality as well as its abstract and as a social space where relations happen and where those relations, according to Dorren Massey “are going to be filled with power”. She goes on to suggest that space is in fact “… a geography which is in a sense is the geography of power.” (Massey, 2013)



About TheWordEmpress

Nur Shkembi is a Melbourne based curator, writer and scholar. Nur has produced and curated over 150 events, exhibitions and community engagement projects, including You Am I, the first nationwide annual exhibition of contemporary Australian Muslim artists. She has been part of the team establishing the Islamic Museum of Australia since 2010, and until recently served as the museum’s Art Director, Exhibitions Manager and foundation Curator. Much of her interest has been in the development of community awareness in relation to the arts with a focus on the presence of Australian Muslim artists in the dominant discourse. As a museum curator, Nur brought together artefacts, traditional art and contemporary art as a means for collective storytelling, subverting stereotypes and as a provision for the individual narrative. She has served on numerous boards and committees and is a member of the Museums, Cultural Heritage and Cultural Development Advisory committee and the VicArts Visual Arts Advisory panel and Chair of Theatre funding at Creative Victoria. Nur is an editorial assistant for the peer reviewed material conservation journal AICCM Bulletin and an Academic Teacher and Lecturer for the Masters of Curatorship course at the University of Melbourne. She is a published author, with her debut novel Rookie distributed nationwide for the Australian high school curriculum by Cengage. Her writing is also featured in the National Gallery of Victoria’s Gallery magazine and the international arts magazine ReOrient. Nur is also a member of Eleven; a collective of eleven contemporary Muslim Australian artists, curators and writers led by internationally acclaimed artist Khaled Sabsabi. The collective includes the artists Abdul Abdullah (four times Archibald Prize finalist), Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, Khadim Ali, Walkely Award winning artist Safdar Ahmed, Abdullah M.I. Syed, Idil Abdullahi, Rusaila Bazmalit, Hoda Afshar, Shireen Taweel, Zeina Iaali and the writer and producer, Eugenia Flynn, who is currently one of the nation’s top 10 ‘deadly’ bloggers. Eleven: Nur holds a Masters (First Class Honours) from the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA & MCM) and is currently a PhD candidate – Doctor of Philosophy – Art, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, Faculty of Arts, University of Melbourne and is undertaking interdisciplinary research in material conservation, curatorship and the work of contemporary Muslim artists within the current socio-political climate. Nur is also investigating object agency theory and the contemporary manuscript as an object that disrupts history; employing the de-colonial linking and epistemic disobedience of Walter Mignolo, post-colonialism and the theories of Foucault and Said.
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