Of Other Spaces

August 18, 2011

Michel Foucault offers an explanation of the ‘site’ as defined by relations of proximity between points or elements [1]. The site and its set of relations, whether it be ‘sites of transportation, of temporary relaxation, of closed or semi-closed rest’, composes the external space in which we live, a heterogeneous space [2].

Foucault speaks of a curiosity of certain sites that have a power of being in relation with all other sites, in that they may suspect, neutralize, or invert the set of relations that they happen to designate, mirror, or reflect [3]. These spaces are categorised under two main types, ‘utopias’ and ‘heterotopias’.

Utopias are essentially unreal spaces that represent a ‘perfected form’ of society. However, there also exists a ‘real’ space of enacted utopia Foucault describes as heterotopias; a placeless place, the virtual space [4], hidden or isolated, the recognisable absence, such is the mirror.

Again, Foucault classifies heterotopias in to two main categories, ‘crisis heterotopias’ and ‘heterotopias of deviation’. Crisis heterotopias are privileged, sacred or forbidden places set aside for individuals in a state of crisis [5], during a state of difficulty, trouble or danger. As these sites seem to gradually disappear within our society, they are replaced with heterotopias of deviation that house individuals whose behaviours are considered ‘abnormal’ within society. Such sites include rest homes, psychiatric hospitals, retirement homes and prisons.

Foucault continues to define the six principles of heterotopias; as a universal existence, societal influence/ manipulation, contradictory sites, accumulating or temporal time, ritual of entry, and to create a space of illusion or as an-other real space.

The principle that interests me is the fourth, of ‘slices in time’. Described as either/ or, Foucault explains that there are heterotopias of indefinitely accumulating time as opposed to heterotopias of transitory/ temporal time (26). Such sites include the library and museum in comparison to the festival and fairground, respectively.

However, is it not possible for both ‘slices in time’ to exist simultaneously? – for example a heritage site ‘accumulating time’ as a museum of its remains, whilst occupying its present site usage for the ‘temporal time’ of a festival or fairground. The two heterotopias of time coinciding, acting in simultaneity.  And to follow, the question of the affect that this twofold heterotopia has upon us and of which ritual of entry our senses then respond to first, the past or the present, the accumulating or the transitory.


[1] Michel Foucault, ‘Of Other Spaces’ in Diacritics, vol. 16, no. 1, Spring, 1986, p. 23.

[2] Foucault, Diacritics, p. 23

[3] Foucault, Diacritics, p. 24

[4] Foucault, Diacritics, p. 24

[5] Foucault, Diacritics, p. 24


Naomi Brennan


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