In the tradition of Max Weber, the concept of action describes the human action or omission to act which is associated with a subjective meaning for the person acting. With the concept of communicative action, which is central to our CRC, we specifically focus on forms of action that appear socially as embodied, reciprocally oriented social action or as reciprocally realized interaction between actors through objectifications. It thus embraces communicative action in Habermas’ terms as the symbolic and linguistic exchange of messages, but expands it in line with communicative constructivism to include bodily performance and material objectifications, which can, in turn, involve media, technologies, and other material objects. Since we work with a broad notion of action, communicative action in this sense also includes routinized actions and practices.
Glossary | ABC of Refiguring Spaces
The CRC 1265 investigates the refiguration of spaces from an interdisciplinary perspective. In order to develop a common terminology that both links to discourses within the participating disciplines and is open to new conceptualizations, a glossary composed of central working terms was initiated and further developed collaboratively over the course of the first funding period.
The ABC is based on this glossary, but extends it here and there. It is a series of different voices from the research center, each explaining selected terms from A to Z vividly in the context of their research.
Through disciplinary framing and contextualization within distinct research practices, the terms are rendered tangible. At the same time, their genesis, malleability, and processual deployment in scientific practice become evident. The narratives are thus always specific and selective.
By actors we understand socially acting and interacting subjects. We do not deny that action is tied to social structures and that these social structures have consequences for forms of subjectivation, but we are interested in how actors – with their embodied standpoints – deal with these structures in their actions, how they experience and create them. As collective actors we consider social groups, alliances, or organizations (such as NGOs) that work on spatial structures in a coordinated and cooperative way against the background of shared experiences and a common body of knowledge.
Circulation describes interlinked movements of people, goods and technologies between places. As soon as these interlinked movements begin to solidify, spatial arrangements emerge. In other words, circulation refers to orders of mobility (of people, goods and technologies) that are usually connected to a non-mobile infrastructure (of people, goods and technologies) as well as an institutional structure.
By communication we understand a reciprocal, embodied and objectivated working act (Wirkhandeln), which can be directly observed in social science – in contrast to the subjective intentionality and affectivity of the actors. Communication is thus more than the intentional exchange of messages; it is always also and above all the bodily and performative articulation and production of identities and of social order. Since communication is inconceivable for us without reference to space – it implies relating at least two locations to each other – the study of communication processes is an excellent empirical entry point to an exploration of the constitution of space. The spatiality of communication is primarily transformed by processes of mediatization.
The model of the container space stands for a specific conception of space known since antiquity, which sees space as a container that can either be empty (and even then, still exists) or filled with things and living beings, but does not change by the manner in which it is “filled”. Transferred to the social sciences, this leads to an understanding of space in which it is thought of as independent of actors and their actions. According to this conception of space, there are mobile actions and bodies in an intrinsically immobile background space. Using the container-space-model, which is also referred to as an absolutist understanding of space, only a few (namely territorial) spaces can be described empirically. We therefore advocate a relational understanding of space.
By spatial contextures we mean institutionally or materially objectified spatial arrangements that transmit individual and collective action and knowledge translocally. By spatial contexts we mean spatial arrangements to which action and knowledge (also mediated by contextures) relate to.
By mediatization we understand the changes in the medial relaying of communicative action. Following Krotz and Hepp, we assume that mediatization leads to new “communicative figurations”. These encompass structures of relationships and power as well as the socio-technical infrastructures associated with them. While mediatization in Krotz’s terms forms a long-term global (“meta-”) process, in the period we observe we are dealing with very specific processes of mediatization related to the explosive spread of new information and communication technologies. This form of mediatization is characterized by progressive digitalization, an increase in media-relayed forms of communicative action, and the intensified communicative linking of “smart” technical devices.
By emotions we mean physiologically determinable bodily processes of human actors (e.g., love or hate) that actors communicate by using forms of expression that are considered socially appropriate. Affects, on the other hand, refer to a relational level of emotionality. They are generated from interactions with others and the world, and from their resonance on others and the world. Unlike emotions, which are related to the bodily subject, we use the concept of affect to also grasp a relation to living beings and things, as well as the state of becoming affected in and from this relation. Affects also exist in the interrelation of the subject with spaces and places.
We use the concept of figuration in line with Norbert Elias as an always dynamic web of social as well as spatial relations. The concept of figuration is fruitful for us, among other things, because it allows us to grasp social formations across different scales and sizes – from the neighborhood to the state to global spatial arrangements – as interconnected, interdependent webs and thus functions as a mediating category between the subjective level of actors, their actions, experiences, affects and knowledge of space (psychogenesis) and the dynamics of social developments and institutionalized spatial arrangements (sociogenesis). With the concept of refiguration we can, moreover, connect to Elias’ interpretation of the historical change of figurations in modernity as a process of centralization (formation of the state’s monopoly on violence and taxation with increasing control over affects), which is challenged, for example, by the process of globalization. We use the term refiguration to refer to the processual reordering of society since the late 1960s, resulting from conflicts between different spatial figures.
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We define institutions as typical and permanently reproduced, routinized patterns of social action. For example, the institution “state” can be conceptualized as a spatial formation that is continuously reproduced through routinized state action, such as securing borders or jurisdiction. This conception allows us to think of institutions as something processual, performatively produced. Institutionalization therefore refers to the formation of new (spatial) formations, while de-institutionalization refers to the process of (spatial) routines that were once considered certain becoming obsolete.
While “meaning” refers to the subjective orientation of actors, the term “knowledge” refers to socially transmitted and recognized meaning which is considered “certain” and typically guides action. Knowledge includes not only explicit and linguistic forms, but also “implicit” bodily forms (“communities of seeing”), habituated forms (“bodily techniques”), and routinized forms (“communities of practice”), down to the basal lifeworld categories of time and space. Knowledge is objectified in signs, artifacts, and technologies, each of which is situationally realized in action. As most of an actor’s knowledge is acquired from and about others, it depends on the respective social standpoint and social order. Knowledge therefore differs according to the institutional order, the specialized bodies of knowledge associated with it (experts/professionals) as well as structures of social inequality (age, gender, class, etc.). Since knowledge defines what is constructed as reality, it is one of the central social sources of power.
Localization refers to processes by which spatial-communicative figurations are linked or related to concrete locations on the earth’s surface, giving rise to places.
We use the term materiality to refer to those aspects of spaces that become accessible through the physicality of communicative action and through the sensuality of subjective experience (such as in the experience of resistance). Institutions, such as boundary demarcations, become more self-evident when they take on a physical-material form; many rituals are inconceivable without the handling of physical objects, and buildings can become material carriers of memories and values. The concept of materiality makes sense in its difference from the thinkable. Material, material and technical objectifications therefore play a supporting role as acting forces.
Multiple spatialities point towards spatial differences, variations and divergences that result from differently situated social references in which the refiguration takes place. Similar to the historical distinction between “multiple modernities”, we can also observe variations of refiguration. However, these are by no means only predicated upon politically or economically differentiated macro-regions, but are also linked to different references to scale or system logics (the economy, media, education, art, etc.). Multiple spatialities can be investigated on different levels (knowledge, action, institution and circulation) and are connected with corresponding regimes.
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By objectification we mean the process by which results of human action (such as forms of communication, spatial arrangements, or material objects) become part of the objective reality of a social group (and thus objectivations). While sociology has long been interested primarily in immaterial objectivations (such as language, roles, forms of knowledge, etc.), the term can also be applied to material objects, medial properties, and modal experientialities (such as buildings, border fortifications, technical communication media, sensory modalities). In addition, the term includes meaningful entities that share an intersubjective meaning, can be discursively mediated and, for example, legitimated through narration or reasoning.
We proceed from a non-essentialist understanding of place and understand place to be a nameable location on the earth’s surface where the world is present in a specific way. That is, places are fixed spatially, but not independent of global circulations. They are created by the placement of actors, objects, and technologies, though they are not identical to that placement. Over a certain period of time, places can persist without what has been (previously) placed, or only through the symbolic effect of placement. The constitution of space thus systematically produces places (localization), just as places make the emergence of space possible in the first place. Places are often associated with strong affects and/or anchoring points for collective memory. Power relations can be realized in them. Places can be conceived of on all scales, from the “earth” to the “city” to the “neighborhood” and the “square”.
Polycontexturalization refers to the way references for actions are becoming increasingly heterogenous. In communicative action – especially intensified, accelerated and multiplied by digitalization processes – spatial arrangements and with them different forms of spatial knowledge as well as different demands on bodily placement become relevant at the same time. We call this action-related demand in late-modern, digitalized societies polycontexturalization. The term refers to the operation of multiple spatial syntheses in networked contexts. It refers to the varied, simultaneous and often accelerated references made to different spaces.
We understand power as an asymmetric form of interaction in communicative action between actors. For us, power is thus something that is not per se bound to persons or social positions, but rather is generated and negotiated in and through spatial-communicative figurations. What interests us especially is how space can be used as a resource of power, how power in communicative action results in certain spatial arrangements, and, in particular, what institutional form this power takes (which we call regime).
By practices we mean routinized communicative actions. Practices take place in the mode of the self-evident; they are based on a practical, embodied knowledge, which has been habitualized, sedimented and routinized in such a way that it does not require separate reflection for its execution.
We understand spaces to be the relational arrangements of placed and placing actors, objects, and technologies. What is important in this relational understanding of space is that neither the elements that make up space nor the relationships between these elements take precedence on a theoretical level. Rather, space can be empirically approached from both sides. Furthermore, space and the social (communicative action) are seen as mutually constituting. That is, spaces are shaped by the social; conversely, spaces participate in the ordering of the social. Spaces can take different forms such as network, zone, trajectory, camp or territory. Common to all spaces is the relational character of a link between materiality and actors.
Spacing refers in the broadest sense to the positioning of actors, objects and technologies. A micro-sociological example of spacing would be the stocking of shelfs with goods in a supermarket, a macro-sociological one would be the drawing of borders around states or the targeted linking of computers in different places in the world.
A spatial arrangement is to be understood as a spatial-communicative figuration that is always conceived of as temporary but is temporarily solidified. The term spatial arrangement (as opposed to the term space) is used to emphasize the processuality of placements and their role in generating order through the operation of synthesis in the respective context.
The term spatial-communicative figuration serves as an umbrella term for the integration of spatial theory, communicative constructivism and the process-oriented perspective of Nobert Elias. We understand it as a dynamic web of spatial-communicative relations that not only constantly changes, but unfolds in a transformative order. The overarching goal of the CRC is the empirically founded identification of this order of change.
We understand the constitution of space as a process that is based on two analytically separated but simultaneously occurring processes, namely the operation of synthesis and the inevitably materiality-related placement practice referred to as spacing.
We use the term spatial construction to refer to the ideational and material dimensions of space, e.g., of created infrastructures or physical-spatial arrangements and orders as part of a socially shared, common spatial reality. Spatial construction can denote both a process and the result of a process in which actors create a – more or less – commonly shared spatial reality in the course of their interrelated communicative actions.
Following the phenomenological tradition (Schütz), we understand experience as the subjects’ typifying attention directed at past events and situations. That is, subjects initially encounter the (spatial) world without thinking about it. These encounters are stored. As soon as a new situation arises, in which the first encounter is remembered and placed in relation to the new situation, experience begins. The sum of such experiences forms an individual stock of knowledge. Spatial experience refers to the spatial dimension of sorting these experiences.
Spatial figures refer to topologically identifiable patterns of spatial arrangements that orient actions and practices as spatial logics and are reflected in the resulting institutional spatial arrangements of material objectivations and circulations. We distinguish heuristically between four spatial figures: network space, trajectorial space, territorial space, and place.
We consider spatial knowledge to comprise the (socialized) subjective experience of space, spatial imaginations as well as emotions and affects associated with space. Subjective spatial knowledge can be objectivated, for example, bodily, linguistically, or visually, making it accessible for study. It is shaped by institutional bodies of knowledge, such as those produced and conveyed in science, education, or art. These convey to subjects ideas about the spaces in which they live, how these spaces are arranged, and how they should be engaged with. This implies, for instance, the lifeworldly conviction about what is deemed “near” and what is deemed “far”, but also contains knowledge about the scaling of spaces or ideas about how the world as such is spatially figured and where one locates oneself within this figuration.
With the concept of spatial practices, we capture routinized forms of the constitution of spaces that are predominantly based on bodily communicative actions.
The concept of the regime refers to ordering systems in and of spaces with determinable principles, rules and procedures based on political and legal regulations as well as on corresponding modes of design and use (e.g. artifacts, media and standards). Through the concept of the spatial regime, the CRC focuses on ordering systems of circulation in and between spaces. Here, regimes can order circulation, and, conversely, new forms of circulation can challenge, reshape or collapse established regimes.
We speak of spatial structures when the constitution of spaces, i.e. spacing and/or the operation of synthesizing, is inscribed in rules and secured by resources. Spatial structures are therefore the result of spatial institutionalization; they include both material objectivations (such as roads, network cables, control centers, border fences, etc.) as well as institutionalized spatial synthesizing operations (e.g. “lecture hall”, “hotel”, “economic area”, etc.).
With the notion of the subject we grasp the way in which humans perceive themselves as thinking, acting and feeling beings and relate themselves to the world as such perceived selves. We proceed from the assumption that subjects are formed in social relations, are molded through and in communicative action, and are subjectivated through knowledge mediated by discourses. As they are embodied, subjects are psychogenetically subjected to changing spatial figurations, just as they themselves sociogenetically influence these figurations by being part of interdependent relations.
The operation of synthesis is a bodily performed, conscious process, through which ensembles of actors, objects and technologies are combined into spaces. Figuratively speaking, the operation of synthesis ensures, for instance, that we see a “forest” in a sensorially perceived collection of trees or recognize a specific arrangement of tables and chairs as a “seminar room”. The synthesizing operation can be analytically subdivided into processes of imagining, perceiving, and remembering spaces, each of which has a bodily reference (perceiving, acting, affecting). The operation of synthesis depends on knowledge and is therefore culturally variable, i.e. each culture produces typical modes of imagining, perceiving and remembering spaces.
Since societies always contain differentiations – e.g. according to age, gender and other social categories –, dealing with difference, and thus tensions, can be counted as one of their most fundamental features. In the CRC, we focus on tensions associated with spaces, which arise, for example, from the demarcation or dissolution of territories and are related to different spatial logics of communicative action, the spatial figures on which they are based, and the figurations constructed from them. Whenever such spatial tensions become the object of communicative action, of explicit knowledge and of particular institutions in which they are expressed, avoided or managed, we speak of conflicts.
Translocality refers to the fact that social entities such as families, friendships, or religious communities, but also things and technologies, are involved in circulations and anchored in multiple places. With translocalization, that is with the suffix “-ization” as opposed to “-ity”, we emphasize the activity of linking those places where circulating objects, technologies, and actors are temporarily stored or imagined as placed. Translocalization thus captures the possibility of the relatedness of one place to another or to several other places located anywhere else. We proceed from the assumption that by increasing the possibilities and necessities to connect places relationally to each other, commonplace notions of proximity and distance, as well as of local and global, become blurred. Translocalization, we further postulate, does not lead to a devaluation of places, but to an increasing relevance of place ties, because, through translocalization, places and belonging are experienced relationally. While translocality refers to the spatial arrangement of interlinked places, the notion of translocalization is situated at the level of communicative action and asks about changes in spaces, especially those produced by mediatization, as expressed, for example, in the “synthetic situation”.
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Phrases and contents of the “Glossary” are retrieved from the formal application in 2021 for the second funding period of CRC 1265 “Re-Figuration of Spaces” at DFG (German Research Foundation).
Layout and Design is by Christoph Zamaitat and Christopher Heidecke.