I’m not exactly sure how I ended up reading this, ‘Learning to Translate the Linguistic Landscape’ by David Malinowski, which can be found in ‘Expanding the Linguistic Landscape: Linguistic Diversity, Multimodality and the Use of Space as a Semiotic Resource’. I guess I was rather browsing through it, initially searching for the word ‘landscape’ while at it, but indeed I did, that’s what matters.
As the title suggests, his book chapter has to do with translation. That’s not really what caught my attention though and so I won’t be focusing on that here. This is not to say that translation is not important. It is. I like to summarize it the way Brian Massumi (16) expresses it in his book ‘A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari’ when he reminds the reader that “[t]ranslation is repetition with a difference.” I’d actually go as far as to say that translation is just another word paraphrasing, which is, in itself, exactly as Massumi points out, repetition with a difference. To be exact, technically, there is nothing that is the same. So, when I write something and repeat it, it is not exactly the same because the conditions for its repetition are different in each instance. Nothing ever stays the same.
Anyway, to get somewhere with this and not just repeat what I’ve written in the past (not that I can technically ever repeat anything, as there’s always difference), Malinowski (61) suggests that one needs to reflexive in one’s work. I agree. He (61) points to Bernard Spolsky’s book chapter ‘Prolegomena to a Sociolinguistic Theory of Public Signage’, as contained in ‘Linguistic Landscape: Expanding the Scenery’. In that book chapter, Spolsky (25) notes that as a field or study linguistic landscape is both “awkwardly but attractively labeled”. I agree. It is awkward, but it is also attractive. It doesn’t really tell anyone anything prior to someone specifying what is meant by it. Then again, I reckon it does have buzz to it.
Spolsky (25) links linguistic landscape studies (LLS) to sociolinguistics and language policy studies and considers it as pertaining to language in urban space, which is why he reckons cityscape would be a more apt and preferable to landscape. He (25) also notes that regardless of the moniker and the nomenclature that comes with it, it is very unclear what is meant by it. To be more specific, he (25) wonders whether it is something that calls “for a theory, or simply a collection of somewhat disparate methodologies for studying the nature of public written signs?” He (25) answers his own questions, albeit only, sort of, tentatively, by stating that if it doesn’t need a theory of its own, then it still needs some theory, which can be found in some other field or discipline, such as semiotics. He (25) adds that if it is just about the methods, one still needs to figure out a lot of things, such as what’s a sign anyway, how does one count the signs then, what is the geographic unit one is examining, how does one define it and its borders.
The questions posed Spolsky (25) are tough questions. No doubt about it. Now, it may be just me, acknowledged, but defining such concepts forces one to introduce theory, a lot of it. We may like to think that we can just engage with the world and gather evidence. Sure, you can do that, but that reminds me a lot of early geographic landscape studies, such as the work of Carl Sauer and J. G. Granö, which, in summary, started from observation of some ‘facts’ and resulted in ‘uncovering’ geographic areas or regions.
In short, what’s problematic with such approaches, as pioneered in geography about a century ago already, mind you, is that the people involved fail to realize that they start from the supposed ‘facts’, certain units of analysis, without much consideration that it is they who define what counts as a unit of analysis, and they who gather them in bulk in order to ‘uncover’ what some area or region is like. It’s they who have created that classification. It’s their creation. I reckon that wouldn’t be a problem if what is asserted was that the data indicates that people in a certain area or region seem to be engaged in certain systematic practices, i.e. discourses, that can be seen (yes, visually seen) as manifested in the environment (as landscape is a visual concept). However, if this is left out, as it typically was back in the day among geographic landscape scholars, what you get instead is asserting that a certain area or a region (defined by the researchers as such, mind you) is what is stated in the study.
To use Marxist lingo to explain this (not because I subscribe to Marxism, but because it’s fair easy to understand the issue through it), not bothering with theory results in textbook example of reification, creating objects that people come to take for granted, as having inherent attributes. It results in the object, the thing, whatever we are dealing with as appearing as if it had a life of its own. Now, of course, I don’t believe it does. That said, what matters is that people come to believe that it does. They come to take it as such.
For example, when it comes to landscape, J. G. Granö’s work clearly still lingers in Finland as his classification of Finland into regions, that is to say clearly delimited areas, as defined by him, according to his method, is still used as the basis for administering these regions, conserving their visual appeal, as discussed by Hannu Linkola in his article ‘Administration, Landscape and Authorized Heritage Discourse – Contextualising the Nationally Valuable Landscape Areas of Finland’. Simply put, what can be said about these areas and what can be done in these areas is based on the research of one guy, who did that research in the early 1900s. Something tells me that I don’t even need to explain what’s problematic about that, but I’ll do that anyway.
So, to explain the core issue with that, again in Marxist terms (again, out of convenience), people are thus alienated from their surroundings, seen as acting out what they are supposed to act out in accordance to their surroundings. Now, again, for me this is, of course, just nonsense. The area, the region, the landscape, doesn’t make anyone do anything as such, nor does society, culture, nature, ideology or any superorganic or transcendent (otherworldly) entity. However, that is not to say that people don’t buy into that narrative, so I reckon that’s what they do. If you ask me, being slave one’s own reasoning is pretty crazy, but that’s what most people do, all day everyday. To quote Katy Perry’s ‘Hot N Cold’, because why not, it’s “‘cause you’re hot then cold, you’re yes then you’re no, you’re in then you’re out, you’re up then you’re down, you’re wrong when it’s right”; “and you over-think”; “got a case of love bipolar, stuck on a roller coaster, and I can’t get off this ride”. And yes, I just explained what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari think of the contemporary image of thought in ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’ with a pop song, because it’s fun, and fitting.
James Duncan (271) summarizes this issue particularly well in his book chapter ‘The Social Construction of Unreality: An Interactionist Approach to the Tourist’s Cognition of Environment’, as contained in ‘Humanistic Geography: Prospects and Problems’:
“Marx developed the notion of reification most fully in the first volume of Capital in his discussion of the fetishism of commodities; and Lukacs generalized the concept further in his History and Class Consciousness. Reification refers to the process by which man produces a world both of abstractions – that is, ideas, values, norms conduct – and of real concrete objects, which, although they are his own product, he nevertheless permits to dominate him as objective unchanging facticities. Alienation refers to the fact that man forgets that this world is his own product, thus allowing it to act back on him. By reifying the world as he has produced it, by forgetting that it was he who gave it a ‘life of its own,’ and by allowing it to have a power over him, man becomes alienated.”
Now, Duncan goes on to further explain this, contrasting it with other views, but I’m sure you can read that all by yourself, so I won’t go on with that. Linkola’s article deals with these very issues in the Finnish context, albeit from a discursive perspective rather than a Marxist one. In short, the classifications based on Granö have resulted in them living lives of their own, so that people come to expect the countryside that they drive throught to look like something out of the early 1900s when Finland was largely rural and agrarian, with neatly cultivated fields, haystacks, horses and cattle, crudely constructed barns for storage, all-wooden cattle fences and wooden farm buildings. If it doesn’t match the ‘description’, when, in fact, there are no barns, no all wooden cattle fences, no wooden farm buildings, but, instead, pales of hay wrapped in plastic (waiting to be picked up), big tractors and combine harvesters, grain drying facilities made out of sheet metal and houses that differ little from the houses they encounter in cities, they are up in arms about it. Why does no one care about the environment? This is a travesty! These farmers mustn’t be allowed to ruin the landscape! Then some bureaucrats in some office in the capital are alerted about such travesties taking place and they end up giving out press statements about how the country folks should know better and that maybe they should be fined for such infractions.
To further explain this in Marxist terms, the way that all works is fairly (petty) bourgeoisie. I mean, there is this established notion of how things should be and it is taken for granted. People who live elsewhere, and probably just drive through the countryside while on holiday, come to dictate how the world should look like even in places where they don’t live themselves. It’s, as if, there are no people living in the countryside or, as if, if they are taken into consideration, they are to curate the countryside, to retain its look, you know, like an open-air museum, for pleasure and comfort of others. Something tells me that the people working there in the countryside don’t share this view, because it’s where they live and work. For them it probably makes more sense to live here and now, to build this and/or that based on what they need to run things, not on whether it looks like it fits some early 1900s ideal that is based on some city dwellers view of the world that their own grandparents or great-grandparents happened to create back in the day, out of necessity, to make things work for them at that time, in that place.
Now, where was I? So, right, the questions posed by Spolsky (25) are by no means easy questions and attempting to answer them does involve quite a bit of theoreticizing. In my experience it involves going on a quite a wild tangent, kind of like what I just did there but on a much grander scale of course. I agree with Spolsky (26) in that the advantage of studying our surroundings, i.e. the landscape, if you will, is highly useful in its simplicity and thus attractive. I sometimes explain what I do and why I do it the way I do by pointing out that it’s a bit like going through people’s garbage to understand their behavior instead of asking people about their habits. For example, we could ask people whether they sort their refuse or not, but who is going to answer that they don’t? It makes way more sense to look at the refuse. That’ll tell us whether people actually separate different types of refuse, say plastic, metal and carton. One could also compare it with the way sewage is analyzed for traces of pharmaceuticals, that is to say drugs, in order to understand how common some use of drugs is in a certain area (matching the extent of the sewage system, of course) because the findings are bound to be more reliable than what we can get by asking people if they use drugs.
I also agree with Spolsky (26) on that despite the methodological advantage, there is typically very little theory involved. To my knowledge, the discussion of the issue, that is to say what is landscape or what is meant by it when it is used to distinguish a (sub)field or a (sub)discipline, is very hard to find in the existing publications outside geographic landscape studies (where it is, in stark contrast, typically explicitly defined). Unless I’m mistaken, I believe the sole exception (in addition to my own work) in this regard is the introduction of ‘Semiotic Landscapes: Language, Image, Space’ in which Adam Jaworski and Crispin Thurlow dedicate about eight pages to address that question. Could it still be a more extensive and a more thorough treatment? Yes. Of course it could be and, perhaps, it should be. Then again, I’m quite delighted by those eight pages. Their book also expands the issue, shifting the focus from linguistic to semiotic, going from one mode to multiple modes, and thus broadens the object of inquiry considerably. I think this is the right way to go about it, even though that does put the label ‘linguistic landscape’ into question.
Is it even necessary to call what linguistic landscape researchers do linguistic landscape studies? Wouldn’t it be better to call it semiotic landscape studies, as done by Jaworski and Thurlow? I find it only apt that Gorter (130) points out in his review of the book that considering that Jaworski and Thurlow dub all landscape as semiotic, it is, perhaps, unnecessary to even speak of semiotic landscapes, rather than just landscapes due to the redundancy involved in that statement. I agree. I wholeheartedly agree with this observation. To me, landscape is semiotic, in itself, because it functions as a surface effect, as an overlay, always there, wherever you may roam, unless you happened to live prior to its development by Renaissance artists (or you are in a room without lights or just visually impaired to the extent that you are unable to see), as I’ve discussed that numerous times. That’s why it is so crucial to address it, to make sense of it, to explain it to the reader. There are, of course, some pathways out of that, but let’s not get carried away here, as I’ve also discussed that in the past.
Anyway, I reckon that the lack of theory is still the case, over ten years later from the publication of this book chapter written by Spolsky, as pointed out by Thurlow (99-100) in his commentary ‘Semiotic creativities in and with space: binaries and boundaries, beware!’. Getting back on track here, Malinowski (62) makes note of this criticism, in reference to a review written by Joshua Nash ‘Is linguistic landscape necessary?’. He (62) summarizes Nash’s position:
“[F]irst … LL does not substantially advance the study of landscape per se, and second, that what passes for most LL research amounts basically to old sociolinguistic wine in new bottles. As he writes, ‘The methodological and theoretical thrust of LL can be posed as a logical extension of any detailed consideration of elements of analysis necessitated under what can be considered traditional sociolinguistics’[.]”
For the sake of transparency, let’s clarify this in Nash’s (381) own words:
“Moreover, if LL is old (linguistic) wine freshly housed in new (sociolinguistic and landscape) bottles,what do the expressions linguistic landscape(s) and linguistic landscape studies add to these fields? Although LL might be new to landscape studies and may be a recently developed appellative in linguistics, I believe the details of LL have been, at least philosophically, addressed in earlier linguistic work.”
So, yeah, Nash is indeed stating that linguistic landscape studies tend to be old wine in brand new bottles. And I agree. But, like Nash’ (381) goes on to add, it’s not that linguistics or sociolinguistics don’t bring something to the table. In my own discussion with geographers, those who do landscape research, there seems to be a general hesitance to address language because it seems like a rather daunting task, something better left to the linguists. This is exactly where one might see fruitful cross-over and/or collaboration. If you look at prior geographic landscape research, there’s very little discussion of language, how it is manifested in the landscape and what is its function or functions. There are couple of studies where this is discussed but it took me some proper digging to even find the articles. There are, of course, countless studies where this is handled implicitly, as it is painfully obvious judging by the photos used to illustrate landscape studies. This probably has to do with the hesitation of addressing the issue of language as a non-linguist.
Malinowski (63) makes note of how Nash finds the works he reviews lacking in terms of how they relate landscape studies rather than sociolinguistic studies, while still using the label ‘landscape’. I agree with Nash on this one and I’ve received plenty of flak for pointing this out, to the point that I’ve must been shot down a couple of times for such belligerence, that is to say not knowing my place. Malinowski (63) provides his take on the issue:
“From within the disciplinary foci of LL studies as it has come to be known in sociolinguistics and language policy and planning circles (to name a few), such critiques may appear trifling or even irrelevant: as popular glosses of the very term ‘linguistic landscape’ make abundantly clear, language (multilingualism, code-mixing, pragmatics and so on) is the focal object of analysis and is contextualised by the landscape – and not the other way around.”
Okay, so, in other words, those who do linguistic landscape research, or semiotic landscape research, if we want to be more inclusive of other modes, can happily ignore the issue of what is landscape because the focus is on language, not on landscape? I think it makes sense to focus on the linguistic aspects, language in the landscape, or so to speak, especially because geographic landscape scholars haven’t really done that (possibly out of fear of trying something which might anger the linguists, stepping on their toes, or something). This is just fine.
The issue that I take, as does Nash, is exactly the attitude that it’s fine to gloss over the landscape part because the focus is on language and that critiques such as the one by Nash may thus come across as “trifling or even irrelevant”, to use Malinowski’s (63) own wording. There’s all this talk the talk about how language matters and what’s new about this new thing is this emphasis on spatiality, taking into account the spatial turn, if you will, but when it comes to explaining what the deal with spatility is, be it in terms of space, place or landscape (environment, surroundings, etc.), it tends to be just empty rhetoric, speaking of space, place or landscape (or other similar concepts) but thinking of them just as a mere backdrop or a mere container for human action, as Thurlow (99-100) points out in his commentary.
This attitude is somewhat surprising, considering Malinowski’s (64-65) discussion of Henri Lefebvre’s spatial triad. I mean Lefebvre is known for being extremely critical of use of concepts such as space for whatever reasons that happen to fits one’s needs in one’s field or discipline. Just look it up in his (2-4) book ‘The Production of Space’. For further commentary, look up the added preface to the third/fourth edition of the French original, which can be found translated in the compilation work ‘Henri Lefebvre: Key Writings’. Similar criticism can be found in Doreen Massey’s article ‘Politics and Space/Time’. She (66) points out that while it might seem like a delight for a geographer like her to notice that space and spatiality are finally recognized as important in other fields or disciplines, it is actually often highly disappointing:
“Suddenly the concerns, the concepts (or, at least, the terms) which have long been at the heart of our discussion are at the centre also of wider social and political debate. And yet, in the midst of this gratification I have found myself uneasy about the way in which, by some, these terms are used.”
Similarly to Lefebvre, who she does refer to in this context, her ire is directed at the trendy use of geographic concepts, of which space is the one she (66) pays most attention:
“Many authors rely heavily on the terms ‘space’/‘spatial’, and each assumes that their meaning is clear and uncontested. Yet in fact the meaning that different authors assume (and therefore—in the case of metaphorical usage—the import of the metaphor) varies greatly.”
I particularly like how she (66) highlights a certain paradox:
“[A]uthors who in so many ways excel in logical rigour will fail to define a term which functions crucially in their argument[.]”
Indeed. I’ve encountered this as well. I’ve had to endure excruciating criticism and I’ve been obliged to define every nut and bolt, in minute detail, whatever it is that someone is unhappy with, typically dealing with some methodological issue pertaining to language or multimodality, often in vain, mind you, yet my rigorous examination of central spatial concepts is treated with everything ranging from bewilderment to contempt. Also, when I point out that how someone else’s work lacks theoretical or conceptual rigor, I’m seen as rocking the boat, not knowing my place, or the like. It’s only apt that she (66) calls this “a debate that never surfaces … because everyone assumes we already know what these terms mean.” What was it again that Deleuze and Guattari state about discussions in ‘What Is Philosophy?’? Oh yeah, they (28) state that discussions never happen because no one seems to have time for discussion, because people find something better to do when someone suggests actual dialogue. As they (28-29) point out, typically no one wants actual dialogue because they are too busy being right, promoting their own interests, and when someone actually challenges them, not in bad faith but to be productive, like I think Nash does, they deflect the criticism by resorting to ressentiment.
Right, back to Massey. You really have to ask yourself, does she have a point? What does landscape mean? What does landscape mean when it’s included in linguistic landscape? Does anyone know? Or do we just assume that everyone knows and it’s better to not ask stupid questions? I’m with her (66) on this one and reckon that “[a]t least there ought to be a debate about the meaning of [these] much-used term[s].” Then again, something tells me that people are too busy to do that. Oh how convenient!
Related to this, I’m not exactly convinced by Malinowski’s (64-65) presentation of Lefebvre’s spatial triad. Some of this may be because it also appears to be partially based on a reading of Nira Trumper-Hecht’s take on Lefebvre, as presented in a book chapter ‘Linguistic Landscape in Mixed Cities in Israel from the Perspective of ‘Walkers’: The case of Arabic’, as included in the ‘Linguistic Landscape in the City’. I reckon they are both a bit off when they state that it is the perceived space, what we may also call the physical space, deals with “actual distribution of language on signs that can be observed and documented by camera”, according to Trumper-Hecht (237), and “the plainly visible and audible ‘perceived spaces’ to the eye and the ear of the LL researcher”, according to Malinowski (65). To my understanding, the perceived space is the physical space and what happens in physical space (spatial practice), at any given moment (if we freeze time). For me, it’s just about the physical bodies and their interminglings, where and when. It’s just what happens on the physical level. I don’t think you can assess anything at this level, in itself, because it does not pertain to language or semiosis (beyond involving the manipulation of bodies, such as parts of one’s body producing sounds which are vibrations of another body, the air).
They both are, however, more or less correct about how conceived space is about how the physical space is conceptualized (representations of space), typically by people who have the privilege of doing so, including but not limited to “scientists, planners, urbanists, technocratic subdividers and social engineers”, as well as “artist[s] with a scientific bent”, as listed by Lefebvre (38).
Malinowski (65) emphasizes the importance of the third part of Lefebvre’s triad, the lived space, stating that linguistic landscape researchers have typically focused on the perceived space and/or the conceived space, thus largely overlooking the lived space, how, for example, local inhabitants come to understand “the significance of the appearance of Arabic, Hebrew or English on this sign or that, for instance, in ways that might well diverge from the top-down (conceived) or researcher’s (perceived) interpretations.” Trumper-Hecht (237) is actually a bit more hesitant about this when she points out that lived space in considered to be the experimental part of Lefebvre’s triad, that is to say how inhabitants come to experience their surroundings. Regardless of the differences between the two, I think both misunderstand (and/or misrepresent) lived space. Lefebvre (39) explains representational spaces:
“[S]pace as directly lived through its associated images and symbols, and hence the space of ‘inhabitants’ and ‘users’[.]”
The way I understand this is that lived space is about how people come to engage with the world. It’s not what they think of the world (their conceptions about it), nor what they do physically (their spatial practices). Lefebvre (39) further clarifies this:
“This is the dominated – and hence passively experienced – space which the imagination seeks to change and appropriate.”
Here, it’s worth emphasizing that he defines it as a passively experienced space. It is therefore not how one conceptualizes one’s surroundings, for example, when asked about it. That would result in representations of space, not unlike the conceptualized spaces of the aforementioned experts. It is also not the physical space because the imagination seeks to appropriate it. Anyway, Lefebvre (39) clarifies this even further:
“It overlays physical space, making symbolic use of its objects.”
Indeed, it is an overlay, a surface effect, that one imagines. It doesn’t change the perceived space, the physical space, because the states of affairs, the relation of bodies does not change. Nothing happens to the bodies as such as only bodies can change bodies, the states of affairs. What it does instead is to organize physical space, to dominate it through imagination, to give it order. In Lefebvre’s (39) words:
“Thus representational spaces may be said, thought again with certain exceptions, to tend towards more or less coherent systems of non-verbal symbols and signs.”
So, in summary, firstly, I don’t agree with Malinowski, nor Trumper-Hecht, that lived space has to do with the local inhabitants in the sense that it’s somehow some specific group of people, rather than just how anyone passively experiences their surroundings, i.e., space. To be clear, I consider anyone, including the researchers as living in space, passively experiencing it. Conversely, contrary to what is expressed by Malinowski (65), the researcher’s observations are not perceptions. Researchers also live, just as anyone does. What they do is to produce representations of space, as based on their conceptions of space. All researchers produce representations, based on certain conceptions. I mean everyone does that, inasmuch as they produce some representations, in one form or another, as based on their conceptualizations. In Lefebvre’s triad, that just comes with it. That’s how it works for him. Of course, not everyone’s representations or conceptualizations are considered as equally important, hence Lefebvre’s emphasis on people who are in privileged positions.
Now, of course, I’m just me and what I’ve stated is just my understanding of Lefebvre’s triad. That said, I reckon I’m more or less correct about my corrections. For example, Stuart Elden seems to agree with me. He offers a very useful summary of his triad in his article ‘There is a Politics of Space because Space is Political: Henri Lefebvre and the Production of Space’. In summary, he (110) notes how, for Lefebvre:
“There is an opposition established between our conception of space – abstract, mental and geometric – and our perception of space – concrete, material and physical.”
He (110) adds that the former is incorporeal (or decorporeal, lacks bodies) and the latter is corporeal (has to do with bodies). Lefebvre (40) uses the example of the body:
“In seeking to understand the three moments of social space, it may help to consider the body. All the more so inasmuch as the relationship to space of a ‘subject’ who is a member of a group or society implies his relationship to his own body and vice versa. Considered overall, social practice presupposes the use of the body: the use of the hands, members and sensory organs, and the gestures of work as of activity unrelated to work. This is the real of the perceived (the practical basis of the perception of the outside world, to put it in psychology’s terms).”
To be clear, crystal clear, in terms used by Jacques Lacan (107) in ‘What is a Picture?’, as contained in ‘The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis’, perception is something that takes place on a subconscious level. To be precise, building on Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s ‘Phenomenology of Perception’, he (107) calls it a perceptual level, which is, more or less, the level which takes place prior to our conscious linguistic/semiotic understanding of the world. Okay, I guess you could say that it does happen on a conscious level, but, then again, be as it may, regardless of how we define consciousness, it happens on a level that is more primary or primal than the moment when we conceptualize the world linguistically/semiotically. Lefebvre (27) also mentions the link between perception and material or physical world as a matter of “practico-sensory activity” and considers the material or physical world as consisting of aggregates of sensory data. Anyway, back to bodies. Lefebvre (40) continues, adding how he explains body in terms of people come to conceive it:
“As for representations of the body, they derive from accumulated scientific knowledge, disseminated with an admixture of ideology: from knowledge of anatomy, of physiology, of sickness and its cure, and of the body’s relations with nature and with its surroundings or ‘milieu’.”
And, with regard to living, he (40) adds:
“Bodily lived experience, for its part, maybe both highly complex and quite peculiar, because ‘culture’ intervenes here, with its illusory immediacy, via symbolisms and via the long Judaeo-Christian tradition, certain aspects of which are uncovered by psychoanalysis.”
So, for example, as he (40) goes on to exemplify, an organ such as the heart or one’s reproductive parts are lived differently from how they are conceived or perceived. After providing these examples, Lefebvre (40) warns the reader not to not treat his triad as something abstract, a mere model, a mere conception if you will, because, for him, it’s, at the same time, all very concrete, very physical and very lived, which is the point he wants to make. If you just didn’t understand that, he (40) is kind enough to rephrase this when he stresses that these three parts are interconnected. He (40-41) also warns the reader not to think of them as equals of a larger coherent whole as what is important and thus emphasized depends on the time and place; sometimes representations of space subordinate the others, whereas under different circumstances this may not be the case.
Elden (110) aptly summarizes this, noting that one must take into account the physical (material), the mental (ideal) and the social (material and ideal). Simply put, the world is physical, but we also have our conceptions of it and by living, literally just by existing, we combine the two, at all times. There’s no escaping that. Now, of course, that does not negate or eradicate the other two, just because we all live (until we don’t). We do live in a material world. So, yes, when you get something like a virus that’s the physical world acting upon you. It does matter. That said, we do also come up with all kinds of ideas or abstractions. We can talk the talk about the virus, but that doesn’t make it go away, as just about anyone can confirm based on their lived experience. Then again, we can spend our lives trying to understand the virus, to conceptualize it, to come up with a cure for its various strands, which would certainly have an effect on our bodies, thus improving our lived experience considerably. Now, as lived experience tells us, those who work in labs, for that precious knowledge, may also get the virus, which, in turn, hinders any possible progress on that cure because their bodies are occupied with dealing with something clearly actual and physical. So, that’s why Elden (110) stresses that it is of utmost importance not to focus solely on one of these as “if only one is grasped and turned into an absolute, a partial truth becomes an error[.]”
So, to explain myself again, why I disagree with Malinowski’s and Trumper-Hecht’s interpretations of Lefebvre’s triad, I’ll let Elden (110-111) provide an apt summary of the triad:
“The first of these takes space as physical form, real space, space that is generated and used. The second is the space of savoir (knowledge) and logic, of maps, mathematics, of space as the instrumental space of social engineers and urban planners, that is, space as a mental construct, imagined space. The third sees space as produced and modified over time and through its use, spaces invested with symbolism and meaning, the space of connaissance (less formal or more local forms of knowledge), space as real-and-imagined.”
Still not convinced? Maybe Elden is just a shell for my understanding of Lefebvre? Okay, okay. Let’s have a look at what Rob Shields has in store for us in his book titled ‘Lefebvre, Love and Struggle: Spatial Dialectics’. He (162) states that spatial practice (perceived space) deals with the material aspects of space, the arrangements of various bits and pieces. For example, the Church (as an organization) needs its churches, actual concrete buildings. To be more elaborate about this, he (162) states that:
“Lefebvre attempts to sketch quickly the way in which spatialisation is just the gap between objects and therefore neutral, unimportant and not an object of struggle. This ‘commonsense’ understanding characterises both taken-for-granted everyday life (daily routines) and the logically rationalised urban (the milieu of routes and networks that we pass through on our way from home to work or play). We do not see that they are all linked together as part of an overarching arrangement, or spatialisation, complains Lefebvre. This commonsensical vision of space is limited to ‘perceived space’ and in fact ignores practice just at it ignores the qualitative meanings, the images and myths of places and regions. All this needs to become fully integrated into a ‘total space’, what Lefebvre refers many times as lived space.”
He (162-163) then specifies that these practices and arrangements deal with, for example, “planned suburbs, or cities connected by routes and flight paths”, including various “divisions and inconsistencies” such as “preserving nature in one place” while “paving over arable land in another” place.
As you can see, similarly to Elden, and Lefebvre himself, Shields indicates that spatial practice deals with the material world or the material aspects of the world, such as paving land or not paving land. They are also not simply separate bits and pieces, paved land here, unpaved land there, church over there and a kiosk over there. To get to the kiosk or church, or wherever one might want to go, one has to traverse on some paved land or, alternatively, non-paved land. Of course, we need to consider what else is there, where the paving leads, is there traffic (moving material objects) etc.
Shields (163) provides a specific example, the Eaton Centre in Toronto, Ontario, which I can also comment myself, having been there myself. The way the shopping center is built, the way the walls are arranged at certain distance from one another, form a central pathway and a number of pathways that divert from it, partly on multiple levels. Anyway, Shields (163) notes that it is a spatial ensemble or an arrangement “that both encourages and requires (for commercial viability) a specific type of ‘crowd practice’”, people wandering in a crowd, as aggregates, while funneled through the ensemble.
The discussion of representations of space reflects what has been discussed so far. Shields (163) does, however, emphasize how we can’t or shouldn’t simply think of conceptualizing and subsequently representing space as derived from the material aspects of space (spatial practice). In other words, as he (163) points out, it’s important to remember that these abstractions are drawn from lived experience, not merely from the material world. This is the point I made earlier about how everyone, including the researchers, are always in the lived space. Yes, their bodies do take part in spatial practice, but that is inevitable as everyone who is considered as living has a body. What is important about the representations of space is how they “are central to forms of knowledge and claims of truth made in the social sciences, which (today) in turn ground the rational/professional power structure of the capitalist state”, as noted by Shields (164).
This remark made by Shields (164) is particularly relevant to my earlier remark about Granö’s work in Finland as such representations of space provided by an influential academic (of his time) form the basis of knowledge and what is considered ‘true’ about certain areas, which, in turn, have been used by certain state authorities to ground and legitimize how these areas should look, how they should be managed and consequently how people should go about with their lives in these areas.
With regard to representational spaces or, as Shields (164-165) prefers to translate this, spaces of representation, his take on Lefebvre is in line with that of Elden and mine. He (164-165) likens this lived space to the constantly re- and de-coded overlay of the physical space and the spatial practice. In other words, it builds on the material aspect of space, out of necessity really, but it also draws from the conceptions or representations of space, here and now, on a moment to moment basis. He (165) states that in many cases this overlay tends to draw from dominant social representations or conceptions of space, as advocated by state authorities and/or corporations. However, he (165) adds that people are not mere automatons and there are cases where the representations that people rely on are localized views of how things ought to be. For example, he (164) lists squatters, illegal aliens and slum dwellers as people who come to “fashion a spatial presence and practice outside the norms of the prevailing (enforced) social spatialisation.”
I reckon that is is worth adding that here that while it is possible to resist the dominant or hegemonic order, one could argue that by setting up their our zones, they’ve sort of done the same thing by establishing their order of things in a certain area. So if a slum is run by a gang or a drug cartel, it certainly isn’t conforming to the dominant representations of space of the state, but the gangs and cartels operate like a state, in parallel and in contestation with the official state, but like a state nonetheless. Similarly, in a more corporate society, like in many western countries, one may think one is acting against the corporate interests, say, by wearing that Che Guevara t-shirt or a rainbow flag, without thinking that some big corporation makes them in some poor country and charges you 15€ a piece for them. The point here is that the dominant social categories are very hard to resist or subvert, regardless of whether they are linked to the state or capitalism because they can always ‘get with the times’ by hijacking them and turning them into something that benefits them, at the detriment of others.
Similarly to Elden, Shields (165-166) explains Lefebvre’s triad through how it pertains to the body. However, as it is more or less just the same that I already covered, I’ll leave it to you to check out on your own. What I want to explain instead is how one should not forget that his triad consists of spatial practice, representations of space and representational spaces. Shields (161) comments that in discursive parlance, which I prefer, we might call representations of space discourses on space and representational spaces as the discourse of space. I think it would also be apt to call spatial practice the non-discursive space. Anyway, in phenomenological terms, these are then linked to what the triad that consists of the perceived space, the conceived space and the lived space.
To get back on track here, I don’t really understand why Malinowski only discusses the perceived-conceived-lived triad, when it seems, at least to me, that Lefebvre is keen to discuss both. Christian Schmid (29) explains this well in ‘Henri Lefebvre’s Theory of the Production of Space: Towards a Three-Dimensional Dialectic’, as included in ‘Space, Difference, Everyday Life: Reading Henri Lefebvre’:
“They are doubly determined and correspondingly doubly designated. On the one hand, they refer to the triad of ‘spatial practice,’ ‘representations of space,’ and ‘spaces of representation.’ On the other, they refer to ‘perceived,’ ‘conceived,’ and ‘lived’ space.”
Or, to explain the same point in shorter form (29):
“This parallel series points to a twofold approach to space: one phenomenological and the other linguistic or semiotic.”
In other words, one should treat Lefebvre’s triad as a twofold triad, on one hand as linguistic/semiotic (spatial practice-representations of space-representational spaces) and, on the other hand as phenomenological (perceived-conceived-lived). I find not discussing the former triad problematic because, as pointed out by Shields (162), focusing on the perceived space, for example, ignores spatial practice. To be more specific, he (162) points out that for Lefebvre the perceived space is the naïve, commonsensical vision of space where things are just the way they are, out there, neutrally positioned. This is why I opted to explain what is meant by perception earlier on through the work of Lacan (as well as Merleau-Ponty). So, more broadly speaking, I find it problematic to ignore the linguistic/semiotic aspects of the triad, in favor of its phenomenological aspect. I want to add that I am not against phenomenology, even thought I do not subscribe to it. I just don’t find it useful when it comes to addressing anything social. It’s simply too individualistic (taking the subject for granted) and thus fails to help me to provide solutions to the social problems that I focus on. That said, I still try to find time to better understand this position.
It seems to me that Malinowski, as well as Trumper-Hecht, confuse the spatial practice (perceived space) with the space of representation (lived space), which is an easy mistake to make according to Shields (161) due to the confusion introduced by Lefebvre. Shields (161, 165) points out that the central parts of the book are particularly messy and unorganized, resulting in inconsistencies that the reader is left to parse. Apparently Lefebvre wasn’t too keen on having his work subsequently edited, as noted by Shields (165). So, yeah, that is an easy mistake to make because the source material is somewhat inconsistent. For reasons unknown, Trumper-Hecht (237) actually refers to spatial practice in connection to conceived space and lived space, which Malinowski (64-65) corrects in his treatment of the triad. Nothing worth being up in arms anyway.
Broadly speaking, I don’t mind what others do and, for example, Trumper-Hecht (237) is certainly correct in her statement, as also reiterated by Malinowski (65), that all three parts of the triad should be taken into account and they should all be studied, not just one of them because it appears to be more important than another. I just don’t agree with Trumper-Hecht, nor with Malinowski in that representational spaces (spaces of representation or discourses of space) are somehow about local accounts as opposed to how, in general, people come to experience space as influenced by their material surroundings, as well as their conceptions of their surroundings, which, in turn, are likely influenced by dominant or hegemonic conceptions (representations or discourses) that have been instilled in them by other people, namely family and teachers (but, of course, including anyone who has influenced them). I also think that it is impossible to explain lived experience because once it is put into words, even only in thought, it is a mere conception of lived experience. As explained by Schmid (40):
“On this point Lefebvre is unequivocal: the lived, practical experience does not let itself be exhausted through theoretical analysis. There always remains a surplus, a remainder, an inexpressible and unanalysable but most valuable residue that can be expressed only through artistic means.”
Schmid makes a good point about art though. I think you can express something through art. However, this has nothing to do with research. I’m all for art and lived experience. I love it! But it is pointless to try to attempt to analyze art or experience because that always results in mere conceptions of the real deal.
Anyway, in addition, I also don’t agree with Trumper-Hecht or Malinowski that fieldwork, making notes, taking photographs, doing videos etc., deal with the perceived space as perception is just about the senses, how we make sense of raw sensory data that is not accessible to us as such, and spatially this part of the triad deals with the material aspects of space, what is, at any given moment. Of course, it’s inevitable that a researcher does deal with spatial practice, where bodies are situated in relation to one another at any given moment in time. I mean if you study the presence of written language or linguistic elements in space, it’s rather obvious that the way bodies are in relation to one another matters. But stating that a researcher typically deals only with the plainly visible, i.e. the perceptible, is just off, at least according to my understanding of Lefebvre. As I pointed out already, this has to take place in the lived spaces, in the representational spaces or discourses of space, because otherwise there is no linguistic or semiotic content to the material expressions one studies. The results are, of course, mere conceptions of our lived experiences, our engagements with the world, but that’s sort of inevitable, unless you want do art instead (which is fine, but the point is that you can’t have it both ways).
In summary, I don’t really understand the hostility towards landscape scholarship expressed by Malinowski (62). It makes no sense, considering the apparent influence of Lefebvre, a spatial theorist who is known for taking concepts very, very seriously. This includes not only space and spatiality but also landscape, which is a central concern to everyday life and lived experience due to how it relies on the material world, while actually being a specific conception of it, yet actualized by the people themselves on daily basis as a representational space. In short, in my understanding, landscape is a way of organizing the world, our lived experience. Therefore, taking that into account should be a central concern (albeit not the only concern) in any landscape studies, including linguistic or semiotic landscape studies. This does, by no means, negate or undermine the importance of focusing on the linguistic or semiotic elements in the landscape. I’d say the exact opposite is the case. It actually makes it more important to focus on them.
So, yeah, I reckon Nash (381) makes a good point when he argues that linguistic landscape research appears to be old wine in new bottles, an existing product that has been simply been repackaged. I mean, if your focus is only on language and you never explain what’s the deal with landscape in linguistic landscape studies, except that it just what conceptualizes language, you know, like a backdrop or a container, you are bound to run into this kind of criticism. If you shelter from criticism by resorting to asserting a disciplinary boundary, that it doesn’t concern you because in this field or discipline we are not concerned by such, you are bound to run into this issue of being labeled by fellow (socio)linguists as just old wine in new bottles. Now, I reckon that at times Nash really stretches it when he resorts to explaining this in terms of wine bottling, to the point it can be a bit (t)iresome, but he does make a good point. In short, if the focus is on language and not on landscape why even call it linguistic landscape? Why not call it, say, situated sociolinguistics or geolinguistics (I know, already taken)? Or as advocated by the Scollons, why not call it geosemiotics? I reckon that’s an apt label. Then again, I agree with Nash on that there is nothing that prevents one from familiarizing oneself landscape studies and using their beverages (oh, and there’s a lot of varieties to choose from, even phenomenological ones) to create your own blend. That’s what I do. I’m a happy mixologist.
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