Tuesday, March 5, 2013

In, Across or Beyond Time and Space?

Comments on Space and Time as Analytical Concepts

“If one started to talk in terms of space that meant one was hostile to time”– Michel Foucault

Chambi Chachage

Every now and then authors preface ‘time and space’ with ‘in’ or ‘across’ in their articles or abstracts. It has become academically fashionable to do so in the social sciences, I suspect, because of the ascendancy of methods of enquiry associated with political geography. David Harvey, I also suspect, has been influential in this regard.

Michel Foucault’s answers to ‘Questions on Geography’[1], however, indicate that this celebrated conceptual marriage of space and time has not always been the case. The “devaluation of space”, he observed in the 1970s, “has prevailed for generations” (p. 177). “Space”, he thus noted, “ was treated as the dead, the fixed, the undialectical, the immobile. Time, on the contrary, was richness, fecundity, life, dialectic” (Ibid.)

This tension continues. When one is analyzing something ‘across’ space she/he is still privileging time. Moving from point A to point B in a given space entails the passage of time. Space becomes a function of time. Analyzing an entity ‘in’ space probably provides the possibility of doing so in its own right. But can space exist outside time?

Foucault, in critiquing this dichotomy, thus provided a method of historicizing: “For all those who confuse history with the old schemas of evolution, living continuity, organic development, the progress of consciousness or the project of existence, the use of spatial terms seems to have the air of an anti-history…. It meant, as the fools say, that one ‘denied history’, that one was a ‘technocrat’. They didn’t understand that to trace the forms of implantation, delimitation and demarcation of objects, the modes of tabulation, the organization of domains meant the throwing into relief of processes – historical ones, needless to say – of power. The spatializing decription [sic] of discursive realities gives on to the analysis of related effects of power (178).

To historians, however, time matters. Historical time for that matter is the conceptual benchmark for examining changes and continuity in space. Take, for the example, this definition from a historian: “Africa is a place, a material and imagined place, or rather a configuration of places, an embodiment of spaces that are socially produced and produce the social. Its material and symbolic boundaries are constantly shifting, for Africa’s spatiality, like all spaces, encompasses the vast intricacies, the incredible complexities, and interlocking and dispersive networks of relations at every scale from the local to the global…. Africa in short, is a geography, a history, a reality and an imaginary of places, peoples and positions, both an invented intellectual construct and an object of intellectual inquiry.”[2] 

Indeed Africa, as a space, has been shifting in and across time. Admitting Haiti to the African Union (AU) in 2012, for example, has expanded the continent’s political space even if symbolically. One, of course, could argue that Haiti already inhabited that space since the Haitian Revolution in 1803. Yet in both cases the changes in space has been delineated in terms of (historic-al) time.

[1] Reprinted from Colin Gordon, Ed. (1980) Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and
Other Writings, 1972–1977. New York: Pantheon, 63–77.
[2] Zeleza, Paul T. (2003) Rethinking Africa’s Globalization Volume 1: The Intellectual Challenges. Asmara, Eritrea: Africa World Press.(p. 3).


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