Spatial Cultures – A one-day workshop exploring the relationship of urban and architectural built form to movement, rest, encounter and social interaction past and present

  •  A one day workshop at UCL, Thursday, September 19th, 2013, 10:00-17:00
  • Principal contact: Dr Sam Griffiths
  • Convenors: Dr Sam Griffiths (UCL Bartlett), Frederik Weissenborn (UCL Bartlett), Lasse Liebst  (University of Copenhagen)
  • 3000 word papers for pre-circulation to Sam Griffiths by Friday, 6th September 2013
  • Papers will be pre-circulated to speakers through a password-protected page of this site
  • Papers are considered to be ‘drafts’ because it is anticipated that they will be further developed following the workshop.


Scholarly interest in the relationship of society, space and place that has been a significant characteristic of the ‘spatial turn’ has always acknowledged the importance of movement in this context. However, its dominant concern with decoding spatial representations has tended to render movement-through-space in similarly representational terms, to the detriment of a more dynamic, temporalized notion of the spatiality of built environments.  The aim of this one day symposium is to explore the theoretical and methodological implications of approaching modes of movement, rest and encounter as constituting distinctive ‘spatial cultures’. Its contributors aim to articulate what often appears as the missing link between the description of the materialized infrastructures of social life in different times and places, and accounts of the practice and experience of everyday social life.


Spatial cultures do not only imply human movement. John Urry’s definition of the ‘mobilities paradigm’ offers a powerful way of addressing the increasingly sterile opposition of ‘space’ and ‘place’ by showing how the mobility of people, objects and information that is enabled by infrastructural networks calls the value of any inflexible distinction into question. Urry’s emphasis on network dynamics as socially formative raises important questions, both for more hermeneutically inclined perspectives that consider the material conditions of social life as secondary to – and certainly distinct from – their primary concern with subjectivities, and  for organicist notions of social interaction as an integrative function of the social totality.  It suggests the need for a fuller realization of what Bill Hillier refers to as the allocentric dimension of social experience – that is those qualities of life-in-society that extend beyond the individual body-subject  –  while remaining alert to the dangers of materialist determinism and cognitive reductionism. It requires the interdisciplinary development of concepts and analytical techniques able to address how different spatial cultures have emerged and been displaced.


Research in this field might choose as its starting point a particular example of a spatial culture or the work of those social theorists with a broadly-defined interest in social morphology, a diverse field that includes such figures such as Durkheim, Simmel, Lefebvre, Foucault, Giddens and Deleuze. In this case it should certainly involve demonstrating the value of theory in elucidating the qualities of spatial cultures in a range of socio-historical contexts, not least by informing the development of appropriate analytical concepts and methods in relation to the source material. Research in this mode would be unlikely to entail cartographic analysis in isolation but contextualize such ‘mappings’ socially and historically by considering mobilities infrastructures as agents in the production of time-space affordances that fashion the possibilities of particular spatial cultures.

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