25 September 2013
I have always thought that Wittgenstein’s notion of ‘family resemblance’ is quite a good way of thinking about heterotopia – a series of principles and associated spatial features that form different clusters or networks. Each heterotopia is a particular combination, sharing some aspects but not all with others. But I also came across again today Weber’s notion of ‘ideal types’ which reminded me of a discussion I had with my supervisor when I was doing a thesis on heterotopia. He thought that Weber’s notion might be useful too:
‘An ideal type is formed by the one-sided accentuation of one or more points of view and by the synthesis of a great many diffuse, discrete, more or less present and occasionally absent concrete individual phenomena, which are arranged according to those one-sidedly emphasized viewpoints into a unified thought construct. In its conceptual purity, this mental construct cannot be found empirically anywhere in reality. It is a utopia’
from Weber’s essay ‘Objectivity in Social Science’ (1904)
‘Historical utopias’ as Weber called them are heuristic devices. Such a way of looking at heterotopia chimes with the way I see these spaces as both a method and object of study. I know the context of Wittgenstein’s thought on family resemblance and Weber’s thought on ideal types is very different from Foucault’s discussion, but both capture the relational dimension of heterotopia. Perhaps they do not exist except in relation to each other.