12 June 2012
David Harvey in his Spaces of Hope (2000) briefly addresses Foucault’s concept of heterotopia within his proposed dialectical utopianism. He suggests that in Foucault’s lecture ‘the problem of Utopia could be resurrected and simultaneously evaded’ (183). Despite Foucault’s reference to prisons, hospitals, old people’s homes, museums and cemeteries, Harvey also suggests that ‘escape’ underpins Foucault’s account. He calls on Hetherington’s notion of ‘alternative ordering’ in suggesting that these spaces allow ‘the other’ to flourish. He acknowledges some of the strengths of Foucault’s notion: highlighting the various material utopian forms that have emerged and are not ‘mutually exclusive’; celebrating spaces where ‘life is experienced differently’; and overall, insisting on the’ heterogeneity of space’. However, in building up a critique of heterotopia, Harvey claims that these spaces: (1) provide for Foucault a place for mounting a ‘critique of existing norms’; (2) oppose or contrast with ‘dominant social order’; (3) splinter ‘power/knowledge’ formations; and (4) make whatever happens in these spaces ‘acceptable or appropriate’(184). He then attacks Foucault for being both naively critical and complacently uncritical. Harvey implies that Foucault is going beyond description and making various implicit value judgments about these spaces. He then questions where we stop in identifying spaces of difference: concentrations camps, shopping malls, torture chambers, militia camps, Disneyland? For Harvey, the idea of these spaces is either trite or menacing. In many of my essays I argue that Foucault’s notion of heterotopia challenges and disturbs but does not present an idea of an alternative, spatio-temporal utopianism. Harvey’s critique of heterotopia is important in a negative way as it helps to highlight what it is not.