So how does all this analysis help in understanding the concept of heterotopia?
I think various features emerge. Both Hetherington and Soja refer to the extent of Foucault’s spatial analysis across his studies, but they do not address the origins, degree, complexity and subtlety of Foucault’s spatial reasoning. Soja (1996: 162) claims that ‘Foucault has an unending engagement with spatiality’ but my argument is that this engagement reaches beneath and beyond his concern with explicit questions about ‘knowledge and power’. Foucault’s use of spatialisations is perhaps much wider and deeper than he acknowledged himself (see Foucault, 1980: 77). His overall method does not attempt to trace the dialectical play of conflicts (1972: 36), or try to ‘obey the temporality of the consciousness as its necessary model’ (122). A spatial approach allows Foucault to make innovative connections, as he explains in his ‘Candidacy Presentation’ at the Collège de France:
…. it is a matter of identifying the different ensembles that are each bearers of a quite particular type of knowledge; that connect behaviours, rules of conduct, laws, habits, or prescriptions; that thus form configurations both stable and capable of transformation.
Ensembles, connections and configurations do not reject time; they provide a fresh handling of history. His brief account of heterotopia, presented at the time he was writing The Archaeology of Knowledge, can be seen in this context of an overall spatial attack (Johnson, 2008). In a sense, the lecture is perhaps an opening up of the possibility of a field of study, but also promoting a mode or style of study. Put another way, Foucault is proposing heterotopian thinking as a form of archaeology, the exposure of different spaces and new relations. Perhaps an understanding of Foucault’s spatialisations in his wider work therefore provides some clues as how to ‘read’ his examples of heterotopia.
Foucault’s method does not reveal and explain; it meticulously shows and describes. Moreover, his method does not attempt to uncover something essential, pure, radical or ‘other’. As he argues, heterogeneity is ‘never a principle of exclusion’. Similarly, heterotopian sites do not sit in isolation as reservoirs of freedom, emancipation or resistance; they coexist, combine and connect. They are not stable entities; they are contingent qualities. In this sense, heterotopology attempts to ‘establish the possible connections between disparate terms which remain disparate’ (2008: 42). In Foucault’s accounts of heterotopia, he briefly sketches a way of looking at and diversifying different spaces.
Foucault, M. (1972)  The Archaeology of Knowledge, Andover, Hants: Tavistock.
Foucault, M. (1980)  ‘Questions on Geography’ in C. Gordon (ed.), Power/Knowledge, Brighton: The Harvester Press, 63-77.
Foucault, M. (2008)  The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France 1978-1979, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Johnson, P. (2008) ‘Foucault’s Spatial Combat’ Society and Space, Environment and Planning D, 28 (4): 611-626.
Soja, E. (1996) Thirdspace, Oxford: Blackwell.