13 May 2013
As some may know, I am a bit of a purist in terms of my interpretation of heterotopia. I at least start by concentrating on the actual sites mentioned by Foucault in his lecture on the topic rather than conjuring up alternative spaces, although there are obviously many more than Foucault imagined.
One space that Foucault outlines in his lecture but which has not received much attention by commentators are the Jesuit settlements founded in Paraguay during the 17th and 18th centuries. These mission settlements were also known as the ‘reductions’, taken from the Latin verb ‘reducere’, to lead back.
Foucault describes how the settlement was laid out ‘according to an arrangement around a rectangular plaza with a church at the far end; on one side the secondary school, on the other the cemetery…’ and with the huts for each family built along two axes that produced the cross of Christ. Everything in the settlement was regulated meticulously, including times to wake, eat, work, sleep and have sexual intercourse.
For Foucault this is heterotopia at the ‘level of the general organisation of terrestrial space’. Like the brothel, these spaces have a role in relation to remaining space, but here rather than the ‘illusion’ of the bordello, the settlement forms a site of ‘compensation’ producing ‘a different space, a different real space, as perfect as meticulous, as well organised as ours is disorganised, badly arranged and muddled.
Such a localised utopia has resemblances to prisons, boarding schools, early factories, monasteries, modern cemeteries and, perhaps, shopping malls: a regulated reduction of living space, but here on the scale of a whole village settlement.