Visual and Non-visual Agency in the Transformation of Urban Space. On the Role of Democracy in Techniques of Spatial Governance

Gunnar Sandin

Project Period: 2012-2013
Type: Senior Research Project
Program Area(s): Material Conditions/Critical Projections


Recent agency-oriented approaches to the studies of socio-logical or narrato-logical interaction between humans, rules and matter, show new turns of corporeal, situation-based and political forms for spatial investigation (Hillier 2007). In Lefebvre’s (1991) comprehensive and influential philosophy of spatial production, at least four modalities as regards the taking over of space appear: 1) domination, as the exercised spatial exploitation ignorant to existing life forms and dictated by governmental needs; 2) appropriation, as the (corporeal or communal) assimilation of space with a possibility of constituting certain rules of your own; 3) diversion, as the rule-changing re-use of an obsolete, or vacant, space; 4) co-optation, as the strategic insertion of one space into another for the achievement of negotiating or transforming possibilities.

These distinctions can be discussed, and disputed, from an actantial (Latour 2005) point of view: for instance: No. 4 can be seen as a transformation of No. 1, since these techniques show similar patterns of ruling. And other types of agency, in their turn, may have to be acknowledged as each case is approached. Nevertheless, these four modalities still serve well as describing governmental spatial behaviour and thus also become handy for the analysis of democracy as an urban-political construction (Purcell 2008).

In this project, a critical re-reading of Lefebvre’s spatial modalities is used to discuss governmental influence on space, especially in relation to the conflict between democratic ideals and the day-to-day development of architectural and urban fabric. It is here suggested that a view of the modalities of the taking-over of space, when enriched with an analysis of visual rhetoric, may serve as a visual-operational basis for the rendering of agencies of urban transformation, agencies that constitute recent “trends” of exploitation, such as densification, branding and privatisation. These agencies will here be analysed in relation to a case of on-going transformation, namely Slussplan in Malmö, Sweden.

Researcher(s) Bio and Publications