Beyond Binaries

The “Beyond Binaries” workshop at the inaugural Spaces and Flows Conference brought together researchers who examine politics of space and society from perspectives beyond the ideological spatial division in modern epistemology. Specifically, our three-member panel discussed three projects referencing three schools of thought: critical geography, post-colonial studies, and architectural theory. In “Re-Fantasizing the Mediterranean,” Nahrain Al-Mousawi addressed the binaries of clandestine space versus dominant space, utopia versus heterotopia, and argued that while criticism has been aimed at postcolonial and postmodern theory for assigning recuperative power to discursive practices of space while neglecting the material, representations of space aren’t unmediated but inextricable from social space. In “Between Discourse/Practice,” Kush Patel recalled several views surrounding the social value of space produced during the period of late 50s and 60s, and discussed the extent to which each view confronted the binary oppositions of theory versus practice and conceptual versus material space. In “Networked Narratives,” Barbara Hui addressed the binaries of euclidean space versus lived space, and utilized critical geography, media theory, and new media practices to close read literary texts with an eye to the specific ways in which space and place are constructed in each.

In thinking about the relationship between terms, concepts and spatialities, one of the questions we jointly asked was: could we have discussed these relationships, differently? For example, rather than beyond, could we have pursued between or beside, and invoked different spatial relations among traditional binaries in our fields? [1] Our works-in-progress all struggled with divergences between material and discursive treatments of space in our respective disciplines. However subtly, each of our works identified the (post-modern) problem of detached representation, that is, substituting representation for reality and affirming representational form without considering material social force. This also constituted our critique of representation with respect to materiality and social specificity of that materiality.

Barbara Hui, PhD Comparative Literature, Los Angeles, UCLA
Nahrain Al-Mousawi, PhD Candidate, Comparative Literature, UCLA
Kush Patel, PhD Candidate, Architectural Design Studies, The University of Michigan

[1] Adapted from Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003 as cited in M. Ahern’s ongoing dissertation tracing the intellectual and cultural history of two fields: trauma studies in the 1990s and interdisciplinary engagements with neuroscience in the past decade.


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