Space, Place, and Gender

Massey, Doreen. 1994. Space, Place, and Gender. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press.

Massey is trying to formulate concepts of space and place (time, too) in terms of social relations, and further to connect these in proper dialectical fashion. “Space must be conceptualized integrally with time; indeed the aim should be to think always in terms of space–time” (2). Within these relations, she recognizes that they are “inevitably and everywhere imbued with power and meaning and symbolism, this view of the spatial is an ever-shifting social geometry of power and signification” (3).

Her arrival to these positions is traced through her personal intellectual concerns, which start in the essays with her initial forays into locality studies. I was impressed with the degree to which her academic concerns were speaking directly to the troubles faced by labor movements in England. Restructuring of the British economy took on clear social-spatial consequences that were debilitating Labor. She begins with the spatial division of labor being produced in the country both through broader economic processes—international, national—as well as government policies. The conceptual divorce between social relations and spatial structures/relations were blurring the causality of the country’s uneven development. Because of this, labor was being turned against itself through divisions between urban laborers and regional laborers—regional labor was perceived to be stealing city dwellers’ jobs—or the same viz. women and men. Building on sedimented processes of uneven development, the changes being wrought through the economic restructuring were actually feeding off the uneven development, while simultaneously producing new unevenness and inequality. Importantly, she shows how these processes are multiply scaled. This counters notions of spatial distribution as an autonomous existence, as some kind of technical problem, by recognizing that spatial distribution is also produced and reproduced through politically laden choices.

It’s clear how these concerns lead her to tackle the question of place. Just as the neighborhoods and industrial centers being reworked by economies and policies, which are simultaneously being reworked by localities, place is also constituted by its relations (and lack thereof) to wider, geographically dispersed processes and forces. Importantly, though, this does not mean that place is the passive agent of “more active” or amorphous global forces; Massey says that places are also complicit in the very constitution of those putatively “global” relations and forces. “If this notion [of place] is accepted, then one way of thinking about place is as particular moments in such intersecting social relations, nets of which have over time been constructed, laid down, interacted with one another, decayed and renewed. Some of these relations will be, as it were, contained within the place; others will stretch beyond it, tying any particular locality into wider relations and processes in which other places are implicated too” (120). This blows apart any hard-fast distinction between local-global—both are implicated in the very process of mutual formation. Place is a process.

This is not to say that the local is the concrete and the global is the abstract—a common misconception of her arguments. She also takes serious issue with notions that place-based struggles are somehow reactionary or nostalgic longings for something somehow seen as unviable (place-bound). She calls for a “progressive sense of place,” while recognizing that in no way are place-based struggles necessarily progressive (she recognizes nationalism, regionalism, the authentic-that-never-was, us vs. them). Globalization, or as she prefers “space-time compression,” does not bulldoze particularity and is not a uniformly homogenizing process in terms of place; rather, she argues, the multiplicity of interconnections and uneven development means that these forces can produce more place-uniqueness, more differentiation. I see what she means, but I don’t think I 100% agree with this assertion.

Throughout these discussions she threads through gender, and the topic is given full-focus in the final section of the book. The main point I draw from this is the genderizing of space/time. Time being male, active, progressive, civilizational, political, while space is metaphorically and literally deemed female, passive, stasis, recalcitrant, and even dead, non-political. She also drags David Harvey and Ed Soja through a gauntlet of how their entire elision of gender makes quite problematic their takes on modernity/post-modernity. Massey shows the serious intervention—intellectually and politically—that gender makes as a constituent/central part of any critical analytic for space: “Taking gender seriously produced a more nuanced evaluation of regional policy, a far better understanding of organization and reorganization of our national economic space, and indeed—since these decentralizing industries were moving north to cut costs in the face of increasing international competition—it has shown us how British industry was using regional differences in systems of gender relations in an early attempt to get out of what has become the crisis of the British economy” (189).

She closes by arguing for a four-dimensionality of space/space-time: “It is not that the interrelations between objects occur in space and time; it is these relationships themselves which create/define space and time” (263). She gives a brief summary of this on page 265.

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