Assessing The Geographies Of Exclusion Cultural Studies Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

The tendency of 'civilized' society to exclude and construct spatial, cultural and political boundaries around disadvantaged groups led to the term 'Social Exclusion' originally coined in France in 1974, referring to various social categories of people, such as the mentally and physically handicapped, single parents, substance users and groups unprotected by social insurance. The term has now stretched out to include women, children, the elderly, ethnic groups, religious groups, homosexuals and the economically underprivileged. To rid society of these prejudices and discriminations is by no means a small feat and social exclusion remains a pressing problem in most parts of the world; one for which the reasons seem several and the solutions none at all. In his book, Geographies of Exclusion, author David Sibley addresses this pervasive issue and the influence of spatial manipulation and social norms on its existence. More importantly, he attempts to glean from the multifarious instances of exclusion, those myriad veiled incidences that occur unprovoked, unnoticed and unquestioned. Sibley is also sensitive towards the creation of dominant subcategories within a larger subordinate category; that there exists a palpable 'pecking order' even in the most oppressed of social groups. The author makes his stance on the treatment of space and society early on in the book stating his concern particularly with "symbol, ritual and myth taking cues from social anthropology and psychoanalysis", subjects that although not having been excessively concerned with space, have provided useful analogies for spatial problems (p xv). Space, settlement, society and self, the underlying themes in his book, are intricately connected, alternatively scrounging, aiding, neglecting and depending on each other. The second half of the book contains enlightening case studies of the deliberate exclusion by the early 20th century academic establishment, of knowledge offered by members of the minority. However, for the sake of brevity, this paper will deal solely with socio-spatial segregation and its implications.

THE SPATIALITY PARADIGM: A Social Darwinist view of the man environment model

The organism environment paradigm, due to its attempt to coalesce distinct theories has through the history of scientific, social and spatial studies, been consistently inconsistent. Differing perspectives of the paradigm have been proposed, from Lamarck's environmental deterministic model to Durkheim's positivist model. In his book, Sibley uses Freud's theory on object relations as a basis for his organism environment model. The theory has since been extended to comprehensively include the wider environment of human and material objects (Erikson, 1970). Klein's hypothesis that the senses of self, border and of the social, experienced by the child are created simultaneously through the combination of introjections and projections are actively propagated (Klein, 1960). Both introjections and projections continually reinforce the quality of 'otherness', associating difference with deviance and creating an internal fear. This internal fear subsides with the creation of external threats for protection, creating and reinforcing an indissoluble boundary around the self. The author also acknowledges Perin's further exploration on this paradigm that the notion of spatial boundaries may have gender attachments (Perin, 1988). This early stage dichotomizing of the pure inner self with the tainted outer space is the foundation of the author's spatiality paradigm which argues for man's eternal conflict with the environment striving to defy the latter's effect and visibility on his daily life primarily due to his incapacity to harmoniously co-exist. Sibley's predominantly social Darwinist view of this paradigm opposes itself when he uses the analogy of the gypsy whom civilized man at once condemns and envies. Sibley hints at the labeled 'unfit' surviving better than the 'fitter' civilized man when he describes the gypsy family as "uncivilized, a part of nature beyond the margins of civil society...but...harmonizing with nature in a way in which members of the civilized society cannot" (Sibley, 1995, p 102). The spatiality paradigm of the built environment can be perceived as two different models (Sibley, 1995). To the dominant society it symbolizes a space where individuals and groups have the authority and ability to preserve and replicate it in its existing form with its social values and supremacy. To the excluded society the built environment looms large as a 'landscape of dominion', alienating, threatening; a setting where they cease to exist as individuals and transform into shadows haunting the fringes. But while this stark contrast may make one assume that the power relations are transparent, obvious and unvarying, they in fact are not. Sibley cites Foucault's argument that although social power is manifested with the deployment of high surveillance and control in the built environment, even a flash of human agency can alter the relationship between the environment and the inhabitant (Foucault, 1984). Of paramount importance is the realization that the relatively powerless possess a latent power to 'carve out spaces of control' in respect to their everyday life; the capacity to produce what one might call a 'social El Niño effect'. Sibley illustrates this with the incidence of a prison rebellion in the Pentonville prison believed to be built on Bentham's Panopticon. Notwithstanding the dormant power of human agency, spatial purification remains the principal obsession in the production of social relations (Sibley, 1995). Sibley asserts this by quoting de Certeau's detection of the problem, a fixation on the part of human society to create 'clean, utopist spaces' in urban discourse (de Certeau, 1985). In sharp contrast, is Space Syntax's man-environment paradigm; a radically different model which proposes the existence of a 'logical' space of social representation both as a structured thing and structured by human behavior (Hillier and Hanson, 1984). Hillier and Leaman question how a solely "objectivist point of view can explain that human beings do not have to obey the law of social structure, but are able to think and decide within the limits on alternative futures" and describe subjectivism and objectivism as "two mutually exclusive epistemological positions-that of the individual looking out into the environment, and that of the environment bearing in on the individual". As long as the two are viewed holistically, a coherent elucidation cannot be charted since their very existence is due to an inherent exclusiveness (Hillier and Leaman, 1973). Space syntax studies propose that both spatial and cognitive mediation cause the organism to influence the environment and vice versa.

The author in his book also dissects and contradicts the spatial postulations of several theorists. Foucault reasons that desanctification of space is a consequence of the progress of materialism and rationality and although it lags behind the desanctification of time, it is an inevitable outcome of modernization (Foucault, 1986). Sibley challenges this proposition of a theoretical desanctification of space occurring in western societies. Although the sentinels of spaces might have changed from priests to security guards, and the very nature of the guarded spaces might have altered, there continues to exist a need for ritual practices to maintain the sanctity of a space. These rituals still manifest relations of power and are wielded as the expression of domination. Giddens' structuration theory that suggests all human action occurs within a pre-existing social structure is disputed by Sibley who promotes Klein's research establishing an inexplicable connection between structure and agency (Giddens, 1984). While individual autonomy lends the capacity to change an environment, externalizing structure makes it susceptible towards assuming an epistemological position. Unlike Giddens who believes structure to be primarily external and agency internal, Klein suggests that structure is influenced by simultaneous occurrences of introjections that internalize it and projections that shape it (Klein, 1960).

SPATIAL COCOONS OR THIRDSPACE: Dissolution of exclusivity

Although the concept of alternate spaces has been visible since the writings of Lefebvre and Foucault (des espaces autres), there exists a wide range of relatively recent research that reconstructs the conventional techniques of viewing and experiencing space. Sibley's treatment of the dominant and subservient society as mutually exclusive, each with its set of social actors confined to their spaces is now outdated. This handling of the dual spaces of dominion and subservience can be interpreted as a conscious resistance to strangers even in the most public spaces of each setting. While this may well be the case in preferentially segregated societies, a deeper appreciation of the social and spatial complexities that govern the dynamics between the two divisions will bring to light the impersonal spaces in a city with their comfortable ambiguity about ownership that promote an amicable intermixing of strangers and locals. Mutually exclusive spaces could lead to the 'exaggerated presence of locals', which could have expediting effects on social malaise (Hillier, 1996). The existence and importance of a hybrid space or a neutral zone that supports the intermingling of the minority group with the larger society is acknowledged. The multispectral behavior that these spaces sustain encourages the production of cultural richness and celebrations of diversity (Madanipour, 2003). As more such spaces evolve and multiply, their success appears to lie in their intrinsic quality of anonymity, potential for encounters and lack of identification with one group or the other. These 'spatial cocoons' as one might call it provide a spatial verdure that can sustain complex spatial and social activities. Along with these 'transversal crossing places' or borderlands, as Wise describes them, there also creeps up another set of 'liminal places' like front gardens, neither private nor public and thus zones for interaction and relations (Wise, 2007). Homi Bhabha in 'The Location of Culture' destabilizes the binary and generates a "hybridity and linguistic multivocality" or 'thirdspace' to open up an international culture "not based on exoticism or multi-culturalism of the diversity of cultures, but on the inscription and articulation of culture's hybridity". The thirdspace of enunciation, as Bhabha terms it, contains the encounter of two social groups with differing power potentials, leading to a translation and disarticulation of each group's cultural symbolism. It is in this space that a common identity is formed, that we accept and introduce "Ourselves and Others", evading the "politics of polarity and emerging as the others of ourselves" (Bhabha, 1994). This 'thirdspace' can also be represented as a separation from the firstspace-secondspace dualism, similar to the Popperian cosmology of the three worlds. While firstspace depicts Popper's real, material world 1, secondspace relates to the interpretation of this reality through the imagination, experience and representation of spatiality. Thirdspace can be compared to the anti-Cartesian, Popperian world 3, a spatially manifested product of these interpretations. Soja, in his book 'Thirdspace', draws heavily on Lefebvre's "trialectic of spatiality", encompassing the perceived space, the conceived space and the lived space (Soja, 1996). The concept of thirdspace is further explored by Ikas and Wagner in their book 'Communicating in the Third Space' (Ikas and Wagner, 2008).

ALTERNATE EXCLUSION: Preferential isolation and Hyper-segregation

The rag pickers were the social and spatial residue of Paris of the early 20th century. " A space was repeatedly created beyond bourgeois space…expelling the chiffonniers from the city, first from the area around the place Maubert, then from the rue Mouffetard, then from the thirteenth arrondissement out to the zones and the faubourgs" (Sibley, 1995, p 101). W.E.B DuBois' analysis of the residential segregation of urban black Americans in Philadelphia's Seventh District illustrate that the minority groups were segregated from the city and constrained in the peripheries. While this may well be the majority of cases, Sibley does not elaborate on the spatial effects of preferential exclusion; a voluntary decision by minority groups to resist the influences of the dominant society and form its own boundaries, rules and regulations1. Several ultra orthodox communities as in the case of Mea Shearim, voluntarily inhabit isolated sites to protect their residents from 'external influences' and to run their own cultural, educational and very often political system (Fenster, 2005). Research on the relationship between physical and spatial isolation has revealed that immigrants choose to settle in the edges of a city which allows them to dictate their own pace of integration with the existing dominant society. The more economically mobile will be able to make preferential moves to part of the city that allow them to be spatially integrated whilst maintaining internal structures of self-support by being located in a tightly clustered settlement (Vaughan, 2005). Alternatively, there exist affluent minority groups or 'parachuted communities' who exhibit their preferential distinctiveness; lending spatial, economic and cultural connotations to their areas (Peach, 2001). Research has also shown that spatial segregation differs with ethnicity. For example, in 'The Future of Pluralism in Britain's 'Multi-Cultural' Society', Vaughan illustrates that the residential segregation of the Muslim population in Britain has remained consistent over time, possibly as a result of their dual segregation on basis of ethnicity and religion. Similarly, in the case of the African American minority group, the predicted spatial dissemination with increased mobility did not occur, since the hyper segregation of this minority group was unlike those of any other marginal society (Peach, 2001). In such cases, clustering has proven beneficial for mutual support. Preferential exclusion, hyper-segregation and economic exclusion follow unique dynamics which cannot be satisfactorily predicted with the universal segregation models.

SUBLIMINAL EXCLUSION: A real world phenomenon

The author in his introduction states that most exclusion may pass by the average, earning, white male and advocates 'repositioning'; a method by African American cultural activist bell hooks to empathetically understand perspectives of exclusion, particularly spatial exclusion from differing points of view. As bell hooks points out, the meaning of whiteness in her own childhood was one where "white people are regarded as terrorists, especially those who dared enter the segregated spaces of blackness". One might argue that segregation and exclusion of minorities on a daily basis has ceased to manifest itself in the rampant methods of the 19th and 20th century. But while it may be true that spatial inequity no longer occurs on basis of creed and color, there emerges a new category of exclusion that does not spare anyone, that does not require one to 'reposition'. From the 'you do not have sufficient rights. Please contact administrator' on the virtual spatial realm to a 'no loitering' sign in shopping malls, instances of concealed socio-spatial exclusion have been taken for granted as part of our daily life. While denial and control is certainly required to a degree to maintain regulation and structure, unbridled subliminal exclusion may possess the potential to slowly but surely change the very landscape of liberty.


This paper has endeavored to produce a just review of the book Geographies of Exclusion, bringing to the forefront David Sibley's stand on social exclusion that manifests itself in various ways and its effect on space. The paper has also attempted to discuss differing perspectives on the organism environment spatiality paradigm and the influence of third spaces on segregation. Although Sibley's research has been meticulous and commendable, he treats the intricacies of socio-spatial exclusion in a precisely social scientific way, viewing social interaction as the elementary social unit, and co-presence as simply preceding it (Hillier, 1996). Research in the field of space syntax has shown that patterns of co-presence do result largely from design and its analysis therefore offers the most promising path from architecture to its socio spatial effects (Hillier, 1996). Space syntax studies have also revealed that the spatial configuration of street networks could itself be a determining factor in the consequential outcome of the spatial quality (Hillier, 1996). In fact, W.E.B Dubois' analysis of the residential isolation of urban black Americans in Philadelphia's Seventh District which is reviewed in the book depicts that the poor as located in segregated streets. The book dichotomizes the 'physical' city from the 'spatial' city and ignores that spatial layouts are influenced by culture which in turn influences human behavior, creating opportunities for encounter and avoidance. (Hiller and Vaughan, 2007). The physical and spatial states of the city are treated as different fabrics, each occupying its own boundary in the urban realm. Another disappointment is that despite its fairly recent publication (1995), the book makes allusion neither to milestones in modern history2 nor to the works of contemporary writers of other spatial disciplines that have dramatically altered the way space has been viewed, excepting in the conclusion where the author makes a half hearted acknowledgement.

"It might appear that this problem has been largely eclipsed by forces which have breached old boundaries …I doubt however whether these cultural, political and social transformations have really made people…. less exclusionary in their behavior'

In a later book, The Problematic Nature of Exclusion Sibley quotes the example of the semi nomadic gypsies who seek peripheral locations to minimize the interference of social control agencies and to maintain their cultural separateness from the defining guje (non-Gypsies)

The eighties and nineties heralded landmark achievements that saw the end of the apartheid, election of lady Heads of State and the demolition of longstanding exclusionary practices.