Boundaries That Form Spaces Cultural Studies Essay

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Boundaries that form spaces can often be divided into sectors such as public and private. These divisions determine how humanity arranges itself in society. The effects of how the division of space affects patterns of behaviour in people is significant with regard to how the space may or may not be used. We often pass unconsciously through private and public space without thinking of how and why we react in a certain way. In relation to culture and society '…the distinction between the public and private determines the routines of daily life and is crucial in the relations of self and other, individual and society'. (Madanipour 2003:3 )

When thinking of space, this can be expressed in different forms, for example physical or cyber space. Both these forms of space can be seen to have boundaries. As for cyber space, its has intangible boundaries such as firewalls, licences, passwords, parental control and administrative privileges, although these spaces do not appear to have a strong inclusion or exclusion strategy as there is no physical interaction; therefore access can easily be manipulated. The very nature of physical space involves physical interaction or contact, allowing for space to be used to discriminate or promote interaction. But to what extent is this invitation proffered?

According to Habermas, (1992) the public sphere was the realm of the bourgeois who were private people with status of wealth and property. Although London is a modern city in terms of a diverse community, the bourgeois idea with regard to the control of space continues to exist and operate.

The intention of this dissertation is to consider the idea of space being used as a strategy to exclude and control, which may prevent certain sections of society from entering and using the space. Another consideration to be discussed is that this strategy of control is flexible according to current social issues; these boundaries are constantly being shifted to suit the social climate. It will also consider the idea of control by inclusion - how people are guided through space.

To understand how space is used as a form of control and used to both include and exclude segments of society, an investigation of spatial tactics will be carried out using the space of a department store, a hotel lobby and a bank lobby. The case studies used in this work will be Harrods department store, the Sanderson Hotel and a NatWest bank. The goal is to make a note of how these establishments guide people through or away from their space. For the purposes of this dissertation the defining of space using theories of public and private areas will be used to obtain how space is used as a form of control.



Human beings are the dominant life form on the planet and are therefore able to dictate space, divide space and include or exclude other human beings or life forms from that space. This process is the result of simply space taxonomy, whereby space is divided into two parts - Public and Private.

The division of private and public spheres relies completely on boundaries that act to separate the two realms. This mode of division in itself resonates a type of inclusion and exclusion strategy. This form of social control is often used as a technique to demonstrate power by institution, property owners or government. 'The illusory transparency of space conceals the contradiction of its social production' (Low and Lawrence-Zuniga 2003: 351), therefore space that does not appear to have physical boundaries can often operate under social restrictions, eg 'keep off the grass' or 'no ball games'.

Rabinow's (2003) professional judgement of space suggests that space can be employed as one of a variety of contrivances to identify and classify the association of 'knowledge and power' (p354). The substantiation of the notion of the collaboration of space and power can be identified in the planning and construction of urban space in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These spatial developments were predominantly implemented by individuals with control of institutions and ownership of property. The defining and producing of space in this manner has consequently operated as a disciplinary mode to segregate population by classifications of class, wealth and race. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, as a component of a political strategy, the built environment became involved in the problems of population and health; as a consequence the exploitation of space was employed for economical and political ends. (354)

An example of this disciplinary mode would be in the planning and constructing of social housing, which often manifested itself in the form of tower blocks such as Trellick Tower (1972) in West London. This was an action taken by individuals with control of power and ownership of property, to produce accommodation for a particular portion of the population. This production of material space was a technique of segregating the population on the foundation of class and wealth.

Although we (humanity/society) are surrounded by space that may be described as impalpable, it is not a 'floating medium' but rather space is 'a set of relations between things (objects and products)'. (Lefebvre 2003:83)

Therefore space is a phenomenon based on the connection and interaction of people which is intrinsic to the relationship of possessions such as property. (Lefebvre 2003)


In the discourse concerning private and public space, private space is generally epitomised by private property, which has been determined through history as an area to which an individual has a control status. Within the boundary of an individual's area of control is also the capacity to govern social contact, and to exercise the choice of being alone or being with others within that space. Private property is often attached to emotion and is highly personal, which consequently gives private space a territorial aspect.

In relation to space the term 'private' has a prohibition connotation. Private space can be identified as space that has an ownership status or is controlled by an individual for his/her exclusive use. The controlled component of private space has an exclusion element 'keeping the others out' (Madanipour 2003:230). The 'others' in this context would refer to those who are not welcomed by the proprietor of the owned space.

Adrent (1958) took the position that the term 'private' was negative. 'To live an entirely private life means above all to be deprived of things essential to a truly human life' (p58). Her opinion on private being of negative subtext could suggest that the exclusion element may be destructive to both space proprietor and society due to lack of interaction. On the other hand, adjacent to this censure of private as being negative, there are those who would take an opposing view by arguing that private is an integral component to the rights of humanity. The rights of a property owner to exclude all others '…allows individuals to harness their talents and to develop natural resources under their control, both to their maximum extent'. (Epstein 1998:187)

Whether it be negative or positive, private space still gives the owner the power to invite interaction or not.

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a fear of overcrowding was growing in most major cities, due mainly to high birth rates and migration of large numbers of people moving from the countryside to the city. To overcome this flood of individuals, the promotion of decentralisation was implemented. London was one of the cities that dealt with its overcrowding after the Second World War by using the decentralisation method. The effect that this shift had on the spatial aspects of the city was fundamental to how the city operated in terms of interaction. This model of space consumption allowed the bourgeois society to consume larger territorial space. Running alongside the fear of overcrowding was the fear of the racially different and the poor. (Madanipour 2003)

During the period of decentralisation, as part of a political strategy, architecture became involved in the problems of population and health; consequently the exploitation of space was employed for economical and political ends. (Rabinow 2003) The decentralisation of London and politically strategised spaces encouraged the segregation of the population and allowed those individuals with power to exert their authority and control over specific parts of physical space - these include spaces such as department stores, hotels and banks.


According to Zukin (1995), 'public spaces are the primary site of public culture; they are a window into the city's soul' (259). The term 'public' refers to the vast number of people who comprise society or what is related to them (eg transport, parks etc); therefore spaces inhabited by these large numbers of people could be described as public space.

Habermas (1992) is of a somewhat different opinion to Zukin, describing the public as a fusing together of private people in order to form that which is the public sphere, which encompasses any issues or strategies concerned with the joining together of private people, for example public space, that was created by the bourgeois culture.

'The bourgeois public sphere may be conceived above all as the sphere of private people come together as a public' (Habermas 1989:27). For Habermas, 'private people' were those people who had a position of eminence within the family and the status of property owner - a kind of stipulation that allowed them to go into ambits of the public sphere as private people. This gave them the power to debate judiciously and to connect with public authority. The collaboration of these 'private people' into the public domain produced a large group that became a powerful and influential assembly known as the 'public'.

The birth of the public sphere was largely due to the progression out of the private sphere. The growth of trade and industry were essential to the advancement of this public sphere from the eighteenth and subsequent centuries.

Although just by definition alone the public sphere seemed to be inclusive of all, invitation to this realm depended on discriminatory factors such as education and a prerequisite of property owner status. The public sphere was a means by which ordinary citizens could express and carry out their interests. However, as Habermas (1989) suggested, these ordinary citizens were not the likes of the servant or the blacksmith - they were individuals with status and wealth who had the power to control what they required from the public realm, who should be involved in the process and in what situation. A mode of checking power and dominance was used, by scrutinising the level of involvement from individuals in the public sphere; therefore the public sphere was reliant on various social conditions.


'Public and private spheres in the city entirely depend on the boundaries that separate them' (Madanipour 2003:59), to the advantage of individuals who protect the private sphere from interference from the public and individuals who protect the public sphere from private infringement. Consequently the creation of boundaries suggests an act of defence and safeguarding. This boundary that helps to control the use of space is important in how society arranges itself. Visible boundaries such as vertical planes that perform as enclosure play their part in the appearance of the divided space. The space of a department store, hotel lobby or bank lobby for example may be seen as prohibiting social space by the use of walls as a barrier and form of exclusion which are all the qualities of private property. (Lefebvre 2003)

Boundaries in space are vastly important in all interaction and relationships in society, although the range and the distance of boundaries within a space vary from culture to culture (Frisby and Featherstone 1997). The systems of boundaries can be produced visually or non-visually and these qualities separate the two realms. The nature of any side of the division depends on the way in which the boundary is expressed. The promotion of interaction between space which is defined as public and that which is defined as private allows for a means of communication between the two.

However the merging of boundaries and the promotion of interaction between public and private can cause conflict between the two areas. Spaces that operate with conflicting barriers can be described as being liminal or hybrid spaces. The interior space of hotels, banks and department stores often acts as a liminal / hybrid space because the boundaries of private and public intersect. These spaces are essentially private spaces because they are the property of an individual/s; however they operate as public spaces because they welcome access or provide services to the public. Liminal / hybrid space can be described as the third realm of space because it operates differently; it has its own structure which may cause conflicts of space because the boundaries are blurred.

Conclusion for chapter



Located in Knightsbridge, Harrods was created in the mid-nineteenth century and 'stood as a monument to the bourgeois culture that built it, sustained it, marvelled at it and found their image in it'. (Miller 1981: p3)

The department store of the nineteenth century was the world of the bourgeois society, where the bourgeois man or woman, in addition to the opulent window and shelf displays, were also flaunting their own wealth and class; in a nutshell the department store was a conspicuous way of expressing what the bourgeois culture was concerned with - power, wealth, possessions and conservative principles. (Miller 1981)

Harrods department store is essentially private space because of its ownership status but operates as public space because it is a business and welcomes access by the public. However in order to sustain its status, department stores such as Harrods use a variety of strategies within its space to control its visitors. The 'public' in relation to Harrods is not inclusive of everyone.

A strategy used within the space of Harrods to filter its visitors is a dress code; 'the Dress Code does not permit any person to enter the store dressed in the following manner: wearing high-cut, Bermuda or beach shorts; swimwear; athletic singlets; cycling shorts; flip flops or thong sandals; with a bare midriff or bare feet; or wearing dirty or unkempt clothing'. (

This dress code allows for primary vetting and sanction to be enforced. Those who are not dressed 'appropriately' according to the Harrods dress code are not welcome within the space. The dress code therefore is a form of control to ensure that its status of class and wealth is maintained through the image of its customers.

Another strategy exists on the exterior periphery of the Harrods space. The use of doormen, who open the doors as you approach the store entrance or when leaving the store may seem courteous, but the presence of a man dressed in a formal, regal green uniform, gives an impression of a more official and less relaxed setting. This could evoke a feeling of inferiority for some, who therefore would feel obliged not to enter such a space.

Within the interior of Harrods are uniformed security guards at each door. Their job is not to only ensure that any shoplifters are apprehended but to monitor those coming into the space for fitting the image criteria. In July 2009 at Harrods 'Lisa Mansour says she was told by security guards that her hairdo was 'offensive' and asked to leave' (Wright 2009), although she conformed to the correct dress code. It can be concluded that in addition to Harrods extensive dress code policy, there appears to be a further code of personal appearance which is not addressed on the Harrods website or any Harrods literature. This therefore is an auxiliary tactic employed by Harrods to ensure its customers are of a particular type - a policy which has not transformed a great deal from the bourgeois image of the nineteenth century.

As a department store Harrods is a difficult space to navigate, due to its minimal use of signs and directions. Within the space there are several boundaries that sub-divide into smaller spaces, some of which are unrelated, adding to the confusion of navigation. Although confusion in navigating may seem negative to the customer, this tactic can be seen as a method of keeping the customer browsing in the store for as long as is possible to make a purchase whilst trying to find their way around. This control of inclusion is supported using ambient lighting that allows the customer to feel relaxed and gives a sense of homeliness, almost as if within a private property.

Highly priced goods are also a device used to exclude those - (predominantly the working class and the poor) who may not be able to afford goods that are too expensive.

Its history of representing the bourgeois world still operates within today's society. Although Harrods is providing a service to consumers, nobody has the right to be there because it is private property and not public service; this gives the hybrid / liminal space the power to control its use.


Located in the heart of the city between Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road, the Sanderson Hotel is a five star luxury boutique hotel. The hotel was the original headquarters and display area for Sanderson's fabric company in the late 1950s. Created at the beginning of the new millennium by the Morgan's Hotel Group, the Grade II* listed building has been visited by many celebrities and stars. As a space the hotel is secluded behind the 1950s façade of the building that resembles an office block.

The very first stage of controlling the internal space can be found on the exterior of the hotel, which may act as a form of exclusion because it does not have the appearance of a traditional hotel. This may then be read as private (non-public) space - or specifically office space; therefore those travelling past the location will be unaware of the building's actual function.

Doormen can often be found at prestigious hotels and the Sanderson is no different. The presence of a doorman at the Sanderson Hotel could work as a form of controlling the space on two levels. The first is that with the façade of an office block, the doorman may be seen as a form of security to keep unwanted visitors out of what appears to be a working office. The second is that to those who are aware that it is a hotel, a doorman in a formal, black, suit gives the impression of a less free space.

In the hotel lobby, although the seating is loosely arranged in an informal fashion with an eclectic array of seats, it does not invite the visitor to use the space as a social waiting area. The stylistic furniture works more as an art installation than functional seating; this then manages and controls the use of the space. Within the lobby, boundaries are defined using ceiling to floor sheets of voile, which is also used to dress the window. Although the voile material is translucent it acts as a second barrier layer to reinforce the glass barrier of the windows, to keep out any intrusion from those outside the space, thus acting like the curtains hung in private homes.

The Long Bar and courtyard area form an extension of the lobby which is open to the public, therefore the space is not just for the hotel guests. Although this space invites the public, it is not easily accessible due to the hotel's inconspicuous site. From the exterior of the hotel there is nothing to inform the public that there is a public bar located behind the 'office' façade. The courtyard space is secluded, giving the atmosphere of a sanctuary as it is set off the lobby space. The use of ambient lighting bestows the personal atmosphere of a private property to the space.

Another tactic used by the Sanderson hotel to limit general public use of the lobby space is to insist upon membership for the use of particular areas such as the Purple Bar and the billiard room; these areas can only be accessed by those with membership status. The lobby space is carefully contrived and controlled using lighting; the more private areas are darker in relation to the public areas which are well lit. expence


The NatWest bank was created in 1968 and is the result of the amalgamation of the National Provincial and Westminster Banks. The history of the National Westminster bank, although formed in 1968 can be tracked back to the 17th century. In addition to the two mergers in the years that followed came another bank that united its forces with NatWest Bank; Smith's of Nottingham, established in 1658, was the oldest private and joint stock bank and its contribution aided the construction of the now rebranded NatWest Group. (BBC News. 2000)

The case study branch of NatWest is located at 395-397 Brixton Road in South London and is one of two branches located on the same road in close proximity. The preliminary level of controlling the NatWest bank lobby can be noted in its layout. The lobby is split on two levels; the raised level is located to the back of the space

The lower level is arranged into three distinct zones, all of which have their own function; the help desk, waiting area and the cashiers' counter area. Although these areas are not divided with the use of walls, the users of the space are in no doubt about where to place themselves - each of these areas is well defined. The help desk is positioned towards the back of level one; although it appears to welcome the visitor into the space, it also acts as a boundary because beyond this point is the raised level. The waiting area is defined using seating which is limited even though the space can accommodate more seats. This reduces the seating for the number of people who have no business with the bank. The cashiers' counter area controls the movement and the space required for this function by the user, accomplished using a retractable rope barrier which contributes to maintaining order within the lobby.

Situated on the raised level is the interview area and off this area are interview rooms and offices that all have windows overlooking the raised level area, to allow surveillance of the space. This area which is referred to as the private interview area, functions in a similar way to Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon, whereby surveillance is used as a means of control. (Foucault 1995) Therefore users of the bank should only be on this level if they have been invited into the space. In comparison to the lower level of the bank lobby, which is heavily flooded with light, the lighting on the raised level is subdued.


The visible boundaries of Harrods, the Sanderson Hotel and NatWest bank, such as vertical planes and enclosures universally gives their contribution to the


In an ideal world creating public space should involve producing space that is a 'visual representation of the city', (Zukin 1995:24) that is to create a space that encourages social interaction between the diversity of the populace. However from the three case studies used in this investigation of space, those who use these private spaces operating as public space (hybrid /liminal spaces) are often determined by factors such as 'physical security, cultural identity, social and geographical community'. (Zukin 1995:24)

Habermas's (1992) public which is the joining together of private people to form that which is public allows for the private sector - (to which he refers to as the bourgeois community) to define and determine that which is public for example public space. However this does not imply '….that what made the public sphere bourgeois was simply the class composition of its members. Rather it was society that was bourgeois, and bourgeois society produced a certain form of public sphere'. (Calhoun 1992:7) To gain membership into the public sphere was dependant on monetary status and property owner.

With the involvement the bourgeois had in creating the public, the bourgeois community were able to manipulate and control the use of space by creating space with dual meaning. By doing so, the bourgeois community where able to produce an implicit system of inclusion, exclusion and control within a space. The private element of an owned space that operates as public allowed the space proprietor to establish who can enter or to decide to 'keep the others out' (Madanipour 2003:230).

The results of the investigation carried out shows that in London there is still in operation the ideas of public and private control that was governed by the bourgeois community. Although London is a diverse community the 'other' (that which is not associated with bourgeois world) continues to be excluded using various strategies and the movement through space also continues to be controlled.

Inasmuch as all three spaces of the case studies offer different services, there is a common denominator. The common characteristics of Harrods, NatWest bank, and Sanderson hotel are these establishments all provide services in spaces that are produced. All are products of a function that involves the financial system but which continues past this financial realm, 'for these are also political products and strategic spaces'. (Lefebvre 2003:84)