Discuss the concept ‘heterotopia’ by Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault in his 1967 lecture ‘Des espaces autres’ (Of other spaces) proposed the concept of ‘heterotopia’ to describe spaces such as that of the cinema and the cemetery which have the ‘curious property’ of being connected to other places via a complex network of relations, but in such a way that they either suspend, cancel out, or reverse those relations designated, reflected, or represented by them. Heterotopias are explicitly defined in contradistinction to Gaston Bachelard’s ‘inner spaces’, yet one sense that it is precisely the way these spaces seem to externalize the inner realms of our imagination that captivate Foucault’s interest.

Foucault speculates that there are two kinds of spaces that have this property of being at once in a network of relations and outside it as well: utopias and heterotopias. He dismisses utopias as essentially unreal and concentrates on heterotopias which he insists are real places built into the very institution of society, adding that they are in some way realized utopias. There are, he thinks, two main types of heterotopia: ‘crisis heterotopias’ and ‘deviation heterotopias’, the former corresponding to what anthropologist Victor Turner would more productively call ‘liminal spaces’ and the latter what Foucault himself would more productively call ‘disciplinary spaces’. His examples of ‘crisis heterotopias’, primarily taken from primitive society, include sacred or taboo places reserved for adolescents, menstruating women, women in labor, and so on. His impression is that such spaces have all but disappeared from western society, although he hazards that there are some remnants still around (the honeymoon hotel being his prime example). Anticipating Deleuze’s notion of the ‘any-space-whatever’, Foucault calls these places ‘anywhere places’, that is places that are precisely not ‘just anywhere’ but nowhere. His ‘deviation heterotopias’ read like a catalog of his past and future works-he lists psychiatric hospitals, prisons, and old peoples’ homes. He qualifies this preliminary attempt at a typology by stating that society can, more or less at will, change the nature and function of heterotopias and indeed bring into existence new types of heterotopias.

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In total Foucault offers six principles for a description of heterotopia: the two already given-(i) heterotopias are of a specific type; (ii) heterotopias can be transformed, reinvented, or made afresh, and the following four: (iii) heterotopias have the ability to juxtapose in a single real place several emplacements that are incompatible in themselves (cinema is his prime example of this); (iv) heterotopias are connected to what he calls heterochronias, ruptures or breaks in time; (v) heterotopias always presuppose a system of opening and closing that isolates them and makes them penetrable at the same time; (vi) heterotopias transform our relations with other real spaces either to make us see them as less real or to compensate us for their relative shoddiness (Jean Baudrillard and Umberto Eco are exponents of the first proposition, while Edward Said is an exponent of the latter).

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