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non-place


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Marc Augé's term for generic places such as bus depots, train stations, and airports which, however elaborate and grandiose, do not confer a feeling of place. As Gertrude Stein famously said of Oakland, there is no ‘there’ in a non-place. In direct contrast to places, which we tend to think of as being relational, historical, and concerned with identity, non-places are designed and intended for the frictionless passage of a nameless and faceless multitude. The paradox of non-places, according to Augé, is that anyone can feel ‘at home’ in them regardless of their actual background because they are equally alienating to everyone. He means that if we travel to a country that is otherwise culturally foreign to us, then the most familiar and therefore homely aspect of that country will be its generic non-places, which in this context appear universal. Non-places may usefully be thought of as machines (in the same sense in which Michel Foucault thought of the panopticon as a machine) whose chief utility is their ability to substitute for, and to improve upon, human interaction—the automatic turnstile is faster than the conductor, the ATM more convenient than the bank, and the credit card simpler than cash. Not as far-reaching as George Ritzer's McDonaldization thesis, but resonant with it nonetheless, Augé's argument is that the increasing prevalence of non-places on a global scale is an index of what he terms supermodernity, and the experience of them its defining characteristic. Non-places are not the cause of this epochal shift. The cause, though it is never actually named by Augé, is late capitalism.

Further Reading:

M. Augé Non-Lieux, Introduction à une anthropologie de la surmodernité (1992), translated as Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (1995).I. Buchanan ‘Non-Places: Space in the Age of Supermodernity’ in R. Barcan and I. Buchanan (eds.)Imagining Australian Space (1999).

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.


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