Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 December 2013
In For Space, Doreen Massey challenges what she terms “an essentialist, billiard-ball view of place” that imagines cross-cultural contact as a series of collisions between self-contained units that may ricochet in unpredictable angles across the surface of the global pool table, but which never change their basic identities as solids or stripes, cue ball or eight ball. Instead, Massey argues that we should understand “place as the sphere of the possibility of the existence of multiplicity in the sense of contemporaneous plurality; as the sphere in which distinct trajectories coexist; as the sphere therefore of coexisting heterogeneity.” In her understanding of space as a social construct Massey builds on the work of Henri Lefebvre, her stress on the heterogeneity of particular societies echoes Michel Foucault's concept of the heterotopia, and her vision of a world conceived in hybridity and engaged in an ongoing process of global exchange is shared by others too numerous to list. In this view, the billiard balls are porous, not solid; when they meet, they mesh and change color and change color again, mixing and matching in unpredictable and never-ceasing ways.
Such theories not only challenge the essentialism of ethnic nationalism, but also compel us to rethink our understanding of orientalism. If cultures, societies, and nations are not “imagined as having an integral relation to bounded spaces, internally coherent and differentiated from each other by separation,” as Massey puts it, then it is also no longer adequate to conceive of the Occident and Orient as geographically fixed and ideologically rigid.