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11 FEBRUARY 2004

non-places: when functionality is prized more highly than experience

"But the real non–places of supertnodernity – the ones we inhabit when we are driving down the motorway, wandering through the supermarket or sitting in an airport lounge waiting for the next flight to London or Marseille – have the peculiarity that they are defined partly by the words and texts they offer us: their 'instructions for use', which may be prescriptive ('Take right–hand lane'), prohibitive ('No smoking') or informative ('You are now entering the Beaujalais region'). Sometimes these are couched in more explicit and codified ideograms (an road signs, maps and tourist guides), sometimes in ordinary language. This establishes the traffic conditions of spaces in which individuals are supposed to interact only with texts, whose proponents are not individuals but 'moral entities' or institutions (airports, airlines, Ministry of Transport, commercial companies, traffic police, municipal councils); sometimes their presence is explicitly stated ('this road section financed by the General Council', 'the state is working to improve your living conditions'), sometimes it is only vaguely discernible behind the injunctions, advice, commentaries and 'messages' transmitted by the innumerable 'supports' (signboards, screens, posters) that form an integral part of the contemporary landscape.

France's well–designed autoroutes reveal landscapes somewhat reminiscent of aerial views, very different from the ones seen by travellers on the old national and departmental main roads. They represent, as it were, a change from intimist cinema to the big sky of Westerns. But it is the texts planted along the wayside that tell us about the landscape and make its secret beauties explicit. Main roads no longer pass through towns, but lists of their notable features – and, indeed, a whole commentary – appear on big signboards nearby. In a sense the traveller is absolved of the need to stop or even look. Thus, drivers batting down the auto route du sud are urged to pay attention to a thirteenth–century fortified village, a renowned vine–yard, the 'eternal hill' of Vezelay, the landscapes of the Avallonnais and even those of Cezanne (the return of culture into a nature which is concealed, but still talked about). The landscape keeps its distance, but its natural or architectural details give rise to a text, sometimes supplemented by a schematic plan when it appears that the passing traveller is not really in a position to see the remarkable feature drawn to his attention, and thus has to derive what pleasure he can from the mere knowledge of its proximity."

(Marc Augé pp.96–97)

Augé, Marc. 1995 Non–Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, London/New York, : Verso.

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01 JANUARY 2004

Bangkok: City Theme-park

The mono–rail track suspended above Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok allows travellers to view the city and street life in air–conditioned comfort. In this way the train appears to situate its passengers as spectators of a programmed urban non–place in much the same way as motorists are seen to be located within the space of the German Autobahns – as described by Marc Augé.

Augé, Marc. 1995 Non–Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, London/New York, : Verso

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TAGS

Autobahn • BangkokcitiescityMarc Auge • mono-rail • monorail • non-placerailspectator • Sukhumvit Road • Supermodernity • theme parktransforming citiestravellerurban issues
08 OCTOBER 2003

Augé: spaces of programmed use as non-places

The French Anthropologist Marc Augé uses the expression non–place to describe the effect on an environment that is caused by programmed use. Where instructions for use determine our engagement with a space, where the complexity of interaction is reduced to symbolic meaning. For Augé main roads no longer take travellers on cultural excursions, they facilitate expedient traversal and cultural detachment. In short they transform places designed to be occupied into transport conduits. In environments where there is a sustained use and inhabitation of a space fixed regional character exists. Group and personal identity are established via association with geographic and cultural sites. Places appear to exist as dynamic and vital entities, with ownership and belonging. Environments that are exclusively defined as being operational tend to lack clearly attributable character or identity. They are spaces that are used for their purpose and act in reference to other places. ATM machines, airports and motorways all function in this way. They are single–minded spaces that elicit simple directed use. As regions grow they tend to instigate more and more ways for their occupants to travel, transforming points–of–departure and destinations into methods of transport. At the same time they tend to erode established regional identities and associations. Extended choice tends towards homogenous and generic identity.


Augé, Marc. 1995 Non–Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, London/New York, : Verso.

TAGS

conduit • cultural excursions • detachmentengagementenvironmentinhabitationMarc AugeModernnon-placeprogrammed usesingle-minded spaces • Super-Modernity • symbolic meaning

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Simon Perkins
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