Hector Rodriguez / Notes on Foucault’s Heterotopia – 1  福柯的「異托邦」(筆記一)

Hector Rodriguez / Notes on Foucault’s Heterotopia – 1 福柯的「異托邦」(筆記一)

Hector Rodriguez 羅海德

發表於: 07 Jun 2020

In 3 parts, Rodriguez’s reading report traces the centrality of space cutting through Michel Foucault’s corpus through the concept of “heterotopia.”  On the importance of space… We are at a moment, I believe, when our experience of the world is less that of a long life developing through time than that of a network that connects points and intersects with its own skein. — Foucault, “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias”

Part 1 of 3 /… 三部之一

米歇福柯(Michel Foucault, 1926-1984)離世時留給我們豐富的觀念去理解權力在我們生活世界中的運作,如論述效應、知識的被建構、自我技術等,放在人口管理的大前提下成為紀律約束的實踐。空間的觀念雖然不常是顯式的主題,卻是他所有文章講章裡的座標。1967年講學時發表的「異托邦」或「異質地域」(heterotopia) 的討論直接定下重要的空間討論的基礎,看來是他的社會哲學下一步 — 如他沒有早逝的話 — 的重點研究。「異托邦」突出了我們都活於空間的時代的事實。異托邦是論述的空間、網絡的空間、社會的空間、思維的空間,效率操控的空間…,卻絕對不是單一、單向的空間。羅海德重回福柯的著作,他的筆記將以讀書報告的形式在「據點一杯茶」三連載追溯「空間」理論在福柯1954-1984 三十年間的發表中既隱又現的潛發展。福柯談的空間是「被組織的空間」、「活出來的空間」,而「異托邦」正是理想空間「烏托邦」(及其恐怖的反面)的拒絕。他說:「我相信我們正處於的時刻,是我們對世界的經驗並不那麼在於穿越時間而發展出長長的人生,反而是人生的點和交叉點與它們連成的絞所合成的網絡的出現。」空間性的網絡,重於線性的時間。反過來卻異曲同工 — 空間的實體往往經歷各式各樣的歷史的變動。「異托邦」是一個空間概念,眾數的世界裡藏著眾數的世界,相互之間如在鏡子裡對照,卻又折射出層層疊疊超越了複製的細節;同一個空間體,卻穿滿密密麻麻的時間斷層。(黎肖嫻序、引句翻譯及大綱撮寫)


Heterogeneity and spatial experience 異質性和空間經驗

「我們身處的是共時性的紀元。這是個有關並置的時代,既遠即近,並排,分散。 … 」

福柯談到的「被組織」的空間不單是外在的,也是內在的 — 「數據的儲存,以及儲存後機器計算出來的記憶(的空間)…」


Literally meaning “other spaces” or “different spaces”, the term “heterotopias” was coined by cultural historian Michel Foucault in his preface to The Order of Things and in the lecture “Different Spaces”. [1] The concept also influenced Foucault’s discussion of the prison in Discipline and Punish and something like it can arguably be traced in his early books on madness and the clinic.

Foucault’s work focuses on space, and more specifically on the organization of space. The motivation for this research program is Foucault’s sense that we live in an epoch of space. Our understanding of the world, he suggests, involves spatial notions, such as simultaneity, juxtaposition, proximity and distance, dispersal, and the network: “We are in the epoch of simultaneity: we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed. We are at a moment, I believe, when our experience of the world is less that of a long life developing through time than that of a network that connects points and intersects with its own skein.” [2] The importance of space in our understanding of the world manifests itself in very specific types of spatial organization, particularly the network and the grid. Foucault not only has in mind the organization of communication or transportation networks, but also the internal organization of the computer itself: “the storage of data or of the intermediate results of a calculation in the memory of a machine…” [3] Foucault’s point is not that space was unimportant in earlier historical epochs, but that distinctive spatial forms dominate our conscious understanding of social and individual life today.

The spaces that Foucault is interested in are all in some sense organized. They have been marked out and segmented in various ways. According to Foucault’s approach, space itself is not timeless. Every site, he also stresses, has a history, and so a relation to time. Think, for instance, of the changing organization of the university or even the coffee shop and the cinema. European cemeteries were traditionally located near the urban center but in the contemporary world they have been moved to the periphery. No longer the symbolic heart of a city, they have come to be seen more and more as another, darker city. In Foucault’s approach, “space” is not independent of “time” or “history”. Spatial forms typically undergo historical changes of various sorts.

The space of our lived experience, as Foucault understands, it is essentially heterogeneous. His point is that we should not think of space as “a kind of void, inside of which we could place individuals and things.” This conception of space might be appropriate, perhaps, in some technical or mathematical settings, but it does not capture the way we live space in our ordinary practical dealings. We “live inside a set of relations that delineates sites which are irreducible to one another and absolutely not superimposable on one another.” [4] It is this qualitative and heterogeneous lived space which Foucault is mainly concerned with. The qualitative nature of this space does not reside in some disembodied consciousness but rather in the organization of a living and acting bodies. Experience is essentially practical.

In the texts under consideration, Foucault focuses on certain specific sites, which he calls heterotopias.  This report offers an analytical elucidation, which highlights the main features of this concept.

Utopias and Heterotopias 烏托邦和異托邦

「無論是烏托邦或異托邦,都裹袱著社會裡的真實空間,是直接比喻好反比喻也好,指向的是可循的完美社會的極致,又或相反的極端。… …兩者展示社會最完美的形式,要不然就是被倒置的社會,不過這些托邦基本上是不真實的空間。」

It is useful to begin by comparing and contrasting heterotopias with utopias. The two terms are very close and the borderline between them is not always precisely demarcated. In Hetherington’s interpretation, utopias and heterotopias are sites of “alternative ordering” that “organize a bit of the social world in a way different to that which surrounds them.” [5] Heterotopias and utopias are organized differently from ordinary society; their contrast to ordinary society is essential to their organization. They are places whose internal organization essentially depends on their being outside of ordinary social life.

This “outsideness” or “otherness” is fundamental to their constitution. To understand what these spaces are is to understand that they are in some respects not ordinary spaces. But utopias and heterotopias nonetheless “have a general relationship of direct or inverse analogy with the real space of society. They represent society itself brought to perfection, or its reverse…” [6]  Utopias and heterotopias might involve an image of a perfected society, for instance the design of a “model” city in some projects of Le Corbusier, in line with certain ideas of “order”, “rationality”, “efficiency”, and other “modern” or “progressive” values. A heterotopia can instead be designed as a “parody” of an actual space. It can create an illusory space, such as in a theatrical representation, which can then be used to show how the actual world is an illusion. An instance, mentioned by Foucault, involves those brothels where various social roles and situations are carefully staged (for instance, clients may pretend to be bishops or politicians or school teachers). Jean Genet has described such a brothel in his great play The Balcony. Whether idealized or parodic, the envisioned space differs from the actual organization of contemporary society. It is meant to provide an alternative or different way of understanding and effecting spatiality. This otherness belongs to the essential core of the project.

While heterotopias and utopias both present an alternative organization of society or the world, they differ from one another in a crucial respect. Utopias have no physical location. They are purely imaginary or unreal inventions. “They present society itself in a perfected form, or else society turned upside down, but in any case these utopias are fundamentally unreal spaces.” [7]  New Babylon, the city of the future envision by Constant Nieuwenhuys, was not actually built. It remains a utopian project.  In contrast, heterotopias exist somewhere. A heterotopia has a definite geographical location. It might occupy an area of the earth, a neighborhood, a public square, a building, a room, etc. It might instead be a moving vehicle without a definite location, such as a train, a boat, a spaceship, or a traveling circus. Unlike a utopia, a heterotopia is not a purely imaginary or purely fictive site. It makes sense to ask where it is located. [8]

We should not, however, think of the distinction between utopias and heterotopias as absolute. A certain space may be utopian in its initial formulation, until it is actually implemented in a specific location. Jeremy Bentham’s “panopticon”, the outline of a model prison whose inmates would learn to take responsibility for their actions, was a grandly utopian vision, but some of its principles have been implemented in actual prisons, such as the Presidio Modelo, built in Cuba in 1925.

Different spaces 不同的空間



Persian rug-garden, project by Sarah Farahat | Source: http://www.sarahfarahat.com/persian-rug-garden.html

Foucault stresses that many heterotopias “create a different space, a different real space as perfect, as meticulous, as well-arranged as ours is disorganized, badly arranged, and muddled.” [9] In this sense, a heterotopia is a model for or a paradigm of an alternative form of social organization. A traditional Persian garden for Foucault offers a perfected version of the world: “The garden is a carpet in which the entire world attains its symbolic perfection.” [10] Many heterotopias provide an idealized image or model of a desirable future world. A modern building erected in the midst of a developing or “underdeveloped” city, for example, can function as a possible paradigm of the future, for instance when its architectural design embodies values of efficiency, rationality, regularity, solidity, or modernity. Thus the Japanese colonial government in early 20th century Taiwan built a Prussian government house (near the present Taipei Station) that was meant to represent modernization, cosmopolitanism, and solidity.  This example shows how, to understand heterotopias, it is necessary to consider their otherness in relation to social spaces. To understand the meaning of the new building, it is necessary to see that it is different from ordinary spaces in Taiwan. Its otherness is essential to the intended symbolic function of the place.

The construction of modern department stores in traditional city neighborhoods may be intended to function as an idealized paradigm of a modern lifestyle, as an image of cosmopolitanism. A science or technology fair or an exhibition about public hygiene also projects an image of the future society. [11] World fairs often perform this kind of function. A modernist art exhibit may hold up the work shown, or the organization of the exhibition space, as an instance of a progressive way of thinking. Many anarchist activities in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries set up communal villages that would illustrate Kropotkin’s claim that cooperation and “mutual aid”, rather than competition, should be considered the paramount social value. Historian Arif Dirlik has traced the impact of this communal vision on Chinese intellectuals around the time of the May Fourth incident in 1919. Mao Zedong’s own early political thinking was influenced by the belief that small radical associations would become the basis of social change. [12] Thus the communal group was designed as an ideal paradigm of a new society, in contrast to the authoritarian and competitive principles that pervaded the society at large.  Many small communities are intended as concretely existing micro-models for a future reorganization of the whole society.

Many modern and contemporary artists have formed formal or informal groups, such as Dada, Surrealism, the Situationist International, the Oulipo, Fluxus, or Gutai. I do not have in mind loose “movements” like cubism or expressionism but constituted groups with precise rules that determine such matters as: who can become a member, how group decisions are to be made (for instance by vote),  who ought to be expelled, etc. In addressing all the questions that arise during the formation of the group, artists often have to clarify what it is to live together, and how we ought to live together. Is it right, for instance, that all decisions should be unanimous? Is it appropriate to expel members, and under which circumstances? The rules of the group are sometimes put forward as a way of elaborating and experimenting with an image of the social world, for instance a vision of participatory democracy, and so as a model of a more equitable world to come. The constitution of the group in contemporary art can thus be a heterotopic practice.

The Asylum Garden at Arles, 1889 by Vincent Van Gogh | Source: www.VincentVanGogh.org

Sometimes a heterotopia is constituted as a model of efficiency. Foucault describes certain types of locales, such as modern prisons, boarding schools, hospitals, factories, and other disciplinary spaces as locations that are (a) architectural, (b) functional, and (c) hierarchical. They are architectural in the sense that they involve the ordering of real locations. They are functional, in the sense that they are designed according to principles of efficient use and behavioral control. Spatial arrangements are meant to channel, encourage, or prevent certain human activities. Medicines are carefully locked up; patients are assigned numbers and specific beds or rooms; etc. Finally, these heterotopias are strongly hierarchical. Individuals are assigned “ranks” in networks of relations. For instance, students in a boarding school may be divided into classes, each of which may be further subdivided. The modern prison is closely connected to a system of classification that sorts out prisoners into different categories. There are different types of crime and different types of punishment, and space is arranged accordingly. [13] The organization of prison space is intertwined with this classificatory system. Space is in these cases carefully segmented. The organization of a modern hospital is interwoven with a way of thinking where diseases, symptoms, etc., are carefully categorized and tabulated. [14] The physical arrangement of buildings, rooms, walls, etc., hangs together with certain classifications

Not all heterotopias, however, are functional and hierarchical. There are heterotopias, such as perhaps some types of carnival, which undermine ideas of efficiency and instead establish anti-utilitarian zones that question some or all norms of practicality, and which also question or invert all hierarchical arrangements. Other heterotopias provide an inverted image of the existing world. Popular festivals (carnivals) systematically invert ordinary social values and social roles: Men dress as women, fools are hailed as heroes, and overeating and nudity are not only accepted but also encouraged and celebrated. [15] Disguises represent social roles or types in an inverted and playful form. In some heterotopias, social boundaries are systematically undermined. Hetherington describes a public space in France in this way: “The issue of what was central or dominant and what was marginal was not always clearcut…” [16] According to this analysis, the entire area around the Louvre “allowed those who were otherwise excluded from office to use this place as a site from which they were able to give voice to their views and to mobilize public support for change.” [17]

/1 June 2020 … to be continued… 三部之一完。待續…



[1] A translation of Foucault’s original essay is available on the web: https://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/foucault1.pdf

[2] See p. 1, Michel Foucault’s “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias” in Architecture /Mouvement/ Continuité, October  1984 (“Des Espace Autres,” March 1967 Translated from the French by Jay Miskowiec): https://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/foucault1.pdf

[3] Ibid., p. 2.

[4] Ibid., p. 3.

[5] Kevin Hetherington, The Badlands of Modernity: Heterotopia and Social Ordering (London and New York: Routledge, 1997), viii.

[6] see [2].

[7] see [4].

[8] Foucault writes, perhaps somewhat misleadingly, that a heterotopia is a utopia that has been “actually realized”. Foucault, “Different Spaces,” 178.

[9] “Different Spaces,” 184.

[10] “Different Spaces”, 182. Another translation of the line reads: “ (…) the garden is a rug onto which the whole world comes to enact its symbolic perfection, and the rug is a sort of garden that can move across space,” a kind of microcosm. (“Psychoanalysis of the garden” [link])

[11] A magazine can present an image of the future: one Taiwan film director mentioned to me that he would read Japanese magazines as inspirations for his own films because “Japan’s present is Taiwan’s future.” American films often function in this way throughout many parts of the world.

[12] Arif Dirlik, The Origins of Chinese Communism (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 90-94, 180.

[13] Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 99.

[14] Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 144.

[15] Here, we can relate Foucault’s concept to Mikhail Bakhtin’s well-known theory, according to which egalitarianism, grotesqueness, noise, dirt, sexual promiscuity, excessive eating, destructiveness, bodily excess, and other unconventional values are endorsed in the festival. See Bakhtin, Mikhail (1984). Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, and Bakthin (1941). Rabelais and his world. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.  Foucault’s relation to Bakhtin is examined in: Defert, D. (1997) ‘Foucault, Space, and the Architects’, in Politics/Poetics. Documenta X – The Book. Ostfildern-Ruit: Cantz Verlag, pp. 274–83. For a highly critical account that stresses the difference between Foucault and Bakthin, see: Peter Johnson, (2006). Unravelling Foucault’s ‘different spaces.’ History of the Human Sciences19(4), 75–90.

[16] Hetherington, 6.

[17] Ibid., 6.


Related Readings:

Hector Rodriguez’s Reading Reports

Floating Projects Collective 2024