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The everyday production of space : Snapshots from spatial configurations in Chinese bureaucracy

Timon Beyes & Zhongyuan Zhang

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abstract The paper applies and ventures to develop Lefebvre’s theory of ‘the socially produced space’ (1991/1974) in the studies of the day-to-day reality of organisational life. Following the Lefebvrian triad of conceived/perceived/lived spaces, it examines the ‘production’ of organisational space on the basis of a one-year ethnographic study in a Chinese bureaucratic organisation.
The paper finds the moments of conceived, perceived and lived spaces to be intertwined processes in the production of spatial reality of this particular organisation. Any spatial snapshot – be it a piece of organisational furniture, an architectural configuration, or a pattern of spatially located human bodies – is the result of the interactions among conceived, perceived and lived spaces. As an illustration the paper extracts from the ethnographic study four examples of such snapshots – the architectural appearance of the organisational building, the stairway, the office chair in use and green plants in employees’ office – and traces their ‘productions’ through the organisation’s everyday lives. As Lefebvre has already noted in his book on “Dialectical Materialism”, “the most trivial object is the bearer of countless suggestions and relationships; it refers to all sorts of activities not immediately present in it (…) Traditions (technical, social, spiritual) and the most complex qualities are present in the humblest of objects, conferring on them a symbolic value or ‘style’” (Lefebvre, 1968/1940, p. 128).
Drawing together the notion of the social production of space and Lefebvre's longstanding interest in the complexities of everyday life, the paper concludes by sketching a basic framework for further studies into the production of organisational spaces as a hermeneutics of the everyday (Roberts, 1999). This framework, on the one hand, cautions against the over-romantic notion of ‘lived space’ as an unfailing source of resistance and change, as some researchers hold, and on the other hand, against some scholars’ tendency to separate conceived, perceived and lived spaces as distant and distinct ‘empirical’ moments in spatial realities. It invites researchers to focus on the delicate and unfinished dialectical interplay between alienation and dis-alienation (Lefebvre, 2008/1961, p. 62) and thus on important nuances inherent to Lefebvre’s theory when carrying out further field studies.
   
type conference paper (English)
   
keywords
   
project Aesthetics and the spatial production of organization
name of conference Urban Research and Architecture: Beyond Henri Lefebvre (Zurich (ETH))
date of conference 24-11-2009
review not reviewed
   
citation Beyes, T., & Zhang, Z. (2009). The everyday production of space: Snapshots from spatial configurations in Chinese bureaucracy. In .