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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Friday, December 10, 2004
    Resisting non-places
    I feel uncomfortable with Marc Auge's Non-places - Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. Because his proposal seems to make perfect, and disturbing, sense. Auge says that we have created spaces, often related to travel, commerce, leisure - airport lounges, motorways, out-of-town supermarkets, Showcase cinemas - in which all the transactions are predictable, mediated, mechanical, and overwhelmingly solitary (the check-in, the check-out, the lane-switch, the credit card payment). These he calls non-places, in contrast to anthropological places which are organically social.

    In the anthropological place life comes to us through human interaction, through natural events, through all manner of felt, smelt, experience. In non-places the only link between individuals and their surroundings is through texts - the signs and screens which direct our journeys and our transactions - 'Check-In'; 'Departure Lounge'; 'J23 1m'; '10 Items or Less'; 'You have £800 available for withdrawal'...

    If you consider that non-places are growing, it's a bleak picture Auge paints. But my discomfort is in tension with a better feeling, that even in non-places anthropological space breaks through. The giggle of a group of schoolchildren visiting a supermarket together; a conversation at a checkout till; how people use the room in airport lounges when their planes are delayed; ironic McDonalds staff - all these point to a tendency for subversive, irrational, creative, natural human behaviour to break back through.