Two conceptions of the idea of a ‘thirdspace’ are analysed below; both offer useful tools for critical regionalist analysis of physical places and psychical spaces and epitomise the interdisciplinary nature of this approach to cultural studies…
Soja, E. W. (1996). Introduction/Itinerary/Overture. In, Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places. Blackwell; Oxford. pp.1-23.
Diverging from his original specialism in African development, Edward Soja has become a preeminent figure in the fields of political, cultural and human geography and his definition and exploration of ‘thirdspace’ can provide an invaluable tool of analysis for the critical regionalist. Soja’s appearance here offers further evidence of the transdisciplinary nature of critical regionalism and this is further revealed throughout this, the introductory chapter to the text, as it explores and incorporates the work of, amongst others, Henri Lefebvre, Michel Foucault and Homi Bhabha – works by many of whom litter the reference points of many interventions in the field.
The central tenet of Thirdspace is a revision of the traditional geographical dialectic of historicality (the ‘firstspace’ perspective focused on the ‘real’ material world) and sociality (the ‘secondspace’ perspective which interprets the ‘imagined’ representations of the world) through the insertion of a ‘thirdspace’: that of spatiality. Thereby a trialectic is created with the thirdspace being “a space of extraordinary openness, a place of critical exchange” (5), wherein perspectives previously considered to be incompatible can be encompassed in our understanding of place. Herein the dichotomies and polarities of, for example, race, class and gender, can be combined to create distinctly postmodern ‘both/and also’ analyses rather than the ‘either/or’ choice offered by modernism. In this way, thirdspace can provide a conceptual vehicle through which the polyphonic and dialogical readings of critical regionalism can be conveyed.
Whilst essentially providing a ‘map’ through the following chapters of Soja’s book, this introductory chapter also offers a comprehensive overview of the development of the author’s thinking and the theories which have shaped the resultant concept which seeks to “open up a distinctive new interpretive realm” (22). It is within this realm that critical regionalism can be positioned, not least because of Soja’s work here. Initially motivated by increased examples of environmental problems, poverty, racism, geopolitical conflicts and an emergent electronic media, Thirdspace, it could be argued, has attained even greater significance since its initial publication as the instances and reach of these phenomena have increased and spread.
Bhabha, H. (1994) DissemiNation: Time, narrative and the margins of the modern nation. In, The Location of Culture. London; Routledge. pp.199-244.
The implicit (cf.Frampton) and explicit (cf.Eggener, Herr) references to postcolonialism inherent in critical regionalism necessitates the appearance within any approach to critical regionalism of a key postcolonial thinker: Homi Bhabha. Through an interrogation of pedagogical narratives of nation and their interruption by performative narratives of the people, Bhabha’s work, much like that of Soja, is concerned with the margins of place. Historically, Bhabha suggests place is pedagogical and homogeneous: the territory becomes tradition. Contemporaneously, it can be a site of renegotiation: reflective of the heterogeneity of the modern nation. For Bhabha the power of the pedagogical narrative is opened up to “strategic manoeuvre and negotiation” (208) in the “discursive liminality” (ibid) of the nations margins, where his opening comments envisage migrant populations ‘gathering’. Here, the peoples of a nation exist both as objects of a national pedagogy and subjects of the reinterpretation and renewed signification of a performative nationality.
Bhabha calls this duality of the people “doubleness” (202), their movement between both positions as they appear in cultural formations (whether pedagogical or performative) echoes the concept of thirdspace – Bhabha himself, in other work, refers to it as a third space). Furthermore, in its notions of interruption, interrogation, interjection and ‘in-betweenness’, links with the goals of critical regionalism are made apparent. This series of splices into imaginings of nation prompts a more dialectical revision of nations to come into being, challenging “[t]he linear equivalence of event and idea that historicism proposes” (201). Or put another way: region, as a subset of nation, seeks to exert power over a community’s understanding of itself by reducing complexities into, in Bhabha’s phrase, “[a] holistic cultural entity” (ibid). Bhabha’s suggestions here for ways in which the hybridity of culture can be expressed through the re-emergence of dialogisms and heteroglossia, offers much for critical regionalism in its challenges to the binaries which dominate the constructions of regionalism.