Heterotopia Unbound: Undisciplined Approaches to ‘Space Otherwise’

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Michel Foucault’s problematic concept of heterotopia has traveled extensively across discursive domains over the past five decades, influencing how we think about spatial difference. In postmodern discourse, however, it tends to be extrapolated to encompass socio-cultural difference, where it is read as an expression of empancipatory, deviant or contestatory potential. This infuses the concept with a sort of liberatory or utopian character, which it does not have. On the other hand, many accounts analyze specific spatial arrangements or places that stand out for their heterogeneity as ‘case studies’ of heterotopia, which are then described quite literally according to the six principles of the ‘heterotopian toolbox’. The results are often disappointingly vacuous, flat descriptions that fail to elucidate the processes and relations through which difference emerges in the first place. In this chapter I argue that what these interpretations miss is the opportunity of thinking and theorizing spatial difference otherwise, namely, heterotopologically. Like theory itself, heterotopia is unstable, ‘undisciplined’. It shuns classification and categories; its inherent ambivalence and plasticity allow it to resist and escape capture. When freed from rigid or conventional readings, the concept transgresses discursive and disciplinary boundaries, forcing us to problematize, to question, to experiment, and especially to think differently about space. In this chapter I join the emerging voices of scholars who are calling for the formulation of heterotopian alliances and collaborations among a host of disciplinary fields, activism, and the arts around the problematics of spatial difference: the call for a heterotopia unbound.

Keywords: heterotopology, un/disciplinarity, spatial difference, thinking otherwise
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDifferences in the City
Subtitle of host publicationPostmetropolitan Heterotopias as Liberal Utopian Dreams
EditorsJulia Urabayen, Jorge León Casero
Place of PublicationNew York, USA
PublisherNova Science Publishers
Number of pages12
ISBN (Print)978-1-53618-496-9
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • heterotopology,
  • un/disciplinarity,
  • spatial difference,
  • thinking otherwise


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