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Practice, Communication and Space: A reflection on the materiality of social structures

Netto, Vinicius; (2007) Practice, Communication and Space: A reflection on the materiality of social structures. Doctoral thesis, University of London. Green open access

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Abstract

The general issue of relations between sociality and spatiality, until recently profoundly ignored outside spatial studies, has become a focus of great theoretical attention in a number of disciplines – what has been called, remarkably, the “spatial turn” in social and cultural theory. The thesis wishes to address a central problem in that debate: the connection of practice and space. It does so emphasising a dimension that has not been previously explored to a significant degree: the conditions of sociation of practice, or a material account of how action becomes social action and practice social practice. In other words, it investigates the place of space in semantically mediated interactions that constitute the knots in (spatialised) networks of sociation – or communication. The thesis explores the spatiality of practice and communication as a problem worth of theoretical attention, suggesting that precisely the absence of this dimension has led theory to fail to spot the spatial traces of relations between our daily acts – traces active in the very moment of sociation of practice, indeed constitutive of the very possibility of any sociation; traces produced and performed through the interpenetration of communication and space. The question the thesis addresses is the possibility of space not just as contingent location but also in itself encapsulating an essential constituent of the communicative condition of the social. The aim of this thesis is to focus on this theoretical deficit in a number of ways. First, existing theories of society and space relations as found in social theory, architecture and human geography are reviewed in order to assess how far they provide compelling answers to the problem of the communicative constitution of practice, and from this analysis, to set areas where further progress is needed. Second, an attempt is made to build an alternative frame to the sociality-spatiality relation as a relation between practice, communication and space, drawing on a number of diverse sources, mainly the theory of self-referentiality of Niklas Luhmann, the theory of communicative action of Jürgen Habermas, the post-modern questioning of notions like “meaning” and “structure,” and new approaches in human geography and architecture. Thirdly, the implications of this unconventional approach to the spatiality of the social world are discussed, and a concept, the duality of meaning is proposed as a means to address the multiple relations between space and social practice. Fourth, the thesis suggests the possibility that the spatial emergence of practice as a communicative process requires, in order to come into being, some structuring of the space in which it occurs – a mutual, referential structuration beyond the contingency of practice and space. Developing the idea of space as referential to communication, the thesis shows how space becomes the unconscious but referential substrate which provides a certain form of available organisation to the semantic field where communication networks are performed, and social structures constantly emerge and fade away in connections of linguistic acts and spaces. It suggests that a new and active role for space may be identified in the sociality-spatiality relation: a “semanticised space” as a key dimension of (1) the “communicability of practice,” i.e. the informational connections that mediate the passage from the individual act into the socialised act that takes part in unfolding social events; and (2) the very possibility of ontological relatedness, seeing space as a dimension of the “strings of reference” that produce the sense of “world-relationality” or structure, inform socialities of possibilities of acts, and constitute the very possibility of actualisation of acts through the referentiality of practice, communication and space. Disclosing a “material referentiality” at the heart of practice, as the crisscrossing of communication, language, and space, it finally suggests the possibility of space as a counterpart to the elusiveness of forms of communication and relationality in the social world, such as those semiotic fluxes based on spoken and written language, and electronic and visual media. In building such a conceptual scheme, the thesis lays down the aims of a “referential approach” to the materiality of the social world: clarifying space itself in the communicability of practice; clarifying its role for socialities by showing a referential space as a means to the sociation of acts; and clarifying socialities themselves by showing how profoundly and pervasively they rely on the referentiality of space.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Practice, Communication and Space: A reflection on the materiality of social structures
Open access status:An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language:English
UCL classification:UCL > School of BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment > Bartlett School > Bartlett School of Graduate Studies

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