Augé on "non-places"

click on images for full-size:

Tokyo International Forum

Village of Tomintoul, Scotland

Katsura villa, Kyoto

Terminal One at O'Hare airport

Waterloo Station, London

Marc Augé sees our world in terms of "supermodernity" -- the world is filled with an "abundance of events," from local to global, each demanding that each of us individually interpret it all. "This need to give a meaning to the present, if not the past, is the price we pay for the overabundance of events corresponding to a situation we could call 'supermodern' to express its essential quality: excess" (Augé 1995, 29).

This supermodern world contains many "non-places." These are the spaces of institutions "formed in relation to certain ends (transport, transit, commerce, leisure)" (94). However, Augé does not use this term in a derogatory way. It is rather descriptive of a certain sort of place that inculcates a new sense of thin or abstract identity.

Traditional closed indentity-defining places (which Augé doubts ever existed in total purity) are "places of identity, of relations and of history. The layout of the house, the rules of residence, the zoning of the village, placement of altars, configuration of public open spaces, land distribution, correspond for every individual to a system of possibilities, prescriptions and interdicts whose content is both spatial and social" (52).

[But if one defines "place"] as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity will be a non-place. The hypothesis advanced here is that supermodernity produces non-places. (78)

What we call non-places, in opposition to the sociological notion of place, associated by Mauss and a whole ethnological tradition with the idea of a culture localized in time and space. The installations needed for the accelerated circulation of passengers and goods (high-speed roads and railways, interchanges, airports) are just as much non-places as the means of transport themselves, or the great commercial centres, or the extended transit camps where the planet's refugees are parked. (34)

A person entering the space of non-place is relieved of his usual determinants. He becomes no more than what he does or experiences in the role of passenger, customer, or driver. . . . The space of non-place creates neither singular identity nor relations; only solitude, and similitude. There is no room for history unless it has been transformed into an element of spectacle, usually in allusive texts. (103)

Place and non-place are rather like opposed polarities: the first is never completely erased, the second never totally completed. . . . But non-places are the real measure of our time. (79) Augé 1995