Claiming space for an engaged anthropology: Spatial inequality and social exclusion

Low, S. M.

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Low, S. M. (2011). Claiming space for an engaged anthropology: Spatial inequality and social exclusion. American Anthropologist, 113(3), 389–407.

Colonial and postcolonial studies , Engaged Anthropology , Public Space , Spatialization

I use the concept of “engaged anthropology” to frame a discussion of how “spatializing culture” uncovers systems of exclusion that are hidden or naturalized and thus rendered invisible to other methodological approaches. “Claiming Space for an Engaged Anthropology” is doubly meant: to claim more intellectual and professional space for engagement and to propose that anthropology include the dimension of space as a theoretical construct. I draw on three fieldwork examples to illustrate the value of the approach: (1) a Spanish American plaza, reclaimed from a Eurocentric past, for indigenous groups and contemporary cultural interpretation; (2) Moore Street Market, an enclosed Latino food market in Brooklyn, New York, reclaimed for a translocal set of social relations rather than a gentrified redevelopment project; (3) gated communities in Texas and New York and cooperatives in New York, reclaiming public space and confronting race and class segregation created by neoliberal enclosure and securitization.

Main finding
The author argues that an historical and sociospatial analysis of the Spanish American Plaza, drawing on European antecedents in Spain, refutes the Euro-centric notions that plaza-centered urban design was a European import. Rather, the author suggests, urban planning ideas were received from Spanish-controlled cities in South America thus placing Pre-Columbian architectural and archeological legacies as the origin of plaza-centered design. The result is an engaged social critique that draws on the investigation of the meanings of physical space and the social relations that produced them to reclaim a space as an indigenously produced place which had been written over with a hegemonic Eurocentric narrative. The author applies this critique to the study of an ethnic market, gated communities, and cooperatives.

Description of method used in the article
Fieldwork included interviews and participant observation. Application of a 'spatializing culture' framework that studies "culture and political economy through the lens of space and place" to uncover material injustices and systems of exclusion (p. 390). The concepts of social production (the social, ideological, economic, and technical factors that result in the creation of the material setting) and social construction (the social, psychological, and functional transformation of space through social exchange, memories, images, emotions, and daily use of material settings) of space are developed and used by the author to explain how culture is spatialized. These two concepts, social production and social construction are understood as the person's practice in the context of global collective forces and material expression, respectively, of a person-spatiotemporal unit.

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Organising categories

Other or N/A
Field Observations
Physical types
Markets Squares
Geographic locations