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The Condition of Postmodernity – David Harvey

Chapter 16 – Time-space compression and the rise of modernism as a cultural force

In order to gain an in depth understanding of the concept of ‘space’ it was essential to do some background studies of the concept, which would highlight some of the main contributors to this notion of ‘space’. The background knowledge on the concept of ‘Space’ and its uses and gratifications has made it a lot more applicable to this project. The background studies I have conducted were on ‘ The Situationists’ as previously posted, providing a historical foundation to this concept in regards to Henri Lefebvre, which has now been developed in my current studies on ‘Time and Space’ found in the concluding sections of ‘Condition of Post modernity’ by David Harvey.

I will firstly provide the definition taken from Lefebvre’s work ‘The Condition of Post modernity’ to ensure that as reading on there is no confusion as to what ‘Spatial Practice’ is referring to:Spatial practice, which embraces production and reproduction and the particular locations and spatial sets characteristic of each social fragmentation. Spatial practice ensures continuity and some degree of cohesion. In terms of social space, and of each member of given society’s relationship to that space, this cohesion implies a guaranteed level of competence and a specific level of performance. (Lefebvre 1991: 33) 

The first section that I have studied; Time and Space as sources of social power. It is in this section of the book that the distinctive relationship between money, space and time is established in the most simple and applicable terms, highlighting the fact that: those who possess money can occupy space, with the power of capital, allowing them time in order to truly control development which is essentially at the core of a vicious cycle of a capitalist society. Ensuring that a solid foundation to this notion is developed, the reading goes on to underline the specific effects of this social control of ‘space’ in regards to long periods of time and ultimately political power:
“ideological and political hegemony in any society depends on an ability to control the material context of personal and social experience” (Harvey 1989:226)

As this statement may lead you to believe that this is a one dimensional view of the notion of ‘space’ it is also considered, how through ‘social struggle’ individuals can change the ‘space’ and its political culture to an extent:“within a given set of rules generate much of the social energy to change those rules. Shifts in the objective qualities of space and time, in short, can be, and often are, effected through social struggle” (Harvey 1989: 227)

With this argument established and these opposing statements to consider the reading goes on to highlight the key factors that can effects these ways of viewing ‘space’ historically. The developments within society such as working time:“clocks and bells that called workers to labour and merchants to market, separated from the ‘natural’ rhythms of agrarian life, and divorced from religious significations, merchants and masters created a new ‘chronological net’ in which daily life was caught.” (Harvey 1989: 228)

The 9-5 as we would now call it the time in which people go to work. The effects of this in regards to social power is that people knew there place, in the working hours you must work and if you are not doing some work within those hours then you would either be considered too well off to need to work, or irrelevant in the grand scheme the capitalist society that was vastly developing.

It is here to support this developing argument that Harvey cites Le Goff a French Historian:“these evolving mental structures and their material expression,’ Le Goff concludes, ‘were deeply implicated in the mechanisms of class struggle.’ (Harvey 1989: 228)

Other factors are highlighted by Harvey as important developments in the construction of ‘space’ in regards to social power, one being the ‘map’ and its developing format being sold for high prices to individuals that aspired to dominate large spaces. Factors such as working labour management are highlighted, the effects of this power rise in the working classes over human rights and its impact of social power, as well innovative developments in factories with machinery are expanded and conceptualised. (Charlie Chaplins Eating Machine springs to mind!)

The reading goes on to further provide a theoretical framework, after underlining the two main factors which historically changed society and the way in which space was applicable, taking time into consideration, the larger subject of ‘Capitalism’ is addressed, highlighting the complicated relationship between all factors successfully:“If money has no meaning independent of time and space, then it is always possible to pursue profit by altering the ways time and space are used and defined. This thesis can be most cogently explored in the circulation of capital.” (Harvey 1989:229)

This has much relevance to the project as Venice is a small area of Italy with little spatial practice, due to geographical factors, the city cannot move, or be substantially supported, it is a space in spatial development in order to salvage its existence cannot occur. Venice is the perfect example of a ‘space’ which is out of the norm, it cannot alter it foundations to heighten tourism for capital growth, or its famous architecture to sustain and develop its art culture and heritage.

This chapter highlights the major historical factors which impact of the time and space within various social spaces, such as ‘The Depression’ 1846-7 developing the notion of capitalism and its relationship to time and space in regard to cultural forces such as the government, and military.


The chapter cites key theorists such as Jameson that suggests that if a space is not experienced authentically, then it is not takes away any values which is a direct result of capitalism and consumerism:


‘the truth of experience no longer coincides with the place in which it takes place,’ but is spread-eagled across the world’s spaces, then a situation arises ‘in which we can say that if individual experience is authentic, then it cannot be true; and that if a scientific or cognitive mode of the same content is true, then it escapes the individuals experience.’ (Harvey 1989: 260)


The chapter goes on to further highlight the impact in which capitalism and spatial development has historically had on ‘Place’. Changes in society such as in the railway systems, radio communication and the telegraph in the 1950’s and the ways in which people lives are discussed as well as the way in which class distinctions were defined; “The telephone, wireless-telegraph, X-ray, cinema, bicycle, automobile and airplane established the material foundation’ for new modes of thinking about and experiencing time and space.” (Harvey 1989: 264)


One of the key points made in this Chapter is the changes that we have learnt is the impact of the World War 1 on places and the way in which the developments since 1850 up to 1910 changed the notions of time and space. It is after the War that many post modernists saw a key change in viewing the world;


“Around 1910 a certain space was shattered. It was the space of common sense, of knowledge, of social practice, of political power, a space hitherto enshrined in everyday discourse, just as in abstract thought, as the environment of and channel for communication… Euclidean and perspectivist space have disappeared as systems of reference, along with other former ‘common places’ such as town, history, paternity, the tonal system in music, traditional morality, and so forth. This was a truly crucial moment.” (Lefebvre, 1974: 266)


So many factors contribute to this opinion that Lefebvre has expressed, major developments changing society and the way in which Space was used and considered, factors such as Ford and the assembly line which was established in 1913. Radio signal was radically changing the ways in which people communicated which came from the Eiffel Tower and these changes in time and space and social control are evident in the art work of De Chirico and Delaunay.


A key point that is also highlighted within this chapter is the notion of the way in which individuals from differing cultures and areas viewed the rest of the world, and mainly the notion that as areas were built up of ‘the neighbours getting too close’. This concept is developed by Nietzsche and the condition he termed ‘Nihilism’ which is described here as “the dissolution of unalienated property, honouring the old in part arises, he suggests with the collapse of space” and additionally to this point the rise in spatial development and capitalism.


In a lengthy descriptive passage regarding the notion of space, place and power is considered within Nietzsche concept giving the conclusion that the concept of space is majorly influenced by those holding power over society such as the military and government. Additionally this power is ultimately described as destructive and controlling causing violence, war over space etc. This notion is further applicable to the ‘Bauhaus’; movement and the ideology that it held in regards to society, freedom and power and provides much insight into the way in which individuals can occupy space and how they are organised and surveyed.


This chapter gives a detailed theoretical structure relating to the concept of ‘space’ which is related to the notion of time and historical developments in which place is affected. Key academics works are cited, in much detail, a much more in depth individual study is needed to truly get the most of the information this chapter provides. Although not directly related to the project of ‘Venice and the Carnivalesque’ with a more in depth understanding, and perhaps the real life physical experience of Italy and Venice in particular, and the key factors that have made it the place it is today. The concepts provided in this reading will definitely be of use in regards to considering its developments and the forces in which shaped and moulded its current state.


Harvey, D. 1989 The Condition of Postmodernity: An inquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change Blackwell: Cambridge




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