On Reading Space: workshop Rationale

Keywords: Spatial humanities, geocriticism, urban studies, Classics, reception studies.


 In light of the number of scholars working on the spatial turn from very different disciplines and using diverse methodological and theoretical frameworks, we thought we could seize this opportunity to create a space for interdisciplinary inquiry to discuss how space is framed, described and imagined in different areas and periods of study. The meeting will be used to engage with diverse audiences, such as graduate and undergraduate students other than the experienced researchers. The purpose is to gather researchers from different disciplines and career stages for a small, research-intensive and collegial workshop that aims to expand our understanding of how the spatial turn is changing the social sciences and humanities. We will also have the chance to discuss the possible uses of spatial theory in our own work and explore potential collaborations. Topics addressed will include the historical changes of the concept of public space and the relation between space and power in urban environments. The main aim is to provide tools and methodologies to understand and read space in different research topics and areas and help to set new standards for the study of space and landscape.


The spatial turn is a theoretical approach that places emphasis on space and place in disciplines linked with social sciences and the humanities. While never ignoring the fact that we are temporally bound beings, during the past few decades, the use of this approach in different fields of study has increasingly emphasised the importance of spatiality in understanding the history of the human being and of its relation with the environment. The subject is challenging, because it demonstrates that space is no longer a neutral concept and cannot be considered independent from that which it contains, and therefore neither can it be considered as immune to historical, political and aesthetic changes. Ideas of the reciprocal causal relationship between subjects and their environments have been common currency in spatially oriented disciplines (e.g. archaeology. geography, history, urban studies). Instead, other areas, and especially the ones focused on the study of antiquity through textual evidence have not, in the main, stressed the importance of spatial concerns in shaping human subjectivities and their social and material practices. This sort of approach can help set forth more nuanced theories regarding the relation between social systems and their environment, using case studies and methods applied in different disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, literary analysis or history.

It is easy to forget how considerable cultural and social achievements cities are, especially if we consider these under the focus of a situated spatial practice rather than bearing in mind rational or ethical choices of social actors. I therefore propose that this work will focus on the city and its urban public space, engaging with discourses about urbanism, the representation of the city in different arts, the movement of people and matter in general, politics, material culture, urban imaginaries or social phenomena associated with urban space. The topic of discussion, thus, is drawn from a reading of plurality in general, the movement of people, regulated by the rhythms of the urban settlement, that on its turn are also ordered by regulations reflecting the politics of space, all of these issues drawing the features of a city generated by multiplicity. In addition, it is necessary to consider the iconography of public space, from the quality of spatial design and architectural expression to the displays of consumption and advertising in narratives about past, present, real or imaginary cities, along with the routines of usage and public gathering, which can be read as a powerful symbolic and sensory code of public culture. Cities constitute active codes, summarizing cultural trends as well as shaping public opinion and expectations, and therefore constituting semiotic landscapes. By engaging with discourses from different disciplines focusing on the spatial turn, the audience of the workshop will be able to recognize the impact of understanding landscapes onto their social framework and bring a balance to the narratives of the past or the present.