URBAN DESIGN International

, Volume 7, Issue 3–4, pp 181–203 | Cite as

Society seen through the prism of space: outline of a theory of society and space



Two questions challenge the student of space and society above all others: will new technologies change the spatial basis of society? And if so, will this have an impact on society itself? For the urbanist, these two questions crystallise into one: what will the future of cities have to do with their past? Too often these questions are dealt with as though they were only matters of technology. However, they are much more than that. They are deep and difficult questions about the interdependence of technology, space and society that we do not yet have the theoretical apparatus to answer. We know that previous ‘revolutions’ in technology such as agriculture, urbanism and industrialisation associated radical changes in space with no less radical changes in social institutions. However, we do not know how far these linkages were contingent or necessary. We do not, in short, have a theory of society and space adequate to account for where we are now, and therefore we have no reasonable theoretical base for speculating about the future. In this paper, I suggest that a major reason for this theoretical deficit is that most previous attempts to build a theory of society and space have looked at society and tried to find space in its output. The result has been that the constructive role of space in creating and sustaining society has not been brought to the fore, or if it has, only in a way that is too general to permit the detailed specification of mechanisms. In this paper, I try to reverse the normal order of things by looking first at space and trying to discern society through space: by looking at society through the prism of space. Through this I try to define key mechanisms linking space to society and then use these to suggest how the questions about the future of cities and societies might be better defined.


society technology theory of space spatialisation 


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Space Syntax Laboratory, The Bartlett School of Graduate Studies, 1-19 Torrington Place, University College LondonLondonUK

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