URBAN DESIGN International

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 25–40 | Cite as

‘What is space syntax not?’ Reflections on space syntax as sociospatial theory

  • Vinicius M Netto
Original Article


Few approaches have been quite so polemical and have stirred quite so many different responses as space syntax. This article is not an introduction to space syntax; rather it aims to discuss its substantive reach and epistemological status. To this end I make use of one of the simplest – though not necessarily the best or easiest – ways of understanding something: namely, defining what something is not. This negative path will lead us to a series of observations concerning the nature of the theory in order to highlight, on the one hand, its main contributions, such as the emphases on social reproduction, co-presence and the embodiment of practice; its hybrid epistemology; its relational concept of space; and the reaffirmation of space as a living dimension. On the other hand, it shall discuss the limits of the theory concerning society–space relations: the reduction of social practice to movement, human interaction to social interfaces and encounter, and the actor to bodily presence; the primacy of syntax over semantics; the problem of time in the structuring of space; and the difficulties of theoretical contribution. Finally I look to discuss the theory’s place regarding distinctions between urban and sociospatial theories, and dilemmas to be faced in its future development.


space syntax theory epistemology 



Max Weber said in his famous lecture, Science as Vocation, ‘an inner devotion to the task, and that alone, should lift the scientist to the height and dignity of the subject he intends to serve’. This work is dedicated to Professor Bill Hillier, whose commitment to his theory inspires so many. Precisely because we are passionate about ideas, a critique that attempts to be frank and dispassionate seems to be the most appropriate form of intellectual appraisal. Finally, the author would like to thank UDI’s anonymous referees for their invaluable input.


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vinicius M Netto
    • 1
  1. 1.Graduate Programme in Architecture and Urbanism, Universidade Federal Fluminense

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