Spatializing Culture: the Ethnography of Space and Place

Department of Anthropology
Setha M. Low

This talk offers an in-depth analysis of “spatializing culture,” an idea that grew out of my work on the Latin American plaza (Low 2000) and Deborah Pellow’s (2002) ethnography of West African socio-spatial organization and institutions. Through subsequent research and theory-building “spatializing culture” has evolved into a multi-dimensional framework that includes social production, social construction, embodied, discursive, emotive and affective, as well as translocal approaches to space and place. By “spatialize” I mean to produce and locate—physically, historically, affectively and discursively—social relations, institutions, representations and practices in space. “Culture” in this context refers to the multiple and contingent forms of knowledge, power and symbolism that comprise human and non-human interactions; material and technological processes; and cognitive processes including thoughts, beliefs, imaginings and perceptions.

Spatializing culture is useful not only as a conceptual framework; it also provides a powerful tool for uncovering social injustice and forms of exclusion. Further, as the ethnographic examples will illustrate, it can facilitate public engagement because spatial analyses offer people and their communities the means for understanding the everyday places where they live, work, shop, and socialize. Spatializing culture is not only a scholarly endeavor, but offers a basis for neighborhood activism such as opposing or modifying architectural, planning and design interventions that have the ability to destroy the architectural centers of social life, erase cultural meanings from the landscape, and restrict local participation in the built environment.

Setha Low – Professor of Anthropology, Psychology, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Women's and Gender Studies at the Graduate School and University Center, CUNY. Founder and head of The Public Space Research Group.

Setha Low is one of the most respected and widely cited urban anthropologists. She is the former president of the American Anthropological Association. The main topic of her research is urban public space. She has conducted fieldwork in urban squares and parks in Europe, the Americas, and other regions. In addition to academic research, Seth Low is also involved in projects to create comfortable and accessible urban spaces, taking into account local contexts.

Her works include On the Plaza: The Politics of Public Space and Culture (2000); The Anthropology of Space and Place: Locating Culture with D. Lawrence-Zuniga (2003); Behind the Gates: Life, Security and the Pursuit of Happiness in Fortress America (2004); Politics of Public Space with Neil Smith (2006), she is also the editor of The Routledge Handbook of Anthropology and the City (2018).

Entrance is free. Please register for the event.