Marc Augé (1995), in his seminal book Non-places: introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity, sheds light on the concept of “non-places,” noting that:
“[i]f a place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity will be a non-place” (pgs. 77 – 78).
He suggests, as examples of non-places, airports and railway stations, hotel chains, amusement parks, large malls, air, rail and motorway routes. These are phenomena that are often defined in terms of their purpose – transport, transit, consumption, commerce – rather than any relationship to the history, urban environment or natural landscape of the immediate geographical vicinities they are situated in. One passes through them, for the purpose of doing something – shopping, eating, entertainment – or for the purpose of going somewhere.
During my travels and interviews with friends and family, I realized that Home for many of them was a non-place, for two reasons:
Firstly, as mobile expatriates, they pass through homes as they go from one destination to another. Home is always temporary; a space within which they bide their time; a rented accommodation which they don’t bother to impose their own personality on because what’s the point? They’re due to move again in a year or two. As a friend of mine in Singapore rather evocatively said of his apartment:
F, in Singapore: “Basically, I’m not landed, but I’m not ready to take off. So I’m floating in between two moments. And that is a reflection of what you see in this apartment…”
Secondly, the actual rental apartments themselves are often generic “luxury condominium” units in towers of steel and glass that protrude incongruously in quaint or crumbling precincts. You see these buildings everywhere in the world. They don’t bear any relation whatsoever to the history or the geography of their immediate location or vicinity.
It is difficult to develop any real affection or sense of ownership for such spaces because the sense of alienation and isolation is compounded – not only is one a foreigner, but there is often no organic community around such developments.
On the other hand, living in such non-places affords an instant degree of prestige and social status, marking one out as being part of a freewheeling, decadent, mobile “in-crowd.”
So there’s always a trade-off: Purpose and Prestige versus Identity and Meaning.
Or something like that.
Palm Jumeirah, Dubai – the Ultimate Non-place
Non-place in Greenwich, London
Non-places in Williamsburg, New York
Non-place vs Place, Jingansi Area, Shanghai
Non-place vs Place, HafenCity, Hamburg
Non-place City: Doha