The Growing Absence of Space in Political Theory


The Growing Absence of Space in Political Theory

Place gives an identity to a community and serves as an organizational tool for civic engagement to take place. In chapter 2 of his book, City of Rhetoric, David Fleming argues  how in an evolving world, place isn’t accounted for in political theory. He talks about the citizen’s role in a democratic society and the drawbacks and benefits to the dominant forms of political theory in republicanism and liberalism when it comes to space. In Fleming’s view, “the placelessness of contemporary thinking has blinded us to the fragmentation, degradation, and polarization of the spaces around us, both natural and built ( 33).”  According to him, the absence of space needs to be payed attention to in contemporary thinking and because of the lack regard for space there is more division in a society that is touted as interconnected. Although people have become more mobile and less situated in a particular area, Fleming argues the importance of space and how it is being degraded

A satellite view of NYC

With the onset of globalization and new technologies that has increased the mobility of people, contemporary political thought has not accommodated for this rapid change. Therefore, there is a void for how place is thought of in polities and fittingly as the chapter’s title states there is a “Placelessness of Political Theory.” By examining space in the world today, Fleming looks at two theories of political thought and how they see space, Republicanism and Liberalism. According to a Republican, being a citizen is synonymous with being civically engaged in a community and politics is not just delegated to others but is very much apart of everyday life. By contrast, liberal’s see a society that guarantees and privileges individual rights as the key component to a society. From a liberal’s point of view, a citizen has the right to not participate in politics and be guaranteed the same rights as those who are more civically engaged. Although both ideologies claim to be democratic and promote self governance, Republicans in practice want a community that is more human scaled and as Fleming argues, “a geographical conception of political life ( 27).” For an ideal republic, Republicans envision a space where citizens know each other and engage in interpersonal dialogues. In a society with liberalism as a foundation, citizens are left alone and are mainly concerned with fairness. Liberals want freedom from the state and state must be protecting individual rights at all costs. Fleming argues thus that “liberalism is ageographical ( 27).”  When examining both theories and how they relate to history, liberalism’s more temporal focus to society has been more dominant and as time has passed space has become more irrelevant in people’s lives. Therefore, the preference for liberal thought has made polities less situated and less defined to space. Although there has been a preference in political discourse to obscure the role of space, Fleming believes that their has been a reconfiguration of the social context of space in the postmodern public and that space is becoming ever more important.

A planned ancient Roman polity


Fleming believes that neither Republicanism or Liberalism can fit the postmodern public because as he states “for all of their differences they both posited unitary, hierarchical, and stable publics, while postmodernism has been all about pluralism, decentralization, and instability (28).” Because the world is at the same time more interconnected and fractured in his view, there needs to be a “crafting of an alternative political ecology (30).” Fleming sees the intensification of spatial division when it comes to the cultural, economic, and social aspects of everyday life. He sees the division as, “a landscape in which residential areas are separate from commercial ones, single-family from multifamily housing, rental from for-sale properties, and people of one social group from those of all others (33).” In order to counteract the division, He wants to see spaces where pluralism of all kinds exist and where mobility is very much present but at the same time everyone feels that they are included and have an equal voice. He lists the three main characteristics of the space that is envisioned; a space that is grounded, unitary, and official. When it comes to the characteristics of the space it has to reflect who the people are terms of their interests and shared values. A space that can solve the dilemma of giving people the sense that they belong but at the same time where differences are not only spoken about but practically resolved. A space that exhibits the qualities of diversity and openness but at the same time is an arena for issues to not just be aired but resolved. In the following chapter, Fleming analyzes a multitude of spaces and see’s whether the characteristics of the certain spaces can fit into the mold of the “ideal space” that he envisions in the postmodern public.

Works Cited

Fleming, David. City of Rhetoric: Revitalizing the Public Sphere in Metropolitan America. Albany: SUNY, 2008. Print.


NYC Satellite View

Ancient Roman Town

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