It seems that large numbers of youths raided shops for branded sportswear (Adidas, Nike) and electrical goods in the disturbances of 7-9 August in England (Reuters, Telegraph). If any of them missed the lesson that crime really doesn’t pay, the kids at least discovered that certain crimes don’t scale up.
Antisocial behaviour and gang riots on the scale presented, abetted in no small part by rapid communications networks, with the less expert joining in, and under the gaze of CCTV and global media (WP Blogs), increases the chances of individuals being identified, and provides tangible targets for the ire of others in the community and the force of law.
There are also lessons from the riots about scale, space and global brands.
That the high street can be turned into a no-go zone by looting and arson provides a simple example of the operations of what anthropologist Marc Augé terms “non-place.”
For Augé, “The possibility of non-place is never absent from any place,” as if we are always on the precipice of anarchy.
Non-place has emerged as an obvious category to account for environments that are unhomely, alienating, graffitied, derelict, blighted, menacing and generally trashed.
But for Augé non-places are mainly those anonymous spaces on which global capital sustains itself, the kinds of branded spaces that you find everywhere to be the same: airport lounges, shopping malls, fast food outlets, and sites that aggregate global brands, such as most high streets now.
Non-places are also those overly-regulated, policed, and menacingly forbidding, state-controlled spaces. Think of passport and security control zones at airports, public spaces under CCTV surveillance and a street lined by police in riot gear or with water cannons.
So the theatres in which the riots took place are non-places, spaces in which violence brings about a transformation from one category of non-place to another: the overly capitalised to the anarchic, free markets to the heavily state controlled, sites of global brands to tribal turf.
It seems that non-places also endure occupation from brand victims: slaves to global gangster chic. (See Guardian article by Rupert Neate et al.) The aspirational styles and cultures of the street, hip hop, rap, parkour, breakdancing, skateboarding, MTV, ghetto grammar: whatever their origins, and however diverse the customs, are subject to processes of global branding.
According to a reading derived from Augé the common feature of all such non-places is the way they deal with signage (brands, logos, penalty notices, warnings, graffiti). According to Augé non-places are conspicuously weighed down by signage, designed as if to accuse us: this is our brand, don’t park here, have your passport ready, this is a quiet zone, this is our patch.
Non-places are those spaces over which the charge of trespass and violation hangs heavy through visible and invisible reproach and censure from whatever quarter. Brands, logos and tags exclude or admit people according to the rules of the tribe.
“Non-place” is a translation of the French term “non-lieu,” which is also a term in law: “not proven.” “Not proven” has long been an option in Scots law unavailable in the rest of the United Kingdom. In Scotland a judge may pronounce you innocent of a charge, but if the evidence is insufficient for the charge to stick may resort to the third category of “not proven.” Though the effect may be the same as a pronouncement of innocence, technically the case can be re-opened by other means.
Non-place carries this sense of uncertainty. We are here under sufferance, and avoid any charge simply by dint of a technicality. Like those hapless youths arrested, charged and convicted for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, we are in non-places on someone else’s terms, and ready to be apprehended.
In these respects non-place is the norm, and not altogether aberrant. It manifests itself in many different ways and sometimes through violent transition. We should be more surprised at anyone’s claim that uncontested places are in some sense usual.
There’s lots of interesting literature on branding, its appropriation, subversion and its complicity in the formation of communities and cities — not least the provocatively titled book by Naomi Klein, No Logo.
- Ahonen, Tomi, and Alan Moore. 2005. Communities Dominate Brands: Business and Marketing Challenges for the 21st Century. London: Futuretext.
- Augé, Marc. 1995. Non-places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. Trans. J. Howe. London: Verso.
- Brauer (ed), Gernot. 2002. Architecture as Brand Communication. Basel: Birkhäuser.
- Chmielewska, Ella. 2005. Logos or the resonance of branding: A close reading of the iconosphere of Warsaw. Space and Culture, (8) 4, 349-380.
- Coyne, Richard. 2006. Space without ground. In M. Bain (ed.), Architecture in Scotland: 94-99. Glasgow: The Lighthouse Trust.
- Coyne, Richard, James Stewart, Mark Wright, Henrik Ekeus, Robin Williams, and Penny Travlou. 2010. Branded meeting places: Ubiquitous technologies and the design of places for meaningful human encounter. In T. Inns (ed.), Design for the 21st Century: Interdisciplinary Methods and Findings: 146-159. London: Gower Ashgate.
- Coyne, Richard, Mark Wright, James Stewart, and Henrik Ekeus. 2009. Virtual flagships and sociable media. In A. Kent, and R. Brown (eds.), Flagship Marketing: Concepts and Places: 46-62. London: Routledge.
- Holt, Douglas B. 2002. Why do brands cause trouble? A dialectical theory of consumer culture and branding. Journal of Consumer Research, (29)70-90.
- Klein, Naomi. 2005. No Logo. London: Harper Perennial.
- Kozinets, Robert V., John F. Sherry Jr, Bena Deberry-Spence, Adam Duhachek, Krittinee Nuttavuthisit, and Diana Storm. 2002. Themed flagship brand stores in the new millennium: Theory, practice, prospects. Journal of Retailing, (78) 1, 17-29.
- Lury, Celia. 2004. Brands: The Logos of the Global Economy. London: Routledge.
- Moore, R.E. 2003. From genericide to viral marketing: on ‘brand’. Language and Communication, (23) 3, 331-357.
- Muniz Jr, Albert M., and Thomas C. O’Guinn. 2001. Brand Community. Journal of Consumer Research, (27) March, 412-432.
- Sherry Jr, John F. 1987. Cereal monogamy: brand loyalty as secular ritual in consumer culture. 17th Annual Conference of the Association for Consumer Research, Toronto, Canada.
Final report for our project Orienting the Future: Design Strategies for Non-Place (completed 2006). Project description and final report for our Branded Meeting Places Project (completed 2009).
From the term non-place, non-people can also be derived. Non-people are those who addcited to having plastic surgery to become more beautiful and gain more confidence. Especially in Korea, the cosmetic surgery had become a national fever. The problem is that all the Korea girls’ face are like been cut from the same mold. So there is a funny picture shows the contest of Miss Korea and the commentary says the judges are the poorest guy because all the girls look the same. I must admit they pretty, however, just as the non-place, when you find everywhere to be the same, it becomes annoymous. Nevertheless, the trendy of cosmetic surgery in Korea is irresistible. It helps those who dissatisfied with their appearances get rid of the ugly duckling tribe and admit them into the beautiful world of the swan.
If you aks Confucius about his opinion on non-place or non-people, he would say: “The way above all the other ways that human souls follow is happiness, which is to follow the nature od human beings. The measure of life is not ‘how long’ but ‘how good'”. So I’m not surprised at the both attitude, positive or negative,as long as they found it would make them feel happy
“Non-people” is an interesting category, though I have trouble thinking of anyone who would belong to it, except perhaps fictional characters, puppets, dolls, robots or avatars. Then there will be those who have trouble with identity, and those who wish to strip certain individuals of their identity, but that is perhaps another issue.
In Marc Auge’s book entitled Non-Places: an Introduction to Supermodernity he states that a non-place is a space which cannot be defined as relational or historical or concerned with identity. They are spaces of transport and transit and lack any historical significance or strong symbolism. Whereas places are the complete opposite; he states that they are defined by their history and identity they are also encrusted with memories and creative social life.
As our world becomes more and more globalised with time, it seems that such environments (non-places) will grow and become more widespread. This has become apparent with the growing number of shopping malls and high streets containing shops retailing “in demand” products as well as brands across the whole world (it has become the norm to walk down any busy street and be bombarded by advertisements informing us what brands to buy,or what we should aspire to be).
Or even (perhaps to a lesser extent) the increasing number of airline companies offering cheaper travel in order to compete with one another, allowing more people to afford travel, which corresponds to greater use of airports.
From an extreme point of view such events could lead to a world full of non-place; however this seems to be a highly unlikely and exaggerated outcome. In the paper entitled Non-Place and the End of Travel, writer Frank Bures concludes that we live in a world that is always changing, identities may disappear only to be replaced by others. The non-places of today are the places of tomorrow and that passing through these non-places is necessary to discover the places that lie ahead. I agree with Bures that it is necessary to travel through and experience these (perhaps undesired) spaces. I believe that this is a positive and optimistic outlook regarding non-places, although they may represent territories that are potentially unsafe, uncomfortable etc; trying to avoid or dismiss their existence is almost impossible.
I could be wrong but in my mind non-places will anyways exist as Auge stated that place and non-place are rather like opposed polarities: the first is never completely erased, the second never totally completed. Such balance is necessary in many aspects of life where one force serves to counter act the other. But anyway this is only my opinion and others are free to disagree with it.
Btw the link to Frank Bures’ paper is http://www.worldhum.com/features/travel-books/non-places-and-the-end-of-travel.-20090211/
Fallen City Newsgame
Thought this was interesting, some idea, even if unlikely, of what the underlying problem might be
(unmet expectations) and an approach to doing something positive about it.
Sounds like where the action is.
This is the first time I have come across the term “non-place.” Immediately it makes me think, well, where are the actually “places?” This description seems to cover a lot of “public places” as well. Besides when we are not at home, we most likely spend a lot of time in these non-places. Would work be a non-place? I could definitely see some work environments being “unhomely and alienating.”
All kidding aside these non-places do seem to be where a lot of the action is. Politicians campaigning for office, protesters, fairs, festivals, Christmas markets, riots, where we do our shopping and where we go when we want to leave the country. Surely there are the more “trashed” areas where there is a heightened sense of danger as well. But that is what makes life interesting, right? However, these non-places are probably in the end where we have the majority of our human interactions other than with our families.
The common place may be an easy target for critique – especially by people like ourselves that are studying design and striding to find the new, undiscovered or crooked ankles of everything from society to music and sound t define it as art. But for some people these non-places also means a form of safety and security. How often have we not seen tourists traveling in foreign country or city breath out in relief when they see a street with familiar shops or hunt up the nearest shopping mall to have some ‘proper food’ that they can understand.
The same goes for the airports and many other places where we are required to give up a bit of our freedom for a little while in the name of security. At one side it is against our nature and normative idea of being a free human being, but at the same time the high control and restriction of freedom does also make us feel safer.
Non-places is what we will get sometimes when demanding rules the society can be run by. But even though these rules might sometimes lead to situations and physical rooms that might provoke us as free human beings, I think there are only few of us there would rather ask to live in a world without them.