Michel Foucault (1) in 1967 wrote an unpublished article entitled “Des Espace Autres” (2) whereby he introduced the concept of heterotopias. In this reflection I want to make that obscure article plainly accessible and relate its relevance to a space in the Mozambican town of Manica, a space called Futeco Park (3) (hereafter Futeco). Both Foucault and I, for different reasons focus on multiplicity, a desanctification of homogenous spaces, both geographic and philosophical. Foucault holds that we live in a ‘epoch of space’ which is an “…epoch of simultaneity: we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of near and far, of the side by side, of the dispersed.” Time has changed space, partly due to air travel and internet and partly due to demystification of thought. I will now relate Foucault’s ideas of heterotopias, then apply that to Futeco and lastly explore learning (as opposed to teachings) for the world of so called ‘development’.
A preliminary reading of Foucault might be intimidating or frustrating for a popular audience and it is important to take his vague sentences and ensure that our commentary illuminates its idea in simple language and not to enthral his notions in further obscurity by employing pretentious linguistic metaphor. At the heart of Foucault’s argument lies the notion that relations are a more valid term of reference than the construction and dichotomised allocation of actual space. If this sounds confusing it is a result of my inability to articulate: simply put, the idea of space or place is very important but what makes it important is how it affects and is affected by our relationships, with each other, with things, with history and with ourselves. Society through its relational frameworks give meaning to space, and that obviously changes over time as society and culture itself changes. “We do not live in a homogenous and empty space” is how Foucault would express this. Furthermore, he states that “The space in which we live, which draws us out of ourselves, in which the erosion of our lives, our time and our history occurs, the space that claws and gnaws at us, is also, in itself, a heterogeneous space.” In this simple explanation lies the crux of his concept of heterotopias, a big ‘koeksister’ of a word for a simple idea.
By illustrating how Futeco is a heterotopia, the very concept of a heterotopia will become clear. Futeco is significant for a few reasons. It is not a mere public space, it is a heterotopia, a form of realised utopia (a dream) that influences other spaces through the tension of its existence in a contradictory stance towards normative architectural and ideological expressions. Heterotopias are “counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted.” Besides this explanation, Foucault uses the image of a mirror to explain the function of a heterotopia, a real reflection of reality that affects reality. These mirrors or heterotopias, find expression in all cultures.
Foucault mentions a few principles of heterotopias, and I will highlight these as they apply to Futeco. Traditionally, heterotopias involved forms of psychological crisis or trauma and included, from the place of ‘deflowering’ on honeymoon, to boarding schools, prisons and retirement homes. All these places were reflections of reality to accommodate people who had difficulty in normal society. In Manica, Futeco addresses a crisis of poverty, broken-families, recreational infrastructure, economic empowerment, cross-cultural interaction and lack of education; all of which are legacies of colonialism and civil war. Secondly, as is already apparent from the above example, a heterotopia can have multiple functions that can change over time. What starts as a space to play sport can grow into a learning space and eventually become an environmental conservation project that incorporates social enterprise! Thirdly, the heterotopia is a reflection of many things, it has “superimposed meanings” and represents diverse institutions at the same time, just like a cinema or a garden. Futeco, with its football fields, become the local theatre for young gladiators to express themselves regardless of surrounding poverty. Futeco also contrasts the sterility of the typical classroom at public schools with an open space where learning can take place. Another characteristic is that heterotopias represents unique periods or moments in time, which Foucault call heterochronies (different times). A simple example is a museum or library that tries to capture the past in a present location. Futeco is juxtaposed by the main clubhouse of GDM, whereas the clubhouse has a historical link and remembrance, Futeco is aimed at a future expression, the two sites being three kilometres apart and the old in the town centre, but the new on the outskirts, drawing the town and the people out to grow and explore. A Fifth principle of heterotopias is the idea of passage, of opening and closing. Unlike a normal public space, like the park in the town centre, Futeco is accessible through certain rites and conditions: belonging to a football team, coming to play or learn, coming in to do volunteer work, being an adepto of GDM. The space is public and private at the same time. Lastly, heterotopias comments on other real spaces. This happens through a illusionary or symbolic commentary on other real spaces and Futeco does that and to a degree is an ideal or utopian vision, but heterotopias can also be alternative real spaces, that meets needs that our current spaces do not address sufficiently and again Futeco serves this purpose. Futeco thus meets all six principles that Foucault lays out as characteristic of heterotopias.
Next to Futeco Park is a cemetery. Easily observable in the irony of its massive trees and overgrown bush. Futeco Park has as one of its objectives the protection of nature and the conservation of natural habitat. Ironically, in the town of Manica, it is the living spaces of living people that kills nature and flora, whilst the cemetery is the only sight where trees are not cut, and the cemetery becomes a gigantic green bouquet of the dead, celebrating life. Cemeteries are one of Foucault’s main examples of heterotopias and he explains how in Western society the cemetery used to be at the heart of the town, but today it has been moved to the outskirts to form an alternative town, of the dead. The cemetery that is now next to Futeco, use to be on the outskirts, but with Futeco moving to the outskirts, life is encroaching upon death! Bringing youthful liveliness into reflective contact with those that learnt and played before us. An aerial picture shows three layers of vegetation: the disturbed areas of normal Manica life, the somewhat conserved area of Futeco (after year 4) and the rich forest of the cemetery in the near background. Futeco inherited, unintentionally, a significant and profound neighbour and the actual presence of the cemetery might be worth more that many pages of life-skills curriculum.
In post-graduate studies you will come across a few words that basically mean the same thing: dichotomy, binary or dualism, all of which refers to mans cheap tendency to understand things and sound clever through simplistic comparison. The lazy mind loves these dichotomies. Heaven and hell, teacher and student, city and nature, hunter and hunted, poor and rich, stupid and smart, Europe and Africa, black and white, male and female, and so it goes on. So, if you want to save yourself five years at university, simply learn that the truth is grey, that all things are interrelated and not isolated opposites. Search for relationships between things and don’t divide them. Development has consistently proven itself incapable of this transition, and due to the World Bank, USAid and the like insistence to ‘snap out of it’ we now sit with a field called ‘post development’. I understand that it is difficult to open your mind if you risk losing money, control and power. Most educated westerners are simply too scared to venture down a path of development that would firstly, require them to be developed and to unlearn all the quasi wisdom of technocrats. Development practitioners love boxes. A picture of before, a budget to fix that, a picture of the after, to prove that the money was not wasted- this is their heaven. Foucault’s concept of heterotopias illustrates the multiplicity of spaces and the contradictory nature of norms. Life loves to flow over the lines and out of the boxes, life is not only beautifully messy, but the unpredictability and contradictions is what makes life lively.
I could write Futeco and its people into a logframe, but it would be an injustice. I could brand the attempt to merge Futebol and Ecologia (Futeco) like Fifa does through Brazil 2014’s Fuleco, but it would plasticify something that has life in its veins. I could turn the multiplicity of Futeco into a list of objectives, but it will industrialise and rigidify something that is organic. I could organogram the shit out of the Human Resources involved, but it would insult what is currently family. I could build a model and blueprint out of the novel success of Futeco, but it would deny recipient communities a journey. I will not make a case for post development here, I believe the respective scholars does that sufficiently and better than I could, but I wonder why Esteva and Illich are not more prominent around the boardroom tables that discuss the lives of the so called poor. I know that deeper understanding and an appreciation of grey areas and interconnectedness across arbitrary lines does not fit in well with engineering style project management, and until those who give the money start to see the poor as their friends and family, the system will not change, because the money demands a certain style of management. The fact that that management style undermines true development is inconsequential because for these pawns that draw salaries in organisations funded by illiterate cash, money talks and bullshit walks. One can become a specialist to undermine your gut and supress your emotions, especially when a salary and all it buys depends on that. No one acts against their true beliefs, they just make sure their true beliefs do not venture down an inconvenient truth. How I wish there were more brilliant and critical minds like Foucault at work in the development world today. How I wish the experts had the same hunger and structures to learn and grow as those they try to implement for the poor.
Foucault was attracted with the idea and image of a boat, a house that can be home and simultaneously explore the globe, a place that is safe and dangerous, a place of belonging and imagination. To a degree, Futeco is a metaphorical boat for Manicans and their visitors to climb upon and discover back into history some harmony with nature, to travel to current expressions of health and enjoyment, to learn from journeys forward through dreams of a better life.
(1) Pronounced miʃɛl fuko
(2) http://foucault.info/documents/heteroTopia/foucault.heteroTopia.en.html accessed 28 April 2013
(3) A project or expression of Grupo Desportivo de Manica (GDM), who is a community club that tries to do
development through sport. The site was established and name chosen in 2009.