Volume 44, Number 175,
October-December 2013
Power and Space:
Revising the Theory of Regional Topics in Argentina
Ariel García and Alejandro Rofman
( ...continuation )

This section develops the theoretical dimensions from which to propose an approach to notions of power and space. Specifically, this section introduces conceptual contributions in the realms of the political economy, sociology and geography as related to power: a) meanings, b) spatiality and c) geometry.

Analysis of the spatiality of power has largely been the domain of critical/radical geographers and political economists interested in overcoming quantitative neoclassical themes that have disregarded – or underestimated – spatial dimensions in productive processes and/or have considered these dimensions a synonym for a phenomenon defined only by the physical location of people and material resources (see proposals from Isard, Christaller, Lösch, Von Thünen and others, in Casa González, 1968). The spatiality of power has also been developed by authors that were more concerned with social relations (Weber, Foucault, Delueuze, Arendt, Poulantzas, Castoriadis, Holloway, etc.).

Current ideas on the spatiality of power have been fed by nineteenth century anarchist contributions, such as those from Reclús and Kropotkin.3 Starting around at least the mid-1970s, French studies recovered these authors. On the one hand, Claval (1978: 23) investigated power in space. He believes that this dimension has been removed from economic analyses concerning domination and highlights the scarcity of reflections on the nature and expression of power in space. He understands power both as the capacity to act and the ability to make another act. By this definition, power is manifest in asymmetrical relationships. For this author, the difficulty of addressing phenomena related to power is due to its multiplicity of forms: societies produce diverse types of relationships to achieve identical results, which would explain the varied and complex dimensions of spatial organization. In this sense, Claval (1978) uses the Weberian distinction between coercive power – resulting from the use of force – and legitimate power – produced by the delegation of social attributes to the State – to identify the implications of power on space (ibidem: 53) and highlight the relevance of power in maintaining hierarchical structures.

On the other hand, Raffestin (1993: 15-16) explores ambiguous terminology as related to the notion of power, finding that this word tends to start with either a capital or lowercase letter. In the former case, the word assumes and summarizes the classic link between the monopoly on the exercise of violence and the State. However, the author believes that saying that Power, with an uppercase letter, is only related to this idea conceals the meaning of power with a lowercase. According to him, power arises close to and hides behind Power, and the greater it is the larger its presence in all places. Power is only observed in state apparatuses that control the population and dominate resources. By contrast, power is omnipresent, apparent in all relations and concerns a symbolic and/or material process of exchange between two “poles,” defined by a variable combination of energy and information, creating a force field: a field of power.

As a reflection on the concerns of these French perspectives, the critical geography school of thought from the University of Barcelona has set forth its own definition, based on the political economy. One of its principal supporters, Sánchez (1997), understands power as the capacity of appropriation and/or management – calling it a "non-exclusive double facet" – of the surplus by a limited group in the community.

Anglophone schools of thought have also contributed to the spatiality of power. On the one hand, in England, Massey (1994: 64) developed a thesis on the geometry of power. With this definition, the author emphasizes the differing capacities of people and groups to control aspects of their existence (quality of life, mobility and even reasons for their migrations). These situations produce multiple possible spaces, resulting from asymmetrical relationships and temporarily variable geometries of power. On the other hand, in the United States, Soja (1999) presents a new reading of Foucault and a materialist interpretation of space. He understands that it is a social product and is found in both material forms as well as in a set of temporary links between individuals and groups in the extent to which power relations are established in space. Pred (1984: 281) has also analyzed these power relations from the perspective of the structure of space, bringing in contributions from Guiddens on the topic. According to this geographer from the US, the social structure is composed of historically and geographically built power relations in a specific social system. These relations include control of material and symbolic resources. In this same system, power norms and relations both affect and arise from social practices. In the extent to which power relations differ in their geographic extension, structural processes tend to occur on different spatial levels and are influenced by the practices of organizations and/or individuals (Pred, 1984: 282).

In Latin America, Lopes de Souza (1995: 78-79 and 96) has also explored the transitory nature of space. He defends space as a tool of maintenance, conquer and exercise of power. His definition rests on work by Arendt and he understands that far from belonging to the individual, power is the collective force of acting in common agreement and exists when there is a cohesive group. According to him, space consists of an environment that has been defined and delimited by and based on power relations, a result of past and present work. After having established this concept, he becomes concerned with addressing who is dominant or influential in space and how.

The search for recent research on the spatiality of power was unfruitful, both for the terms proposed here as well as the experiences of hegemonic4 and alternative productive models (outside of the Pampas). Usually, pioneering studies focus on local urban environments (Soja, 1999; Massey, 1994 and Lopes de Souza, 1995, etc.) or introduce a “tool” of capitalism into space (for example, Harvey, 2004), although with the exception of the latter, they tend to do without approaches on different levels or underestimate the implications of power in the production of space (Lefebvre, 1974).

Finally, no research was found that included productive models (for example, Rofman and Vázquez Blanco, 2011) while simultaneously addressing the construction of space. Nor were results found for research addressing this construction from the perspective of studying power relations in regional productive activities. It is useful to note that some authors concerned with power even ignore the overlaps with space (see, for example, Galbraith, 1985). We will discuss this below.

3 The circumstances of both authors with respect to the consolidation of capitalism were useful to find social differences in diverse productive processes. Reclús (1986) researches power relations on the local scale, considering the complexity of the administrative organizations that restrict expression and the exercise of civil rights. For Kropotkin (1996), the substance of the story resides in the tension between cooperation and competition. Identifying the individual interests present among collective groups would foster cooperative relations, promoting freedom and inhibiting hierarchies.

4 The term hegemony is used with reference to its Greek etymology eghesthai, which means to direct, be the guide or chief, and the verb eghemoneno, which alludes to guiding, preceding or directing (Grupii, 1978).

Published in Mexico, 2012-2017 © D.R. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).
PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 48, Number 191, October-December 2017 is a quarterly publication by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México, D.F. by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán,
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