Non-places: space in the age of supermodernity



Publication Details

Buchanan, I. 1999, 'Non-places: space in the age of supermodernity', Social Semiotics, vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 393-398.


'I seemed to need a new place' she said. 'Not necessarily an interesting place.Just a strange place. Without associations. A place where I would be very much alone. Like an hotel.' (Raymond Chandlery The Lady in the Lake.)

Here, at once, we are faced with a familiar paradox: a known place that is still a strange place. The paradox is familiar, even if it is only infrequently phrased as such, because it describes one of the most striking features of contemporary life, namely the preponderance of generic spaces like hotels., airports, malls, freeways, fast food outlets, i.e. spaces we feel we know even though we have never been there before, and whether they are cross-town or overseas. Even if one does not travel very often, or own a car, or like deep-fried chicken and hamburgers very much, such places are still unavoidable in the course of daily life because cities today are structured around them. If you do travel, then such spaces seem to be the only kind you see: you travel to the airport along the freeway, or by train, you embark and disembark the plane at the airport, while you are away from home you stay in a hotel, you do your duty free shopping in the hotel mall, and (relieved not to have to experiment with local cuisine) you might even get a quick bite to eat at the local KFC. The question I wish to interrogate here is whether or not this aspect of contemporary life is different enough to signal the advent of a new epoch, and prevalent enough to actually characterise it. Marc Auge (1995), for one, says it is, and he calls it supermodemity.

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