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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Beyond the Spatial Turn: Architectural History at the Intersection of the Social Sciences and Built Form

  • Author(s): Allweil, Yael
  • et al.

In the past three decades, a growing number of scholars in the humanities and social sciences have turned their attention to the spaces of the built environment as a means to understand historical and social processes, thereby dramatically affecting our understanding of the latter. Edward Soja has defined the spatial turn in the humanities and social sciences as “a response to a longstanding ontological and epistemological bias that privileged time over space in all the human sciences, including spatial disciplines like geography and architecture.” Soja thus positions spatiality against temporality, or space against history. In turn, the spatial turn in the humanities and social sciences has led to a “social turn” in disciplines that study the built environment, particularly architectural history.

In this paper, I discuss the ways in which Michel Foucault’s and Henri Lefebvre’s “spatial turn” have enabled both scholars to overcome what they understand as a disciplinary crisis in regards to the subject matters of their studies. While Foucault attempts to resolve a crisis in the study of historical object of events, Lefebvre is concerned with the limits of society as a research object for the study of capitalism.

Positioned at the intersection of the study of built space and history, architectural history has long assumed a privileged position with access to study the objects of the built environment. Yet, if the spatial turn in the humanities and social sciences was resulted from an attempt to resolve a disciplinary crisis concerning subject matters, does it imply that architectural history’s “social turn” also signifies a similar crisis in the study of architectural subject matter? How has the social science nature of contemporary research in the built environment affected the methodologies and the discipline of architectural history?

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