Marc Augé: Supermodernity and Non-Places

Marc Augé’s book Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity addresses many aspects of this movement, focusing primarily on its relation to non-places. Throughout the chapter, Augé defines and expands on many terms. Modernity, as defined by Jean Starobinski, is “the presence of the past in a present that supersedes it, but still lays claim to it”. In the modern, both history and the contemporary coexist, though history is often pushed into the background, a baseline upon which new history is layered. Supermodernity is a movement which creates non-places. It is rooted in excess: an excess of events in time, an overabundance of space, and the individualisation of references. Supermodernity is separate from history and not as broad as modernity. It is the acceleration of history. If, as according to Augé, a place can be defined as a space that is rational, historical, and concerned with identity, then a non-place is a space which cannot be defined by any of these anthropological terms. It is a space of solitude, anonymity, and consumption in which nothing other than use, function, and personal reflection is applicable. These places are meant to be temporary,, not meant to be built upon, created, or have great meaning. Existing in these spaces temporarily distances one from the worries of an environment and provides a sense of liberation, of empty-mindedness. Though somewhat definable, non-places are entirely subjective.

There are many examples of non-places provided in the text: train stations, highways, green spaces, supermarkets, etc. One area in which the cultural shift towards supermodernity is visible is in the non-place of roads, a space designated for solitary transit. Roads can be distinguished from streets, a place in which people gather to talk, eat, shop, and walk. The examination of the evolution of streets to roads reveals a shift to a more individualistic, supermodern society, especially in North America. In Europe, the central part of most cities is characterised by a network of pedestrian-oriented streets. These streets provide a meeting point for the community, a rare phenomenon in North America. Though mediums of transportation have changed since the time in which these old cities were developed, the western shift towards an individualistic society resulting in a car-centric transportation system plays an important role in, as Augé describes, the acceleration of history, and thus the lack of streets. LA is renowned to be one of the most car-centric cities in the US; it is very difficult to travel by foot or using public transportation, rendering it difficult to engage in a community as more than a spectator. It is a city filled with non-places, a supermodern city. It is important to consider the effect of non-places on community, and decide whether or not an ethnology of solitude is the best next step in human history.

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