Collective Space (collective agency)

by Jesper Magnusson

Barcelona_Boule (13) Covent kafé 1 Demonstration_2 File0031 Schack Montpellier Venedig_3

”A better definition in relation to spatial agency is that the agent is one who effects change through the empowerment of others, allowing them to engage in their spatial environments in ways previously unknown or unavailable to them, opening up new freedoms and potentials as a result of reconfigured social space.” (Awan, Schneider and Till 2011, p.32)

I try the idea that urban public space can be comprehended as a conglomerate of different, and sometimes overlapping, collective spaces. To be part of a collective you need to have social bonds to a member of the collective or an understanding of the rules of behaviour, or you have to be able to perform the same activity as the collective. Collectives can be strong or weak. Examples of strong collective spaces can be: skaters in a skate-park, football players in a field, pensioners playing boules in a park etc. Examples of weak collective spaces: hip youngsters in a town square, parents and children in a playground, shoppers in a market place, sunbathers on a bench, etc.

Individuals can appropriate space, even though it is hard for most people without particular or exceptional resources, but it is easier and far more common that we form collectives together with others to demarcate a space. Collaboration can empower individuals agency to act (“otherwise”), to make a difference and take social responsibility.

Maybe my perception of collective space resembles Deleuze´s and Guattari´s concept “agencements – social and spatial assemblages” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987)? An urban collective is an agencement constituted of people, space and behavioural rules. Usually collectives are associated with activities that produce certain behaviours and exchange. At length collectives execute territorial production and spatial appropriation. Normally the collective need material devices and specific spatial conditions to emerge and to form a stable agencement. To survive, most collectives must continuously be maintained by acting people. Stable collectives have collective agency, agency that effect individuals and other collectives in different ways.

Most social public life starts however in exchange between individuals and we need to know what mediate these exchanges between individuals and triggers individual agency. The agencies needed for exchange is distributed between humans and non-material actants.

The relations between the individual and the collective can be further elaborated with some help from Foucault´s concept biopolitics (or biopower) (Wallenstein 2012). In his “The History of Sexuality” (1976) Foucault writes about the production of individuality and how the family form an intermediary link between the individual and the (statistical) population. I would like to add my notion of the collective as another level between the individual and the population. This can, and will, be further elaborated in terms of agency and power relations.


Spatial ASeminar 1gency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture, edited by Nishat Awan, Tatjana Schneider, Jeremy Till, London: Routledge, 2011. (Excerpt).

Doina Petrescu, ‘Relationscapes: Mapping Agencies of relational practice in Architecture’, in City, Culture, Society, 3, 2012, pp. 135-140

Sven-Olov Wallenstein, ‘Noopolitics, Life and Architecture’ in Deborah Hauptman and Warren Neidlich, eds, Cognitive Architecture. From Biopolitics to Noopolitics. Architecture & Mind in the Age of Communication and Information, Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2010