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Places we grow up and live in are more than mere spaces where individuals, groups, and institutions function daily as active agents. In their vast range of material aspects and scales, they are much more than the “containers” and “foregrounds” of our lives. Instead, they influence our ways of thinking, feeling, imagining, and acting, that is, our capacity to give meaning to our relationship with the world. In this sense, both in material and symbolic terms, places inhabit us as much as we inhabit them.
However, Marc Augé’s 1992 book Non-Places: An Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (1995 for English translation) marked a turning point in the examination of the notion of place. In his book, he proposes a critical reading of specific physical places of modernity – for instance, airports, hotel rooms, and highways – that do not meet the anthropological conditions he believed necessary for them to be considered “real places”, that is loci where human life can make sense and thrive. His conceptualization of non-places invites constructive criticism and creative revision. For instance, are “non-places” not just another kind of place, rather than a counterpart or the opposite of place? Are places and non-places mutually exclusive, permanent and separate or, on the contrary, are their limits fluid so that a place can become a non-place and vice versa?
In any case, we invite colleagues to reflect on ancient perceptions of space and place and consider how the concept of non-place can contribute to our understanding of and research on anthropological, political, social and cultural aspects of ancient and early medieval Mediterranean from the Archaic period to the end of Late Antiquity (7th c. BCE – 7th CE), in relation to place and space.
Photo Credit: Passing Through by Lesley Oldaker (2012); 90x90 cm., oil on canvas. Private collection. ©Lesly Oldaker. Courtesy of the artist.
As a matter of fact, the concept of “non-place” remains operative in approaching the shifting or marginal character of certain spaces and specific zones because of their peripheral location or their untypical nature, function, or material arrangement. The introduction of the concept of non-place in Antiquity and beyond requires questioning the criteria and perspectives according to which physical spaces or territories, with the symbolic meaning they convey, can be qualified as non-places. Although the conceptualization and categorization of non-places can be ambiguous if perceived with the criteria of functionality, territorial and aesthetic centrality, and positivity, they nonetheless represent critical spaces with regard to this centrality and its grounding processes and institutions. In this sense, they can serve as alternative spaces to perceive, understand, and reconfigure “places” in their physical and symbolical dimensions, as well as in their interactions.
A zone with fervently debated geographical boundaries and fragmented in geopolitical terms, the Caribbean is often presented as a sort of non-place or, perhaps, an out-of-place in contexts of hegemonic discourse. Historically and culturally, Caribbean countries and territories appear mostly disconnected from one another, as some kind of peripheral appendages of former or current colonial powers. Combined with fragmentary islandic geography and limited autonomy for most of its components, this geopolitical marginality may explain, at least in part, why classical and Mediterranean studies are relatively underrepresented in the area as if conditions in the Caribbean were not favourable for knowledge to flourish in the same way as in purportedly steady political, economic, and cultural environments in “mother countries”. Reflecting on non-places from a Caribbean ubication, thus, constitutes much more than merely an academic exercise. Instead, it is a question of investigating what an approach to an ancient perception of space from an allegedly marginal geopolitical area can reveal about non-places, and about the cultural and geopolitical strategies tacitly at work in the subject, concept, and methods of the study of Classical Civilization and its Mediterranean context, from the great civilizations of the Levant in the first millennium BCE to Classical Islam and the early medieval/Byzantine period (7th c. BCE – 7th c. CE).
Did the ancients consider non-places – and how? The question invites a fresh approach to Greek and Roman definitions of place and the representation of different living spaces: houses; the agora/forum with all its functions; temples; shops; theatres and amphitheaters; places that accommodated political processes, e.g., an assembly meeting; the gymnasium; the harbour; the city itself; fields and rural areas; other cities; the cosmos; as well as more specific places, like a particular person’s house or specific rooms within a house. Judging from the importance ascribed to the concept of limit in Antiquity (peras in Greece, limes, terminus, and finis in the Roman world) and some of their physical manifestations like the boundary stones (horoi), we need to examine if liminal areas with blurred boundaries and humdrum functions are close to non-places, as well as frontier zones or common, panhellenic zones, extraterritorial, or intermediate zones. For instance, is the area between Kolonos and Athens in Sophocles’ play Oidipous at Kolonos a non-place – and how does the response alter our understanding of the play and perceptions of space in Antiquity? In the same vein, Cynics questioned the legitimacy of central civic places, like the theatre and the agora: did their strong criticism turn these places into non-places, at least for the perception of a group of people? What about the status of the “cities in speech” Plato - and Aristophanes? - proposes: are these controversial “utopias” to be understood as non-places, or are they instead constructs aimed at better understanding and reforming actual places? The extra-muros wilderness and the sea may also be seen as non-places, counterparts to the city as a place of institutions aimed at educating men and turning them into citizens. But, rather, could wild zones and the sea be understood as “places”?
In Rome, some spaces, peoples, and institutions related to extraterritorial, transitional, or hazy “places”. If, in its early, polis-like stages, rituals (mundus), trade (portus), and Law (ius gentium) provide many examples of such blurred spaces, the universal and eternal empire was theoretically sine fines, but practically confined within de facto frontier zones and borderlands where contact, transit, and trade abounded. In Late Antiquity, continuities, changes, and migrations formed new kinds of “places” and imbued new meanings and uses to previous ones. Advancing otherworldliness with the advent of Christianity and Neoplatonism was only one way to transform places, especially those considered “in-between”, such as thresholds, entrances, and enclosures (like the earlier mundus and Janus) and/or non-places. Basilicas, porticoes, mosques, city streets and walls, necropoleis of all faiths and their new location within the urban grid, and military buildings, were only a few of the marks of new arrangements in urban planning that call to question the difference between places and non-places. Beyond the city, investigations on monasteries, hermit coves and stelai, remote farms, forests, and deserts invite a novel appreciation of the conceptual terms our models apply.
This Call for Papers welcomes contributions on the topic of non-places in Antiquity and the early medieval period from the 7th century BCE to the 7th century CE. We invite scholars to contemplate whether the concept of non-place is relevant – and how – to ancient and early medieval Mediterranean. More precisely, we invite scholars to focus on possible specific non-places and examine their status and function. How are they “physically grounded”, i.e., relating to real and material-specific ancient places? How can they inform our understanding of “place”, i.e., how precisely boundaries, margins or non-places can help us understand and define places? If non-places relate to commonly acknowledged “places”, could it be that non-places become critical to places in that they reveal their normative and symbolic function? Contributions from any discipline that studies the ancient and early medieval Mediterranean world, broadly defined in time and theme (history, philosophy, anthropology, art history, philology, archaeology, social studies, political science, etc.) are welcome. We also welcome contributions that consider the longue durée or attempt a comparative approach, if they think “non-place” pertains to perceptions of their region, to examine possible parallels between their non-place(s) and Ancient ones.
We invite scholars to submit an extended abstract (800 to 1,200 words) by November 20, 2022, in Spanish, French, or English). The publisher offers free language-editing services for non-Anglophone colleagues looking to author their essays in English. We expect the final submission of about 7,000-9,000 words (including footnotes but excluding bibliography) papers by May 21, 2023. Final papers should contain two abstracts (200-250 words) in the language of the paper and English and a list of up to six (6) keywords in both languages.
The editors and publishers look forward to receiving proposals at email@example.com by November 20th, 2022.
Professor of Philosophy | Department of Philosophy, University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras | firstname.lastname@example.org
Professor of History and Humanities | Department of History, University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras | email@example.com
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