Is the Notion of Measurement What the Urban is About?


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“The space of a (social) order is hidden in the order of space.” – Henri Lefebvre

The visual simplicity of Henri Lefebvre’s statement is deceptive. The mirror-like structure of the sentence distracts the reader from the complexities of the content. All one sees is the reflection of the space of a social order in the order of space. Like a mirror, the structure of the sentence reflects an inverted image; in this case, it reflects the space of a (social) order. Lefebvre places parentheses around social in order to emphasize the mirror-like structure. The object (the space of an order) is radically different from the image (the order of space), for left is inverted to right, but it is seen as identical. This reading of Lefebvre’s statement is inspired by Lefebvre’s own musings in The Production of Space about the power of the mirror to hide:

The mirror is a surface at once pure and impure, almost material yet virtually unreal…Here what is identical is at the same time radically other, radically different – and transparency is equivalent to opacity. (184-5)

That is, the materiality of the social order is absent in the reflection. The order of space as a representation or sign of the space of a social order evacuates the materiality of the social order. That which is represented, that which appears, at once reveals as it conceals. It is no coincidence, then, that the object and the image of Lefebvre’s sentence revolve around what functions as the mirror, the word hidden.

Statistics and measurement do not do the urban justice. They are signs that hide material reality. Marxist urban theorist Andy Merrifield, continuing Lefebvre’s thought, stated the following in a talk at the University of Manchester: “I’m not sure that my vision of urban studies is to think about measurement, to think about quantification, to think about statistical analysis…The notion of measurement isn’t what the urban is about.”

I wonder what Lefebvrebot would say about this from

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