— Elisa Iori (ORCID 0000-0003-2840-4843)

The concept of co-spatiality, coined by the French geographer Jacques Lévy (2013, 2021), defines one specific type of interspatiality or relation between spaces. Co-spatiality draws on the idea that space, as multi-layered reality, can operate according to different metrics (i.e, strategies of distance management). In addition, each spatial layer drawn by actors through real or imagined spatial actions may – or may not – interact ‘vertically’ with other spatial layers while occupying the same physical extension (Lévy 2003, p. 213). Co-spatiality refers to this ‘vertical’ interconnection between two distinct but overlapping spaces occupying a common extent. Nevertheless, having two realities simultaneously situated in the same here is not sufficient to have a co-spatial interaction that, as underlined by the scholar, is not a mechanical and obvious effect of the coextensiveness of two spaces (Lévy 2003, p. 213). In fact, even when there are areas of contacts between spatial realities, people can actually learn to un-see one or more of the others and thus ignore elements of the social world that they think, or they were taught, are not relevant to them – as beautifully fictionalized by China Miévil in the sci-fi novel ‘The City and the City’ or imposed by several segregationist regimes around the world (Lévy 2021). Indeed, the geographical concept of co-spatiality is made tangible by the phenomenon of the “many cities in one city” well studied by the Chicago school, according to which social actors sharing the same physical extent, that is the city-space, are not necessarily inhabiting the same city.

How do two distinct but overlapping spaces come into contact then? According to Lévy, a co-spatial relation between overlapping spaces is only made possible through a third element called “switch”, that is, a place able to link up other two spatial layers. The example usually offered by the French scholar is a railway station that “allows the traveler to go out of the binding railroad network to enter the much more capillary street network of the city” (Lévy 2021), in other words, to switch from one strategy of distance management to another, hence, from one space to another.

UrbRel Application

The concept of co-spatiality through switches can be traced back to pre-modern time as well. An illustrative case are the monumental stepwells of Medieval India. These places, first of all serving urban communities as a main source of water, became charged with religious significance and were used for rituals and offerings. In practices as well as narratives they were shared by several religious and social groups, and especially by women. Other examples of urban cospatiality are offered by pilgrimage sites synchronically used by people from different ethnic, cultural, and sometimes religious backgrounds.

Urban space is characterised by multiple overlapping spaces, created by the imaginations and use of space and complicated by the movement of different actors and groups. Religion offers an interesting lens into this phenomenon, as it is as much a technique to mark out space by ritual usages, ephemeral or lasting sacralisations of space, as it is a cultural technique.

The concept of co-spatiality was the focus of the 2020 UrbRel annual conference which addressed places and spaces that are produced, used and interpreted by different groups, simultaneously or consecutively, for different purposes. The concept invites us to reflect on (i) how overlapping use or interpretation of a same space can be regulated by institutions, individuals and groups to foster or avoid a co-spatial interaction, (ii) the role of temporality in co-spatial interactions, (iii) religious and urban changes fostered by this specific type of entanglement of spaces.

UrbRel Bibliography
Bennison, Amira. 2022. ‘Inclusive and Exclusive Co-spatiality in the Almohad Reconfiguration of Twelfth-Century Marrakesh.’ Religion and Urbanity Online, edited by Susanne Rau and Jörg Rüpke. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter.

Christ, Martin. 2022. ‘Co-Spatiality in the Early Modern European Bedchamber.’ Religion and Urbanity Online, edited by Susanne Rau and Jörg Rüpke. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter.

Lévy, Jacques. 2021. ‘Co-Spatiality: An Introduction.’ Religion and Urbanity Online, edited by Susanne Rau and Jörg Rüpke. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter.

Keller, Sara. 2022. ‘Tangible and Imagined Spatialities around Water: Munsar Lake as a Study Case of South Asian Hydro-space (Viramgam, India, 11th-12th centuries).’ Religion and Urbanity Online, edited by Susanne Rau and Jörg Rüpke. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter.

Urciuoli, Emiliano R. 2021. ‘The Poverty Plateau: The Space of the Urban Street Poor in Early Christian Literature.’ Religion and Urbanity Online, edited by Susanne Rau and Jörg Rüpke. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter.

Wagner, Simone. 2021. ‘Tagungsbericht: Co-spatiality. Changing rules of double use, excluding, inviting, imagining.’ H-Soz-Kult. Berlin.

See also the virtual collected issue on co-spatiality with Religion and Urbanity Online

General References
Lévy, Jacques. 2013. ‘Cospatialité.’ In Dictionnaire de la géographie et de l’espace des sociétés, edited by Jacques Lévy and Michel Lussault. Paris: Belin. 236–237.

This is the flyer of the 2020 annual conference on Co-Spatiality:

Lori, Elisa. 2022. ‘Co-Spatiality’ Urbrel Blog: 05.12.2022.

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