— Sara Keller (ORCID 0000-0002-2506-2887)
In the 1980s, the significant paradigm shift in humanities and social sciences, better known as “spatial turn”, opened up discussions connecting geographical space and socio-cultural variables. From now on, space was not only perceived as a given physical and geographical entity, but it gained recognition as an essential social player: space is “produced” (Rau 2019: 2, see Lefebvre’s “production of space” 1974). The “spatial turn” movement was influential in the connection of geography and social theory, and it gave rise to a number of innovative theoretical frameworks. The “spatial fix” counts as one of them (Rau 2019: 46-7).
The concept of “spatial fix” was coined by economic geographer, and should we say social theoretician, David Harvey in the late 80ies in series of publications, especially Limits to Capital (1982), Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography (2001) and “Globalization and the ‘Spatial Fix’” (2001). The concept can be understood as a general theory of space and geographical development in the context of capitalism. It can be better grasped in tension with Harvey’s thesis of acceleration. In parallel with the idea of motion (acceleration due to the compression of space and time), the concept of “spatial fix” rather looks at inertia as a law of space production.
The “spatial fix” theory explains the process of geographical expansion and development as a solution to the crisis of capital over-accumulation. “Fixing” is primarily meant here as a solution and an answer to a crisis: “[fixing] as in ‘fix a problem’, is to resolve a difficulty, take care of a problem” (Harvey 2001 ‘Globalization’: 24). Harvey intentionally also hints here at the other semantic dimension of the term, namely the attribution of a physical space: “[it] refers to something being pinned down and secured in a particular locus. The idea is that something is secured in space: it cannot be moved or modified” (Harvey 2001 ‘Globalization’: 24). For Harvey, capitalism inevitably leads to breaking points when capital is over-accumulated, and it has an “insatiable drive to resolve its inner crisis tendencies” (Harvey 2001, 24). To absorb surplus capital and labour force, geographical expansion or restructuration is required, which repeatedly leads capitalism to engage with space making and space reshaping.
Harvey’s theory of the “spatial fix” has been widely discussed in the last decades, while some authors have underlined the necessity to replace Harvey’s ideas in the context of historical materialism and Marxist views (Das 2017). While it remains an often-quoted theory in geography and social science, recent works also propose to use it in the field of digital media and virtual expansion studies (Greene and Joseph 2015).
Harvey’s own historical interest invites to explore the applicability of the concept of “spatial fix” in other historical and geographical contexts. The research group “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations” found it particularly useful to explain the entanglement of economical and religious factors, and to understand religion as a significant actor of space production in the urban context via the accumulation of wealth and resources, from Mediterranean antiquity to medieval South Asia (Rau 2019, Urciuoli 2020, and Keller 2022). Investments in religious monumentality can thus be interpreted as a spatial fixing of capital, changing the character of religious practices by firmly tying them to urban or peri-urban space and rendering them more attractive to visitors from inside and outside the city.
Keller, Sara. Accepted. ‘Releasing temple gold. Spatial fix in medieval Saurashtra through water epigraphy.’ In Down by the Water: interdisciplinary studies on human-environment interactions in watery spaces, edited by Veronica Walker, Emilia Mataix, and Elisabeth Holmqvist. BAR Cultural Studies in Maritime and Underwater Archaeology series.
Rau, Susanne. 2019. History, space and place. London: Taylor & Francis Group.
Urciuoli, Emiliano R. 2020. ‘Jumping Among the Temples: Snapshots of an Early Christian Critique of Polytheism’s “Spatial Fix.’ Asdiwal 15: 133-150.
Das, Raju J., ‘David Harvey’s theory of uneven geographical development: A Marxist critique’. Capital & Class 413 (2017): 511–536.
Greene, Daniel Marcus and Daniel Joseph. 2015. ‘The Digital Spatial Fix.’ TripleC 13(2). DOI: 10.31269/triplec.v13i2.659
Harvey, David. 1982. Limits to Capital. Oxford: Blackwell and Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Harvey, David. 2001. ‘Globalization and the ‘Spatial Fix’. Geographische Revue 2: 23-30.
Harvey, David. 2001. Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography. Edinburgh University Press.
Lefebvre, Henri. 1974. La production de l’espace. Paris: Anthropos.
Keller, Sara. 2022. ‘Spatial Fix’ Urbrel Blog: 05.12.2022.