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Checkpoints Lab

Checkpoints Lab

Work, Musings, Writings and Projects from FLEFF's Checkpoints Lab 2011

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Posted by Nicholas Knouf at 2:49PM   |  4 comments

This week's best summary is from Bri Padilla.

Bri Padilla:

According to Miriam Webster, there are ten potentially definitions for the noun "space." Interestingly enough, in addition to being a "three-dimensional expanse where matter exists," space is also defined as "freedom to assert identity."

The connection of space with identity is an intriguing one and one that was pointed out particularly well in Trevor Paglen's article, "Experimental Geography: From Cultural Production to the Production of Space." The article takes the field of geography, which itself encompasses an ambiguous position in the world of academia, and presents it as more than a tool for recording what already exists; instead he proposes that we consider geography—and its vagaries—as the means by which we've already created the realities we're recording.

By explaining the creation of space in this way Paglen attempts to exemplify how, through our understandings of the spaces we inhabit, we are producers of not only our own material surroundings but also of our own identities.

The connection between identity and geography—and the ramifications of separation from those spaces—was highlighted in Faith Warner's study on Social Suport and Distress among Q'eqchi' Refugees Women in Maya, Tecun, Mexico. Warner's study focused on the social and natal kin networks of support lost by Guatemalan Mayan refugee women. In it, she explains how the identities of these indigenous peoples were built around their proximity to family and their access to the support of "natal kin." Once this was removed, women in particular experienced increased levels of distress and vulnerability. Taking into consideration what Paglen asserts about the creation of spaces and Warner's study, I believe that a core element to their distress is the displacement of their identity through the loss of their support systems. In these tribes, daughters no longer had mothers to teach them, comfort them or support them. As a result, daughters were left not knowing—or insecure in their abilities—how to be a mother. The entire structure of their society, which was incredibly geographically focused, had shifted and now they felt unequipped.

I believe this this cycle of identity loss reinforces the need for Paglen's call to action: that we move beyond critical reflections, critique alone and experiment with new spaces, new ways of being.


"Through our understandings of the spaces we inhabit, we are producers of not only our own material surroundings but also of our own identities." This quote struck me as particularly interesting because of the claim that we are producers of our own identities through the use of space. I consider myself a pretty literal thinker - I don't always understand esoteric, hypothetical, or figurative ways of thinking. I like the concrete, the definite, the facts. But this idea of space as a transforming, identity-defining entity intrigues me. I think where you come from, where you spent the formative years of your life are invaluably important to the formation of your soul. The example you cited about changing tribal roles is fascinating. The idea of space as being part of one's identity calls to mind the argument of nature vs. nurture. Which do you think has more effect on a person's identity? In the case of space, I believe it'd be nature.

In response to how space effects our identity, would it not be nurture? The idea is that our external experience (instead of the idea that we have an innate, unalterable identity within us) is flexible to our experiences, one variable of which would be the space we exist in and our proximity to certain objects and people. When considering space as a variable in who one is, it parallels the 'nurture' side of things. Supporting that space contributes to nature implies that the location a human experiences is predetermined and inherent. Space is an external factor.

Yes, nurture seems right here. It is the idea of space affecting ones identity that adds to the person and experience factors that are usually thought of as part of nurture. I think space definitely affects identity. A key point though, how we understand the space is part of its affect on our identity.

I have to agree with Paglen here. Though I may take his assertion one step further, into a more dialectical realm. Indeed, our identities COULD NOT (and DO NOT) exist apart from the spaces in which our physical bodies are contained. From the food we eat, to the people we see, or the places we frequent, every aspect of our existence is always identical to the space in which it unfolds.

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