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Genre et Construction de la Géographie

Yves Raibaud
Kamala Marius

Première Partie. Quand le genre désoriente

Here-and-Now: Spatialising Intersectionality

Marina Richter et Bettina Büchler

Texte intégral

1Since the spatial turn, there has been an increased use of spatial terms in social science, and geographical scales have been translated into theoretical concepts like globalisation and transnationalism. But most of this spatial terminology is used metaphorically rather than developed as an analytical tool. Critical geography has responded by pointing out that these metaphors nevertheless represent political acts that position subjects and create realities (Pratt, 1997; Smith and Katz, 1993). For example, in migration studies—the field in which both of us presently work—conceptual developments of space are rare. Space mostly keeps the notion of a “thing” or a “container” serving as a mere backdrop for social interaction (Silvey, 2006).

2In particular, studies on transnational migration now note that places and their connections across national borders are calling for new ways to conceptualise spatiality. Attempts at theorization have proposed terms like “transnational social fields” (Levitt and Glick Schiller, 2004) or “transnational social spaces” (Pries, 2008; Faist, 2006). Others have opted to focus on the aspect of connection between people and places by pointing out the importance of networks (Featherstone, Phillips, and Waters, 2007; Featherstone, 2007). However, these concepts remain mostly unaware of social differences and generally lack a critical perspective on power geometries (Pratt and Yeoh, 2003; Silvey, 2006).

  • 1 “Here and now” was the title of an art piece about identity created by Jelena Martinovic, a poster (...)

3We take a spatial perspective to address and expose these theoretical shortcomings. Closing up on theoretical and empirical material taken from our own research projects—concrete moments at specific places which we call “here-and-now”1—we demonstrate the significance of issues of belonging and (dis) identification, in other words, issues of social differentiation. Here-and-now, we will argue, is where we make geography, define borders, identify or disidentify with groups or ideas, where we appropriate spaces, where we are excluded from spaces, where we create a sense of belonging. Here-and-now is the geographically and temporally defined place where social interactions occur, where social differences are constituted and intermeshed.

4This leads us to the centre of our endeavour: In this article, we will develop two arguments. First, we argue that from a spatial perspective, analyses of complex forms of belonging necessarily must frame categories of social difference as always already intermeshed. Second, we argue that a spatial perspective on processes of (dis)identification and belonging is imperative to address their complexity.

5To develop these arguments, we will first use the social category of “gender” as an example to elaborate on our understanding of social differences as always already intermeshed. In a second section we demonstrate the necessity of a spatial perspective in analyses of complex social structures. Referencing Doreen Massey’s concept of space as a story-so-far as well as Sallie Marston, Keith Woodward and John Paul Jones’s concept of the social site, we develop ideas of how to make analytical use of spatial concepts in a meaningful geography of identity and social difference. Each of the following sections exemplifies the developed theoretical argument with two vignettes from our research. In the conclusion we summarize our suggestions for the further development of a critical social geography as inspired by a geographical migration research that takes seriously recent theorizations of space.

Gender as an Intermeshed Category

  • 2 The concept of belonging is used by various authors in migration studies on topics such as citizen (...)

6We specifically use the concept of here-and-now to describe forms of belonging in their multiple overlappings and in their situational effectiveness. We use “belonging” according to authors such as Valentine, Sporton, and Nielsen (2009), who link the feeling of belonging to spatial experiences: “Performing a given identity in different contexts can define individuals as ‘in place’ or ‘out of place’, as belonging or excluded according to specific spatial norms and expectations” (237).2 Individuals find themselves in complex constellations of belonging, which are part of the everyday, as the phrase “here-and-now” suggests. We believe that the linkage of multiple forms of belonging with a spatial perspective enlarges our understanding of migration—as well as other complex social processes.

7The analysis of the intermeshing of various categories of social differences originated from the US-American debate (McCall, 2005; Crenshaw, 1991; Nash, 2008) and is now widely discussed also in European academia. As the German debate demonstrates, the terminology around this intermeshing varies widely: intersectionality (Intersektionalität) (Klinger and Knapp, 2008), interdependencies (Interdependenzen) (Walgenbach et al., 2007), structures of dominance (Dominanzstrukturen) (Rommelspacher, 2006), or diversity (Kerner, 2009), to name a few. Further, there are theories that are not usually linked to this debate but nevertheless centrally occupied with social complexity. For instance, queer theory is surprisingly rarely instumentalized or even considered in the context of such theories, even though it is one of the few theoretical complexes originating in a radical rejection of hierchizing models of social differentiation (Dietze, Haschemi Yekani, and Michaelis, 2007). These theoretical concepts have been developed within a wide range of disciplines like gender studies, inequality studies, diversity studies, law, cultural studies or literature, among others.

8All these approaches focus essentially on the interaction of intermeshed categories of social difference. Depending on the theoretical perspective, these concepts analyse intermeshed social power structures or social positions of individuals and their structured access to resources. In contrast to older debates—like the debate on multiple oppression—these intermeshed categories are not understood as simply added up in a summative way. The realities of a female migrant (gender linked with nationality/ethnicity), are not shaped by the sum of two categories of subordination (being a migrant, and being a woman) which add up to a double subordination. Rather, the categories are intermeshed, forming a new amalgam that represents more than the sum of the two single categories. For example, within the category of gender (occurrence as woman), we can only formulate what gender means by referring to other categories like sexuality and heteronormativity. Each single category needs therefore to be understood as an already intermeshed category, as only definable through other categories (Walgenbach et al., 2007).

9Each category of social difference implies references to power constellations and social norms, which act as including and excluding mechanisms. The migration context is a good example that shows how excluding mechanisms work along categories such as place of origin, religion, legal status, gender or sexuality. Which exclusions gain importance in a specific analysis remains to be deduced from the empirical data, as will be demonstrated briefly in the following two vignettes.

Intermeshing I: Casa Nostra – Forms of Belonging in a Migrant Association

10In migrant associations, belonging is usually constructed along national or regional or sometimes religious or language differences. However, other differences like generational gaps or formal qualification can «override» the importance of these categories (Also note that in the following example, gender is not in the foreground.

11Casa Nostra, a Catalan association, was founded in 1962 at a time when migrants from Spain were arriving as guest workers in Zurich. Today the association includes the newly-arriving young and qualified Spanish migrants. However, the majority of its members are elderly guest workers remembering the hardship they endured during their first years in Switzerland. Eva Gómez, a 32-year-old Spanish woman, a market analyst, and a representative of a younger generation, describes her relationship with Casa Nostra as follows:

  • 3 This interview was conducted during a dissertation project on identity, integration, and intersect (...)

12“I don’t go there often. […] I see that it is another generation. 60 years ago, there were people that were politically active and were acting underground. And there was also the need to speak Catalan [as it was prohibited during the period of the Franco dictatorship in Spain]. But today, I don’t know what should really be the aim of Casa Nostra. People of the same language join, there are people, they are 60, 70, even 80 years old–and we don’t have anything in common. […] Of course I like to listen to their stories, how they arrived here.”3

13Eva Gómez talks from a position that reveals the simultaneity of her inclusion and exclusion. On the one hand, she is an important member of the association, since she takes care of their homepage, takes part in their events, and realises projects for the younger generations. In the stories told by the elderly migrants she discerns a common story that is emblematic of Spanish migration, a myth that forms part of Spanish history. Eva can identify with the association and its members along the categories of nationality (Spain) and even regional belonging (Catalonia) as well as the category of the migrant.

14On the other hand, it is exactly these stories that expose the fissures of belonging. Eva Gómez did not experience these stories herself. Nonetheless, she finds them fascinating because they reflect a time when migration was still an adventure, when people migrated from a backward Spanish village to a clean and perfectly-functioning Switzerland (equally part of the myth). But when she talks with the other members of the association about their daily life and interests, she reverts to the position of outsider. Along the categories of formal qualification, socio-economic status, and generation runs a dividing line between her and the other members. These different positions are amalgamated in Eva as an individual. She belongs at the same time inside and outside the association and needs to balance her “neither-nor” position according to specific situations.

Intermeshing II: Queer Thinking Against Blind Spots

15To think in an intermeshed way always also means to ask about blind spots and (inadvertent) exclusions, which are always already inherent in the design of our research projects and the categories we use to narrow down our key questions and to delimit our “field”. For example, in migration research, the (predominantly feminist) debates around intersectionality usually neglect the category of sexuality (Luibhéid, 2008). Here a queer perspective on feminist migration research can crucially sharpen our understanding of normalisation processes inherent in these debates. For example, migration scholarship overwhelmingly assumes migrants to be heterosexual subjects at the same time establishing homosexuals as native, non-migrant subjects (Luibhéid, 2008). On the one hand, these discourses implicitly construct heterosexuality as the opposite of homosexuality. On the other hand, a specific and normative heterosexuality is constructed, which is based on mostly Western imaginations and concepts like the couple, marriage, reproduction, education, or the nuclear family. These concepts are tightly bound to conceptions of gender- specific labour division or sexual behaviour.

16Manalansan (2006) discusses such concepts of (hetero) sexuality by analysing the literature on Philippinas working as domestic workers in industrialised Western countries. Manalansan observes that this scholarship usually focuses on heterosexual, married mothers. This becomes particularly evident when looking at the presently-debated concept of “chains of care”, which stands for the care work that is delegated down from women from industrialised countries to migrant workers, who themselves delegate their care work to even other immigrant women in their countries of emigration, and so on. Manalansan particularly discusses a well-known study by Parreñas (2001) as an example for his argument. In her study, Parreñas explicitly favorizes married women for her analysis while neglecting the single women that represent half of her sample. Manalansan notes that this procedure renders invisible the experiences not only of single and childless women but also of non-heterosexual women and men as well as heterosexual male domestic workers. He further demonstrates that by constructing Philippinas as servants of globalization by means of reproducing models such as the heterosexual nuclear family, biological parenthood, or motherly love, these subjects become gendered and sexualised in a specific way. In particular, he considers it problematic to reduce concepts like motherhood solely to the female body instead of conceiving of it as a result of social and cultural processes (Manalansan, 2006: 237, 241).

17In order to counter such processes of normalisation, Manalansan proposes to include subjects in the analysis that interrupt the “neat synchronicity” of the chain of care—for example, male domestic workers, a group that can include homosexuals (2006: 238). In doing so, he does not simply shift the attention from “women” to “men”:

18“If […] gender is relational, then my move to include the work of male domestic workers does not in any way disavow the strong gender factor in labour market segmentation nor dismiss issues of sexism and gender inequality. Rather, including the labour of male domestic workers can help nuance and complicate our understanding of the idea and process of ‘gendering’ in the domestic industry.” (Manalansan, 2006: 239)

19This second example demonstrates the necessity to expose the processes of normalization categories of social difference are inadvertently subject to, rendering the often-formulated question about what the most relevant “categories are less important. In contrast to this, the triad of race, class, and gender continues to be propagated as the triad of the “most important” lines of social division (e.g. Anthias, 2001). Other scholars—for instance from within migration studies—argue for a perspective that acknowledges not only social differences but the more complex social and spatial setting in which stories take place (Staeheli and Nagel, 2006; Ley, 2004). This brings us back to here-and-now. The social differentiations and the processes of identification and belonging that are relevant for a phenomenon or for a research question need to be derived from the concrete setting—situated, reflexive, and always becoming. The following section draws on two conceptualizations of space to think about a theoretical basis for what we have termed here-and-now at the outset of this chapter.

Here-and-Now: A Spatial Perspective on Belonging

20A spatial perspective on social practices in general and on the intermeshing of categories of social difference in particular accentuates the complexity and situationality of processes of identification and belonging. In one of the first contributions to geography that explicitly deals with the concept of intersectionality, Valentine (2007) therefore pleads for a geographical focus on “lived experiences” (Valentine, 2007: 18). Valentine seeks to effectuate a spatialisation of intersectionality by grounding the analysis of social practices in their material context and by basing theoretical considerations on empirical material.

  • 4 In an earlier version of this article in German (Büchler and Richter, 2010), we used the term “Tat (...)

21Valentine’s suggestion matches a prominent line of thinking in geography that is currently working towards theorizations of materiality. Among the concepts emerging from this debate are Massey’s concept of spaces as a criss-crossing of stories-so-far, and Marston et al.’s work on social sites. These two concepts will guide us in the following section. We use the initially introduced term “here-and-now” to refer to such concrete sites as proposed by Massey and Marston et al., where people act and interact, where social norms and power structures are an amalgamated reality in the materiality of the place.4

22Massey conceptualises space as simultaneity of stories-so-far (2005: 9). She defines space as the result of all social relations that are established among people and things that are present together in one specific place. Thereby the stories of every individual and every object, the stories-so-far, are brought into the setting to create the space. Space is therefore time-space, a process and a product of social relations rather than a container.

23“Precisely because space is the product of relation-between, relations which are necessarily embedded material practices which have to be carried out, it is always in the process of becoming; it is always being made. It is never finished; never closed.” (Massey 2005: 9)

24On the one hand, relationships and forms of belonging must be renegotiated in every material place, among material bodies, in every moment of time; they can never be “fixed”. These negotiations do not occur in empty space: Each place has its social meanings inscribed, its own story-so-far, and its materialisation of a specific power constellation that regulates the access to, and the practices at, this place. On the other hand, the place is being constituted through the negotiations that happen there; its meanings are not “fixed” but in themselves parts of the stories-so-far. A place is linked to time; it has a past and it has a future. Therefore, space is not merely a passive stage but rather a condition as well as a resource for negotiations of identity and belonging, and for the continuously inscribed processes of inclusion and exclusion.

25Marston, Jones and Woodward’s (2005) base their conceptualization of space on the idea of the social site by Schatzki (2002). Like Massey, they call for a theorization of space that stays close to the lived experience:

Theory should not ignore the diverse intermesh of languages and desires, the making of connections between bits of bodies and parts of objects; sentences half-caught, laws enforced prejudicially and broken accidentally: for it is here, in the middle of the event—at the sites of singular composition rarely resembling discrete and unitary objects—that one finds the production of social space. (Marston, Jones III, and Woodward, 2005: 423)

26The concept of the social site is primarily meant to unsettle the proliferating scalar thinking in geography (and increasingly in broader social sciences), which organizes all social life and actions in scales ranging from “local” to “global”. Even actions with a global effect, such as a CEO deciding on abandoning one country of production for another, are necessarily carried out in a specific place, like the CEO’s vacation residence in the Caribbean. As the above theorists argue, the global is therefore just as concrete and grounded as the local.

27Again focusing on questions of identification and belonging, the following two sections illustrate this co-constitution of space and social relations at concrete sites, demonstrating the analytical usefulness of such an approach.

Space and Belonging I: Centres of Transnational Everyday Lives

  • 5 This example is not taken from a specific research project but stems from a long research experien (...)

28Shops like East Indian or African supermarkets have become part of the normal picture of Switzerland’s streets since migrants have started to come to Europe from “farther countries”.5 From the perspective of transnational theory, the space of these shops is highly complex.

29Products from the corresponding regions of origin are sold in these shops. That is how these shops become labelled with a certain ethnic marker and start attracting a mostly ethnic-specific clientele. Under one roof, they offer a variety of services: for the maintenance of relationships “back home”, for sending remittances, or for the communication within the densely ramified transnational networks. Phone cards are sold for cheap calls “home” or to other countries where family members and friends have settled. In a corner, there is a computer that offers access to email, chats, and Internet platforms like Facebook. Services for life “here” are also offered. In African shops, this may be the plaiting of hair. The walls are covered with job offers and rooms or flats to let.

30These shops are nodes of transnational social relations. Complex spatial constellations materialise there. They represent meeting places for migrants and can therefore be used to meet people and to obtain access to services. At the same time they are connected (by the means of virtual communication) by a “line” to cities and villages far away. To enter the shop means therefore always to be a little bit closer to family and friends. This tension of presence and absence of bodies—the presence of the migrants, the absence of family and friends combined with the communication in virtual space—is constitutive for this place. Such a place represents a hereand-now marked by the tensions of presence and absence, by its nature as a node for connections between here and there.

31“[…] If we really think space relational, then it is the sum of all our connections, and in that sense utterly grounded, and those connections may go round the world”, Massey says (2005: 185). A here-and-now in the form of such a shop is a result, like Massey argues, of the sum of connections among its clients, and these clients’ connections to other here-and-nows. These connections in turn can be bought (food), touched (the keyboard of the computer), or entered (the shop itself).

Space and Belonging II: The Power of Inner Spaces

  • 6 The data presented here has been collected in the course of a dissertation project on everyday liv (...)

32The everyday spaces of a female same-sex couple from the Middle East leads us to another type of here-and-now.6 Their story, all too briefly, is the following: After one of the women’s husband discovered that his wife had long been engaged in a lesbian relationship, she fled to Switzerland with her daughter and her partner to escape her husband’s physical and emotional abuse. Once there, the couple had to wait three years to obtain refugee status. While one of the women relates that she had known that she was a lesbian since she was a child, the other explained how she had struggled with the “Coming out” that was imposed on her at the Swiss border—the couple had followed their lawyer’s advice and had declared the nature of their relationship to the Swiss immigration officials to improve their chances of acquiring refugee status and staying in Switzerland.

33Now, three years since their entry into the country, the couple has some Swiss lesbian acquaintances whom they have met in a women’s café in the nearby city. The café was home and refuge to them. With the women there, they say, they could be themselves: “They are like us.” Both insist that this was a feeling they “never” had in their country; “never”. But not long ago the café was closed, and although the couple has stayed in touch with some of the women, they say “sometimes we feel so lonely.” Thus, although one of the women has fully embraced an explicitly Western lesbian identity, the couple remain outsiders in the Swiss lesbian scene. They offer a structural explanation for this exclusion: The couple is allowed neither to work nor to move. The money they get from the government is not sufficient to go into the city and meet other women. This social isolation puts an enormous pressure on their relationship—Swiss legislation thus permeates the most intimate areas of the couple’s private lives.

  • 7 In order to ensure the anonymity of the couple, we use made-up languages here.

34However, the couple’s social isolation is also partly self-induced through the meanings the women ascribe to certain places. For instance, they avoid contact with other people in their village because they believe the village population to be religious and conservative. They also keep themselves away from the neighbours in their building; most neighbors are migrants as well, and the couple fear that their mentality might correspond with the (homophobic) mentality of their country of origin. They also very actively avoid any contact with people from their region of origin, for fear both of general homophobia and of being discovered. One of the women recounts from their first days in Switzerland: “When we heard somebody out there speaking Erish, then we changed immediately to Badshikian. When somebody was speaking Sagirian, because it is similar, then we spoke immediately Erish, so that nobody would recognize us.”7

35Both women’s sense of belonging is therefore almost entirely constituted through their sexual identity, yet the connection to the according lesbian circle remains partial and problematic. Processes of identification or disidentifications do not develop along neat lines and simple categories of social difference. Rather, these categories blend into each other in the light of the concrete here-and-nows and the stories that make these places. What distinguishes a category can only be formulated through other categories: What it means to be Badshikian can only be articulated against the contrast of a Western lesbian identity. The drawing of such lines is continually reproduced in the here-and-now, for instance in the very moment when the couple change from speaking Badshikian to speaking Erish.


36Our motivation to write this paper has been our critical assessment of the currently proliferating but often uncritical uses of spatial terminology in migration research, which often lead to a neglect of issues of social difference and power relations. Based on empirical material, and looking specifically from the perspective of questions of identification and belonging, we have argued that analyses of complex forms of belonging must frame categories of social difference as always already intermeshed. Drawing on the work of Massey and Marston et al., we have further demonstrated the usefulness of a spatial perspective for the analysis of questions of belonging and social in-and exclusion. More specifically, we have argued that any analysis needs to be grounded in a concrete here-and-now, for it is in the space-time of the here-and-now that social differentiation is being produced, and where we are at the same time confronted with those differentiations as always already amalgamated.

37To sum up, a critical social geography inspired by a critical geographical migration research as discussed in this article…

38… deals with space as a theoretical concept and analytical tool.

39… conceives of space as a process. Social inscriptions of places cannot be fixed but are subject to, and results of, continuous negotiations among criss-crossing, unfinished stories that meet up in a specific space-time.

40… conceptualizes social differences not as discrete, perfectly delimitable categories but rather demonstrates that these categories can only be formulated through their delimitation from other categories. Social differences are therefore always already intertwined with others. For example, gender is always and already ethnicised and sexualised.

41… conceives the concept of belonging as multilayered, continuous and situated processes of identification and disidentification. These are situated in concrete sites; they are produced here-and-now, in a concrete social, political, economical, and historical context, in presence or absence of specific bodies, at the crossing of unfinished stories. At the same time, these interactions also constitute this here-and-now by merely happening. Space and identity are therefore to be thought of as mutually constitutive.

42… positions migrant subjects in the dialectic between structural constraints and individual creativity, unruliness, accommodation and appropriation, without trying to dissolve this dialectic.

43… demands context-specific theories and methodologies. The question of which social differences should be central to a research project can therefore not be answered universally or in advance. Rather, in a dialogue between theory and the empirical data, the relevant power geometries have to be sussed out for every here-and-now: “[I] t is necessary to invent—perhaps endlessly—new spatial concepts that linger upon the materiality’s and singularities of space” (Marston, Jones III, and Woodward, 2005: 424).



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1 “Here and now” was the title of an art piece about identity created by Jelena Martinovic, a poster that covered the entire front of the town hall of Zurich in the Spring of 2009 while construction work was completed behind the building. It inspired us and was reprinted in a former version of this article in German (Büchler and Richter, 2010).

2 The concept of belonging is used by various authors in migration studies on topics such as citizenship (Ehrkamp and Leitner, 2006), transnationalism (Westwood and Phizacklea, 2000) or various cultural vs. political forms of belonging (Brettell, 2006).

3 This interview was conducted during a dissertation project on identity, integration, and intersectionality among Spanish migrants in Switzerland (Richter, 2006). Twenty migrants were interviewed in-depth.

4 In an earlier version of this article in German (Büchler and Richter, 2010), we used the term “TatOrt”, which usually means “crime scene”. Literally, it simply means a place where something happens, the place of action. For further readings of the term “TatOrt”, we refer to other German-speaking geographers (Fredrich, Herzig, and Richter, 2007; Bieri, 2007). For a brief history of the term’s use in geography see (Büchler and Richter, 2010: 112-113).

5 This example is not taken from a specific research project but stems from a long research experience in the field and ongoing observation of the public space and its transformation by and through migrants.

6 The data presented here has been collected in the course of a dissertation project on everyday lives and spaces of queer migrant women in Switzerland (Büchler forthcoming).

7 In order to ensure the anonymity of the couple, we use made-up languages here.


Teaching and Research Assistant, Département of Social Sciences, Université de Fribourg, Suisse.

Géographe, Geographisches Institut, Université de Bern (Suisse).

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