Utopia and Heterotopia
In relation to the text “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias” by Michel Foucault.
comes from Greek “Ou” – no and “Topos” – place
Utopias are arrangements, which have no real space and that have a general relationship of direct or inverse analogy with the real space of society. They represent society itself brought to perfection, or its reverse, which would be called dystopia. But in any case utopias or dystopias are spaces that are fundamentally unreal.
comes from Greek “Hetero” – other and “Topos” – place
Heterotopias on the other hand are spaces that are real and effective, which are outlined in the institution of society, but constitute a sort of counter-arrangement or effectively realized utopia, in which all the real arrangements that can be found within society, are at the same time represented, challenged and overturned. It is a sort of place that lies outside all places and yet is actually localizable.
The description, analysis and study of heterotopias in a particular society. Foucault defines six principles:
- There is not a single culture in the world that is not made up of heterotopias.
- Over the course of its history, a society may take an existing heterotopia and make it function in a very different way (example: cemetery).
- The heterotopia has the power of juxtaposing in a single real place different spaces and locations that are incompatible with each other (example: theatre).
- Heterotopias are linked for the most part to bits and pieces of time (example: museum).
- Heterotopias always presuppose a system of opening and closing that isolates them and makes them penetrable at one and the same time (example: prison).
- Heterotopias have, in relation to the rest of space, a function that takes place between two opposite poles (between the real and the illusory).
Foucault defines the mirror as a place that combines qualities of both, the utopia and heterotopia. It is a utopia as it is a place without a place. You see yourself in the mirror where you do not exist. It is an unreal space behind the surface. At the same time the mirror really exists and represents and engages with the place that one occupies in reality. Hence the mirror also functions as a heterotopia.