Spatial delight

In this open interactional space there are always connections yet to be made, juxtapositions yet to flower into interaction (or not, for not all potential connections have to be established), relations which may or may not be accomplished. Here, then, space is indeed a product of relations …  and for that to be so there must be multiplicity …. However, these are not the relations of a coherent, closed system within which, as they say, everything is (already) related to everything else. Space can never be that completed simultaneity in which all interconnections have been established, and in which everywhere is already linked with everywhere else. A space, then, which is neither a container for always-already constituted identities nor a completed closure of holism. This is a space of loose ends and missing links. For the future to be open, space must be open too. (Massey 2005)

Yesterday a colleague with a particular interest in the work of Doreen Massey invited a number of us to share some thoughts about the opening chapters of For Space.  I’ve never read any of her before, and found some of it puzzling or impenetrable, as I almost always do with a new author who is asking me to think in different ways. But there was enough in the first couple of chapters to make me want to hear more, and it was good to hear the others talking about this, particularly as Massey’s ideas so clearly animated their thinking.

I especially enjoyed listening to the group talking about the enlivened, relational and open space that Massey describes; Massey originally wanted to call her book ‘Spatial delight’. I’m looking for reasons to be optimistic, or at least for there to be a reason for engaging strongly with the world, at a time when too much seems to be happening at an uncontrollable pace in an inevitable and bleak direction. It’s not easy to care and to work when you think it’s all stuffed. I’ve been conscious of fighting against this feeling, and looking rather desperately for signs that it matters what we do.

So the discussion was heartening. It was good to hear about this thinker whose disciplined thinking about space has caused her delight, and has opened up possibilities for engagement with the world.

Then, as we were talking about these two early chapters, and as some of the group were describing Massey’s concept of space – connections yet to flower into interaction, relations forming, multiplicity, an open space of loose ends and possibilities, of intersecting trajectories and of a world being made – I suddenly found myself thinking about my English classroom, in the days when I was an English teacher.

I was an early advocate, in our staffroom, of outcomes and rubrics. I used to think these were such useful ways of making our values and teaching more helpfully obvious to the students. But it wasn’t long before I felt their restricting influence, and during yesterday’s discussion I saw, with greater clarity,  the reasons why.

My English classroom worked best when I allowed myself to be open to its nature as a relational, open, storied space, as a place where the students (and I) allowed our intersecting storied trajectories to surface and, in our engagement with literature of one kind or another, where we went in unpredictable and various ways to making new connections and having new (sometimes troubling) insights.

Outcomes worked against this. As soon as I tried to frame a lesson or project around outcomes (‘students will understand …’, ‘students will be able to …’ ‘students will know …’), I was attempting to create a closed and predictable system. I always, always, had the uncomfortable feeling that this kind of ‘teaching to the outcomes’ was closing down possibilities, that it was squeezing the potential life out of the space.

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