Abstraction Beyond a ‘Law of Thought’: On Space, Appropriation and Concrete Abstraction
Law and Critique, 27(3), 247-268, 2016.
38 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2017
Date Written: April 25, 2016
Given that one of the defining elements of capitalist society is the ubiquity of forms of abstraction through which social relations are mediated, it is not surprising that a generalised ‘reproach of abstraction’ has taken on a critical orthodoxy within social theory and the humanities. Many of these attacks against a pervasive culture of abstraction have an obvious resonance with longstanding critiques of the abstractions inherent in law. This article explores the critique of the power of abstraction that is a central theme in Henri Lefebvre’s depiction of the ‘abstract space’ of contemporary capitalism. In doing so, it will be emphasised that Lefebvre’s work is not primarily concerned with the rejection of abstraction per se, but with understanding the relationships between dominant forms of abstraction and concrete social practices. Of particular interest here is Lefebvre’s reformulation of the concept of concrete abstraction which extends his work beyond a polemical dismissal of the violence of abstraction into broader theoretical debates about the role of the abstract in the reproduction of social relations. Building on this aspect of Lefebvre’s work, I will argue that the concept of concrete abstraction can provide a means of understanding the relationships between the concrete and the abstract in existing juridico-political relations.
Keywords: abstract space; aesthetics; appropriation; concrete abstraction; difference; Henri Lefebvre; right to the city; the body
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