There is a debate going on about Ernesto Laclau's argument that

any repetition that is governed by a structural law of successions is space

But what does he actually mean by that?

  • Would you have a source for the quote? This would help focus the question. Welcome to this SE! – Frank Hubeny Nov 9 '18 at 17:50
  • Politics and space/time, Doreen Massey. in Theory and Methods, Critical Essays in Human Geography, ed. C. Philo 2008 - quoted and discussed. – sand1 May 25 '19 at 14:12

It's best to read the quote in the context of the entire essay. The quote is taken from Ernesto Laclau: Post-Marxism, Populism and Critique, edited by David Howarth in his essay titled Dislocation and Capitalism, Social Imaginary and Democratic Revolution (1990):

Any repetition that is governed by a structural law of successions is space. If physical space, is also space it is because it participates in this general notion of spatiality. The representation of time as a cyclical succession, common in peasant communities, is in this sense a reduction of time to space. Any teleological conception of change is therefore essentially spatialist.

He is basically contrasting spatiality against dislocation, the latter being how he theorises freedom in time. Thus he can say:

the spacialisation of an event consists of eliminating its temporality.

This fits into his critique of capitalism which

is a total structure, a space for symbolic representation and constitution


symbolisation means that the total succession is present in each of its moment

ie. Capitalism reproduces itself symbolically. (Capitalism is not merely about capital, which, after all, is merely a condensation and quantified measure of mans labour, through space and time; but also how power expresses itself; in physical space, by force, and in mental space, symbolically). However

dislocation is the very form of possibility ... but with dislocaton there is no telos that governs change; possibility then becomes authentic possibility, a possibility in the radical sense of the term ... and dislocation is the very form of freedom.

The telos here being of course the capitalist telos; and he links this to Marxism

It is important to remember that reflection on dislocation and its possible political fruitfulness does have a tradition within Marxism: it is a feature of a group of phenomena linked to 'permanent revolution' ... it is the structural dislocation which creates the revolutionary juncture ... it is the dislocation of structural laws that create the possibility of a revolutionary politics ... dislocation is not a neccessary moment in the self-transformation of the structure ... for that reason it opens up different possibilities and expands the area of freedom of its hisorical subjects.

and he notes:

This tendency to make structural dislocation the very crux of political strategy is later accentuated in the work of Trotsky where it develops much of its potential richness ... [in that] the capitalist system should be seen as a global totality and that the prospects of revolution should be viewed in terms of the dislocations experienced by the total structure.

So in brief, he is saying that spatiality by reproducing the same is the stage of and telos of capitalism; and this, when interrupted by moments of dislocation, represents the authentic possibility of human freedom - that is of time breaking into space.

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Without being aware of the specific controversies that this brings up, I take his statement to be a definition of the mathematical notion of "space". For example: real numbers space, prime numbers space, Cartesian space, "the consumer space" vs "the business space", etc.

Note that this is only sometimes associated with physical space (as in, "more space in your living room / space in your closet") and only sometimes with outer space (as in, space travel / space ship).

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