Spatial Shock:
Place, Space, and the Politics of Representation

Jenna Vinson

Contested Conclusion(s)

In the original installation that I created for the svr2 event, I tried to show how representations of a place can shape outsiders’ understandings of that place. Playing with the Western tendency to move from left to right when reading a text, I started visitors at stagnant photographs of low- and middle-income schools in the area, highlighting their differences through facts about each school—graduation rates, neighborhood economies, and student demographics. I prompted visitors to write responses to the images on large poster paper. I informed their walk to the next point of the installation with posters describing philosophical and rhetorical theories of place, space, and power. To the right of these posters, I placed images and narratives from my high school experience designed to highlight active adaptation to and of space. Finally, visitors made it to a wall-sized projector screen, which simultaneously showcased three films of my strolls in local schools. Visitors had the choice to just watch the strolls or put on headphones to hear the students and I exchanging narratives. To the right of this large projection was blank flip chart paper and a prompt to reflect on how the audio and visual elements of the video shaped visitors’ reactions to the school spaces. On the farthest right corner of my installation space, I positioned information about Wildcat Writers and a description of strolling as a potential research methodology for FYC students. During the event, I purposely stood out of the way, hoping to allow and encourage visitors to decide when, where, and how to engage with the material, shaping their own experience of the installation as a space.

In short, after reading Bill Nichols's (1994) “The Ethnographer’s Tale” in the Spatial and Visual Rhetorics course, I decided to heed his call to critically reflect on the “staging of representations of others” (p.65); I used the installation (and this webtext) to call into question both my practices as a service-learning coordinator and the consequences of not fully engaging moments of spatial shock as a service-learning instructor. Furthermore, considering what I learned from Michel De Certeau (1984) and Edward W. Soja (1989) about the dynamic nature of space, I tried to convey the potential for social interpretation and revision of even the most seemingly oppressive of places. Visitors did note a marked difference in the effects of the two types of representations—(1) photography and statistics versus (2) film and narrative. How about here? Does this webtext engage the viewer in similar reflections? Or is it just frustratingly disjointed and unnerving?

Indeed, I title this link “Contested Conclusion(s)” to emphasize that this webtext, and the arguments, terms, and experiences created here, are in no way conclusive. I am continually moving through the ideas of space, place, spatial shock, and representational practice and am increasingly unsettled by the tensions and contradictions apparent in these concepts. For example, is spatial shock just an “induced ethical crisis” for privileged college students and Wildcat Writers teachers, as one reviewer suggested? Should my response to such teacher tensions and student reactions be to cease school visits instead of “productively prolonging” such uneasiness, as I suggest in “Strolling”?

Constraints in Strategically Social Strolling

Furthermore, while I forward strategically social strolling as a potentially productive method to employ when analyzing places as spaces, I must contend with the fact that the forms of flânerie that inspired this concept were (and still are) theorized as relating to fairly accessible and collectively shared urban space. In contrast, schools—even public schools such as the ones I visited—are not accessible places for outsiders; often, even adult insiders must wear badges of identification in order to move about the space. Perhaps this should have told me that this rhetorical practice is only appropriate for self-reflectively engaging one’s own space (e.g., one’s own school, home, work, or neighborhood) or at least more public places (e.g., malls, streets, parks, or stores). Indeed, arranging the visits to high schools was a challenge. It was fairly easy to find three students to show me their campuses. Again, I often worked with local high schools, so I networked with teachers to find willing students. But, understandably, the high school administrators were wary of my request to film the schools. They got even more anxious when I told them I intended to follow the student from his/her house to school and around the campus—creepy! There are also many regulations about representing minors in the media, so I am grateful that two of the high schools I worked with actually allowed me onto the school campuses with a camera. One school allowed me to visit a student before classes on a school day, but another only allowed me to come during the weekend, when they could ensure that no other students would be on campus and potentially filmed. Could future college students even gain permission to stroll through their partner high schools, or must they always hurry from the parking lot to the seeming sanctuary of the classroom?

Last Remark

In this webtext, I have used visual and verbal symbols—narrative, theoretical jargon, photography, and web design—to encourage a strategic stroll through these links, reflecting on my rhetorical practices as a writing program service-learning coordinator, while also shaping and challenging others’ assumptions about place, representational politics, and moments I call spatial shock. In theorizing the counter-flâneur, Miriam Paeslack (2010) insisted that representations which incorporate visuals and text created by “a personally engaged actively performing counter-flâneur” can construct and shape new socio-spatial practices (p. 420). I am optimistic that these pages encourage self-conscious, collectively reflective engagements with space and spatial shock. Certainly, these concepts are fraught with tension and complexity. Yet, I hope that this webtext has continued important conversations about service learning, representational politics, and the distinctions between place and space.


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