2000 volume 18(2) pages 169 – 184
doi:10.1068/d215t

Cite as:
Hetherington K, Lee N, 2000, "Social order and the blank figure" Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 18(2) 169 – 184

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Social order and the blank figure

Kevin Hetherington, Nick Lee

Received 12 May 1999; in revised form 5 October 1999

Abstract. Our aim in this paper is to introduce the figure of the underdetermined ‘blank’ into issues of social and spatial order. We argue that forms of social order habitually make tacit use of blank figures. Beginning with examples of blank figures as they appear in games of cards and dominos, we show how the ‘joker’ and the ‘double-blank’ domino, respectively, allow for conditions of both stasis and change to develop within an order. Such blanks are underdetermined or ambiguous figures that are constitutionally indifferent to heterogeneity. Blanks have the capacity to figurally represent the presence of absence in a known social order. Through the indifference that absence has to order, blank figures are able to form links and coordinations within heterogeneity to produce what pass for homogeneous social orders. They are figures of topological complexity that allow for connections and spacings to be made that unsettle Euclidean geometric assumptions about order through its representation in terms of regions, scale, and boundedness. Furthermore, this same indifference ensures that any such coordination remains open to change. We describe blank figures’ ability to provide the conditions of possibility of both stasis and change in terms of their motility. The blank figure allows us to build an account of social order as a switching between stasis and change which treats both as emergent effects of the same ordering practices.

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