French anthropologist Marc Augé has had a career in three stages, moving from African research, to European, then global. This particular book, first an essay, describes first “place” in the anthropological sense — it is the link between space and social organization. “Place” gives us context (Dourish, 2001), and so long as a social connection can be made there, a space becomes place.
Augé’s non-places, by contrast, are the places where people move (highways), wait to move (airline terminals), or stay as they move (hotel rooms) around the world in this globalized world. These are the places people flow through as they operate on behalf of Castells’ (1989, 1996) spaces of flows, and, per Castells, these places often look like each other on purpose. One’s stay is too quick, too ephemeral, the purpose too uni-functional, and the place really too generic for any substantive experience to take place. Individuals may travel the globe via these non-places, but they don’t really see it.
“A paradox of non-place: a foreigner lost in a country he does not know (a ‘passing stranger’) can feel at home there only in the anonymity of motorways, service stations, big stores or hotel chains” (106).
Not exactly non-places, but similar, are Walzer’s (1986) “single-minded spaces.” In “Pleasures and Costs of Urbanity,” Walzer explains single-minded spaces are those design by city planners or entrepreneurial corporatists with a single thing in mind, “and used by similarly single-minded citizens” (ibid, 470). However, his condemnation, like Augé’s, is not absolute. These places serve purposes. However, the problem for Walzer is that “open-minded spaces,” those designed for multiple uses, anticipated and impromptu, and which contribute to culture-making, lose ground to the single-minded ones. Like Augé, he wants us to notice the difference.
“In the concrete reality of today’s world, places and spaces, places and non-places intertwine and tangle together. The possibility of non-place is never absent from any place. Place becomes a refuge to the habitué of non-places (who may dream, for example, of owning a second home rooted in the depths of the countryside). Places and non-places are opposed (or attracted) like the words and notions that enable us to describe them. But the fashionable worlds — those that did not exist thirty years ago — are associated with non-places” (107).