Antinomies of Space and Nature or an Open Totality?: Neil Smith and Henri Lefebvre on Nature and Society

Antinomies of Space and Nature or an Open Totality?: Neil Smith and Henri Lefebvre on Nature and Society” (coauthored with Brian M. Napoletano and Brett Clark, Foster listed second), Human Geography (published Online First, November 2022), 14 pp.

The work of Henri Lefebvre has played a pivotal role in human geography in recent decades. At the same time, it has frequently been subject to partial and fragmented appropriations that isolate his insights on the production of space from his broader corpus, leading to confusion and misunderstanding regarding his handling of the dialectical relationships between space, time, society, and nature. In particular, Neil Smith’s claim that Lefebvre’s conceptualization of nature was both deficient and inconsistent with his dynamic conceptualization of space has tended to dominate geographical engagements with Lefebvre in this area. Following Smith, researchers generally reconstruct the production of space as an epiphenomenon of the production of nature. We critically assess and respond to Smith’s criticisms of Lefebvre. Specifically, we contrast Lefebvre’s material–dialectical approach to Smith’s production-of-nature thesis. While Smith’s thesis is helpful in understanding how capital attempts to subsume all of nature under commodity production, Lefebvre’s dialectical conceptualization of nature–society as an oppositional unity points both to the impossibility of capital subsuming all of nature and the dangers that its attempts to do so pose to human civilization (even survival). Lefebvre’s observations, regarding the growing rupture between natural processes and spatial dynamics, which he incorporates into his own elaboration of Karl Marx’s theory of metabolic rift, make his work indispensable to the development of an ecospatial critique within geography and the social sciences more generally.

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