A reconstruction of David Harvey’s argument on Leibnitz and the symmetry of space and time

Notes on a talk by Harvey, Oxford University, 9 March 1993

Points 1-5 are a sympathetic version of what was said or implied.  Points 6-9 go beyond this.

 1.            All social practices and processes are constructed in time and space; Space and time are produced through social practices.

 2.            Change is primary; fixity or stasis is a special case to be explained.

 3.            Interventions in social practices are constrained/ facilitated by a) the spatial location of resources, people, other social practices; combined with b) memories of past practices.

 4.              Social theory has overemphasised universal narratives of development and underemphasised the contingency resulting from spatial and temporal juxtapositions and conjunctions.

 5.            Attention to spatial variability is an antidote to 4.   Similarly, attention to the production and reproduction of spatial locations is an antidote to 4.


6.            Arguments about the symmetry of space and time are a dubious antidote to 4. for three reasons:

a) it can imply that space and time are equivalent when their implication in practices are quite different;

b)  it can imply that they are separable, when both are involved in all processes and practices; and

c) the categories of space and time are too big, steering attention away from the heterogeneity of processes and the ranges of spatial and temporal scales implicated in social practices.


a) Furthermore, the game of “good ancestors and bad ancestors” requires a reduction of historical complexity (both at any time and over the course of the purported genealogy) that contradicts the project of making better sense of 1,2, & 3.

b) Historians and sociologists of science would inquire into the motives of anyone playing such a game — see point 9c.

8.            In the light of 6. a better version of 1. might be:

Spatial proximities and historical traces are constructed through heterogeneous practices, spanning spatial and temporal scales.


a) It’s a challenging project to deal with 8, 2 & 3 in their heterogeneity.  Let’s get on with it and not weigh ourselves down with ancestors such as Leibnitz, who, in his organicism and process philosophy is OK on 2,  not engaged with 3, and runs against us on 8.

b) Newton is worse, but who needs either of them?

c) Answer(?): Someone trying to bypass the difficult politics of constructing the conceptual, institutional, and other practical resources for such a project.


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