Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Spatial Reflection

Lived space (spatiality) is felt space. Lived space is a category for inquiring into the ways we experience spatial dimensions of our day-to-day existence.

 

When we think of space we usually first speak of mathematical space, or the length, height and depth dimensions of space. We talk easily about distances between major cities (how many miles/kilometers, hours driving), about the spatial dimensions of the house or apartment in which we live, etc. But lived space is more difficult to put into words since the experience of lived space (like that of lived time or body) is largely pre-verbal; we do not ordinarily reflect on it. And yet we know that the space in which we find ourselves affects the way we feel. The huge spaces of a modern bank building may make us feel small, the wide-open space of a landscape may make us feel exposed but also possibly free. And we may feel just the opposite when we get in a crowded elevator. As we walk into a cathedral we may be overcome by a silent sense of the transcendental even if we ordinarily are not particularly religious or churchgoing. Walking alone in a foreign and busy city may render a sense of lostness, strangeness, vulnerability, and possibly excitement or stimulation. In general, we may say that we become the space we are in.

 

In a general sense, lived space is the existential theme that refers us to the world or landscape in which human beings move and find themselves at home. When we want to understand a person we ask about his or her world, profession, interests, background, place of birth and childhood, etc. Similarly, to understand “the nature of reading,” “having a friendly talk,” “giving birth to a child,” it is helpful to inquire into the nature of the lived space that renders that particular experience its quality of meaning.

 

There are cultural and social conventions associated with space that give the experience of space a certain qualitative dimension. We notice this, for example, in the space people feel that they need around themselves to feel comfortable or intimate.