Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Restorative, Heterotopic Spacing for Campus Sustainability

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Restorative, Heterotopic Spacing for Campus Sustainability

Article excerpt


This article proposes an alternative spatial form for a university campus, which embeds itself within the region, in which it is located. The proposed campus spacing is inspired by recent research from the environmental psychology discipline, around Attention Restorative Theory, along with its central four principles. Furthermore, the article explores how a critical interpretation of Foucault's six heterotopic principles, following Harvey, maps onto Attention Restorative Theory principles and reflexively unmasks the dialectic tensions of what is termed 'restorative, heterotopic spacing'. Focusing on the potential implications to campus sustainability, a specific campus initiative called the Oberlin Project will be critically explored, in relation to the potential enactment of Attention Restorative Theory, from an academic and local community perspective. It reflects on the significance of an artistic, regional set of trans-disciplinary integrated initiatives for such restorative spacing, within the expanded urban and regional notion of Oberlin campus. However, it concludes by expressing a concern over the extent to which the generative embrace of diverse Oberlin actors, both on and off campus, is being fulfilled.


Space, sustainability, university


This article focuses on alternative, contested geographies, within university campuses and their localities, in the context of ecological sustainability. It draws on the field of environmental psychology for inspiration in spatialising such alternatives. As Tucker (2010: 526) argues, 'theorising psychological activity as a spatial product appears a logical extension of moves in social theory to emphasize the role of space and place in the consideration of experience'. The focus here is around spatialising the increasingly influential theory from environmental psychology, Attention Restorative Theory (ART) (Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989).

The article aims to contribute to three areas of human geography research through the integration of psychology theory. Drawing from Hopkins (2011), the first human geography research area tends to focus on how university campuses are sites of activism and resistance. For example, M'Gonigle and Starke's (2006) study, published in this journal, is a particular inspiration, as it explores campus-based activist activity around sustainability. The second research area tends to focus on the relationships between university campuses and the local region and city. The third research area explores how the internal places, structures and processes are experienced in empowering or exclusionary ways.

As Hopkins (2011) points out, there needs to be a greater focus on integrating these different areas of research. More specifically, this article contributes to how new potential geographies of social and spatial relations within higher education institutions could contest the way university campuses are constructed, managed and experienced, in relation to sustainability (Philo and Parr, 2000). Many university and college actors, such as academic faculty, students and local community groups, are struggling to contribute meaningfully to sustainability, in the institutional context of league table demands. More specifically, many academic actors are feeling cynical, powerless and mistrustful of the ecological sustainability agenda of their universities.

In light of the above institutional pressures, this article poses the question of how university actors could contribute more and gain a more involved relationship to the campus sustainability discourse. Could an alternative university campus space offer a way to rupture the usual horizons of time and space within universities? Searching for clues, this article is inspired by Beyes and Michels (2011), and asks the question of how universities can enact 'other spaces', which open up to positive emancipatory power, where surprising things may happen, rather than closed down for negative control. …

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