A modern Latin word, used in English as well, its first element hetero is a combining form in the Latin language, meaning of or pertaining to. The word itself is not listed in the Oxford English dictionary, but was popularized for its spatial terminology by Michel Foucault in 1966, made with his preface to Les Mots et Les Choses, later translated into English as The Order of Things.
According to Faucault, heterotopias describe a concept in which defined spaces surrounding a subject in social existence can reduce ones autonomy and even sense of identity. It is the manner in which society and culture, having power on the one hand and the interest of realizing this power on the other, define the subject through his or her differentiation from general society. Initially heterotopia was used by Foucault to describe a non-real verbal space but which he later expanded to refer to a physical as well as non-physical space.
People differed from the public sphere can be seen as subjects, members of the social structure as having free will, but at the same time are subjects of a culture which examines, labels and constructs them as socially adapted entities.
Foucault argues the prisons, mental institutions and even schools are such types of heterotopias. This is because such sites are separated from their surroundings, control movement in and out of them and inside of them and thus are able to control them. Heterotopias are almost invisible and perceived as natural by members of a society, but they are nevertheless measures of disciplining, controlling and punishing of the different and deviant. In other words, heterotopias are seen as natural, necessary and harmless when in fact they are a way for society to regulate out behavior.
A heterotopia allows for the consolidation of a mass into a distinguished society which exists at a given time and space. The concept of heterotopia can be linked to the manner in which ideology is reproducing, creating and imposing its norm on its members. This process of social construction, Foucault says, has the capacity of differentiation the normal from the abnormal and through this to constitute a groups identity as well as the private identity of each of its members.
1. Andriotis, K. (2010) ‘Heterotopic Erotic Oases – The Public Nude Beach Experience’. Annals of Tourism Research, 1076-1096.
3. "hetero-, comb. form". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/86423 (accessed November 20, 2012).
3. Foucault, Michel. Les Mots et Les Choses. Gallimard , 1990.