Terrorscapes as heterotopias

Activity: Lecture / PresentationAcademic


Terrorscapes as heterotopias
Rob van der Laarse, University of Amsterdam; VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Jan Kolen, Leiden University; Delft University of Technology; Erasmus University Rotterdam,
The Netherlands
This paper explores the concentration camps from the Second World War as terrorscapes
and heterotopias. Some concentration camps originated as “logical” elements of the rural
landscape, such as at Westerbork (the Netherlands), where Jewish refugees were enabled
to build a temporary existence as rural community within the framework of the ongoing
heathland and polder reclamation after the closure of the Dutch farmer colonies for
refugee Palestine pioneers (1918-1940). Others were established as integral components of
urban or industrial landscapes, such as Auschwitz, were the camps functioned as crucial
chains in the rapidly growing industry of war. Yet, as explicit examples of terrorscapes,
the concentration camps exhibited all political, moral and organized aspects of terror,
being the systemized use of violence by organized groups against civilian targets to
effect a change of political power by spatial and ethnic cleansing in occupied territories.
they were increasingly designed and used as spatial technologies for exercising
in an active way, not only practically but also symbolically. Although firmly
embedded in the safely ordered and dissected cultural landscape, the camps soon became to
disturb the everyday order of normalized living space. As such they might be understood
as “heterotopias”, the geographical concept elaborated by Foucault for non-hegemonic
spaces that cannot be classified easily in terms of here and there, public and private, self
and other. From this perspective, the paper explores WWII concentration camps not so
much as limited and clearly delineated sites of terror, but as extensive and diffuse spaces
–as landscapes- that were characterized by liminality, ambiguity, transition and inversion,
and by specific arrangements of material culture. The authors will suggest that this concept
might also be related to the recent transformation of long ‘forgotten’ former ‘foreign’
camps into (trans)national memorial spaces and heritage sites. Examples are taken from
Westerbork, Dachau, Auschwitz, Natzweiler and several other SS concentration camps.
Period9 Sept 2014
Event titlePECSRL conference 'Unraveling the Logics of Landscape' 8-12 Sept. 2014
Event typeConference