The Airport as Non-Place: An Experience of Supermodernity


The airport is a place where journeys begin and end. These are the places that I start feeling like a traveller. In the airport I feel a sense of dislocation, it comes, I think, from knowing that there are hundreds of airports just like this one all around the world. I cannot be intimate with a location that is constantly repeated because it does not exist as an individual place. The structure of the airport does not require individuality in order to function. Its production of repetition and homogeneity is the basis for its efficiency worldwide because it creates an order through which people's movements can be controlled smoothly. Any intimacy I could want to feel in this space would, therefore, be swallowed in the airport's overwhelming sameness. This is a space that serves to move people on their way, it does not exist of and for itself, but instead only as a means of delivering people to their destination. The airport is a place of transition; it does not need to describe history or culture because no one is coming to the airport to be at the airport. They come to the airport in order to leave. The airport is what Marc Auge calls a non-place.4

A non-place, as Auge describes it, is not relational, historical or concerned with identity.5 Auge therefore sees a non-place as a product of supermodernity; a quality of living in a state of excess, where importance is placed on creating meaning for everything, and where the excessive consumption of images and experiences is required to create both personal and global histories.

"Supermodernity does not signal the negation of narrative and identity, but to their histrionic multiplication in a deluge of space, time, and event."6

Whereas the modern was concerned with the slippage of meaning and significance, the supermodern is concerned with their abundance. Supermodernity is not to be seen as more modern but as an eventual dissatisfaction and anxiety with a state of modernism. The supermodern is a flurry of action.

"What is new is not that the world lacks meaning, or has little meaning, or less than it used to have; it is that we seem to feel an explicit and intense daily need to give it meaning: to give meaning to the world, not just some village or lineage."7

Auge describes how we need to consume experiences, and how we are collapsing time and space (by the speed at which distance is travelled and the relative ease at which we move from place to place) in order give value and meaning to events. In order to make time controllable and space constricted, non-places have emerged. They cater to our need to control the present and move us from one place to another, so that we are able to experience more. What I am interested in relation to ideas of supermodernity and non-places is how certain non-places change experiences of reality and the formation of memory by alienating and rupturing a flow between places.



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[4] Marc Auge, introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity, trans. John Howe, Verso: London, 1995.
[5] Auge, introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity, 77.
[6] Samuel Collins, Head Out On the Highway: Anthropological Encounters with the Supermodern, Postmodern Culture: v.7 n.1, September, 1996.
[7] Auge, introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity, 29.