Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Cantrell, Sarah K. “”I solemnly swear I am up to no good”: Foucault’s Heterotopias and Deleuze’s Any-Spaces-Whatever in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series.” Children’s Literature 39 (2011): 195-212.

doi:10.1353/chl.2011.0012.

Abstract
It is no secret that we live on an endangered planet. In the past year, we have witnessed catastrophic earthquakes, oil spills, floods, and mine collapses, all of which lend urgency to calls for greater care of our environment. As the spaces we inhabit become more endangered, it is not surprising that fictional spaces are also increasingly imperiled. J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is not an ecology oriented fantasy, but it does dramatize the tenuous existence of space and place that we confront in our world. From the bridge collapse, crime wave, and hurricane that threaten Muggle London in the opening chapter of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, to the devolution of Hogwarts into a dystopic battleground, I argue that the movement from stable, fixed places to ambiguous ones teaches protagonists and readers how to cope with the demands and difficulties of a wider, more complex world.

I contend that reading the spaces in the Harry Potter books in light of Michel Foucault’s theory of heterotopias or “other spaces,” and Gilles Deleuze’s espace quelconque or any-space-whatever, highlights the ways in which ambiguous spaces in our world require the same mental agility and critical flexibility that Harry, Hermione, and Ron learn throughout the series. In this article, I argue that Hogwarts functions as a heterotopia, a space at once other and separate but also intimately connected to the world beyond its walls. Still more ambiguous spaces like 12 Grimmauld Place, the tent that Harry, Ron, and Hermione share in volume seven, and most notably, the Room of Requirement—a space within the place of the school proper—occupy positions similar to Deleuzian any-spaces-whatever.

Because these spaces exist at the margins of safety and danger, their liminality requires Harry and his friends to be “up to no good”: to resist and subvert adult authority, but also to confront the limits of agency. These shifts from order to disorder and from safety to danger suggest that participation and activism—particularly on the part of young adults—can be powerful means of opposing the abuses that permeate the spaces in our own world.

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