Facing Place/less Condition: Thinking Place in the Wake of Coronovirus

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Covid-19 pandemic has not just attacked us, its ghostly presence has haunted our place. We have the challenge to think our place in the wake of the pandemic.   Even our resting places have become restless.  Place is everywhere but it is no longer safe. There is something vital that has gone missing. Our place is fast becoming place/less. The coronavirus has disrupted our place. It has transformed the sense of our place. Place is no longer an abode of safety and security. Our place has become dangerous and is haunted by death.   This condition has brought into question the integrity, safety and security of our place. The question of safety melts down to the question of trust. Can we really trust our place? This is why it is important to think place in the wake of global pandemic and seek creative and salubrious responses to the new condition that is afflicting our place.

Our study opens us to the dynamism of being in a place and assists us to arrive at an understanding of place and its consuming character. Next part takes up the dynamics of production of place. This is followed by a study of what is called as the condition of place/lessness and examination of the manner in which is our condition of being place/less has put us on an exile in our place.[1]  Next, we scrutinize how the phygital world[2] which also an intensification of the condition of place/lessness.  In the final section, we strive to trace a salubrious response to our condition of being place/less through an embracing of heterotopias expressed in its otherness and lived in physical as well as the hybrid phygital world.

Being in a Place

Humans as beings-in-the-world are beings bound to place/s. We cannot be place/less.  We territorialize and temporalize  and produce a place that we live and have our being .

Understanding Place

Humans are territorial beings.  They take a portion of space and invest it with meaning and sense of belonging. Place is therefore a space that humans have made meaningful.  This means place is complex social construct that carries memories, history and feelings of belonging.  People have boundaries of their places. But often these boundaries overlap and become the cause of conflicts that have ramifications both at the local and the international level.  Places are intensification of time, memory and history. This is why some thinkers say that places are pauses in time.  There is certainly a temporality of places[3].  Philosophically, place is thought   through a phenomenological approach or epistemological approach.[4] Phenomenological approach concentrates on the being of a place while epistemological approach focuses on the origin of the concept and theory of place.[5]  Both these approaches continue to be prominent in the field of place research.  The dynamics of production of place produces and affect of belonging that lingers with those that inhabit it. Every place has a feel.  We territorialize a space and make it a place and it simultaneously humanize us.  The feel of a place give us a sense of place.  A sense of a place arises out of associations that those that inhabit it bring to bear with it. The sense of a place arises out of associations, like being born in that place, being brought up, having happy or tragic memories etc. these associations mark both the people that inhabit as well as the place.[6]  Place is an assemblage.[7]  It is through our belonging to place that we as beings-in-the-world belong to the world.  Place therefore, is central to the formation of our identities of communities and individuals.  Besides physical places, today we inhabit virtual places enabled by the internet. In fact our places are hybridized as the physical and the digital meet to become phyigital .

Understanding Place

Human consume places.[8] They find pleasure, peace, security and a sense of belonging in them.  Home or religious place is consumed as a place of peace and serenity. It provides us a way of anchoring our life.  Besides, these places of tranquillity, we have places of enjoyment and pleasure like theatres, malls, restaurants, clubs, stadiums etc.  These and other exotic places have become habitats of maximisation of consumption.  This consumption sites are embedded in the capitalist mode of economic life.  Consumerism has become a way of life on the back of these exotic places.  This is why we are on a constant hunt for pleasurable places.  We do not flock to these places to satisfy our biological needs but also respond to artificially created wants by our capitalist driven society. Just like we cannot eat raw food, we can inhabit a raw space. It has to become place that we invest meanings, emotions, pleasure which we often anticipate as we chase the desires triggered by our consumerist society. These exotic places satisfy our biological, social and psychological needs.  But often these exotic places consume our life rather bring satisfaction of our genuine needs. Often we have to put up with unfulfilled promises of satisfaction which than initiate a chain of further indulgence in consumption looking for the tranquillity and peace.  The architecture of capitalism is built to continuously confine us to consumption. Hence, often we feel seduced by the limitless drive for consumption unleashed in us by our capitalist society. We cannot fully understand our place without factoring in consumption. All consumption is attached to a place.  These places of consumption are creatively produced by us but paradoxically they produce us too.

Dynamic of Producing Place

All places are socially produced.  To enter the dynamics of production, we have to enter the productive hermeneutics of Deleuze and Gauttari[9]. The productive hermeneutics moves away from traditional hermeneutics that concerns with the production and consumption of meaning.   Productive hermeneutics is concerned with practices. It tries to put all meaning  attached to practices into a semiotic black hole[10] and opens the drawing board  which becomes a playfield for the emptied signs to acquire new meaning .  Their concept of body-without-organs[11] is a mode of understanding the productive hermeneutics. When we divest all signs of their meaning, we convert the semiotic field into a body without organs. Once the field is opened, we then can insert meanings into the signs which than become organs of a new body.  This means the same sign can acquire other meanings depending on who is infusing the meaning in the signs.  We can thus see how the global pandemic has hollowed out the meaning of our place.  The signs that we invested with meaning, belonging, emotions , memories  etc are infected by the ‘virus’ and are denuded  of their meaning, belonging, emotions , memories that were invested into our places. This is why our places have become unsafe and are haunted by the deadly virus.  Learning from this global pandemic experience, we can understand how we construct a place as well as how a condition of placelessness afflicts us.  Our experience of the pandemic shows how our place is disrupted. It show how we have entered a semiotic black hole that squeezed out the meaning of signs that make a place and  the same signs have acquired a new meanings.  This means when we construct a place, we put the reigning signs into a semiotic black hole and infuse new meanings, emotions, memories, expectations in the signs that inhabit the space and construct our place. This also shows how place/less condition enters and disrupts the place that we comfortably lived that far.


 Being Place/less

When we get dislocated from our place, we face a condition that renders us place/less. The coronavirus has made us place/less and unhomed us from our places of comfort.

Understanding Place/lessness

The condition of place/lessness disrupts our experience and consumption of a place.  This disembending  and uprooting from a place can be inflicted by   others and external conditions like earthquakes, pandemics etc. It can also be (voluntarily) self inflicted by people who live their place in search of better pastures. We have touched the climax of place/lessness  with the invasion of corona-virus.  The global pandemic has affected all our places and rendered them unsafe.  The fact that we do not know which place is safe and which place is a hotspot of the virus has   put us in a condition of place/lessness.  There is a silver lining to this disruption. We have opened our eyes to our common humanity  and learnt to care for all.   This means place/lessness is not entirely bad. It has its good sides.  Thus, for instance, Philosopher, Thomas Nagel tries to overcome local, cultural bias with his book titled, A View from Nowhere[12] But such an idealist abstraction is contested by thinkers like Deleuze and Gauttari and Slavoj Zizek who teach that there is not zero point epistemology. Things happen in the middle of the drama of life and we have to begin from where we find ourselves.  This is why place/less condition is thought to have irrupted with modernity privileging the objective and rational philosophies that somehow placed the human minds outside the world that we lived in.  Such a thought legitimated colonization and displacement of people, plant and animals across the globe.  Thus, place/lessness of the colonizer displaced cultures and ecologies.  Thus, place/less condition does not wipe the slate of our place clear. It infuses new meanings and objects into our place and disrupts our place of the reigning meanings, belongings, memories and histories are displaced and new meanings are imposed.   The disruptive experience of being place/less alienates us and put us on an exile in our place.

Being in an Exilic Place

Place/lessness transforms our place into an exilic place. We can no longer feel at home.  We are unhomed in our own place.  Our places being haunted by a condition of place/lessness, we are put in an unfamiliar mode of transitions.  Some thinkers like  Deleuze and Gauttari celebrate this nomadic life.[13]  But one cannot forget the de-naturalising   side of the condition of being place/less. Besides, we have to pay heed to the fact that place/lessness can be imposed on people to exploit their natural resources as we can notice in the case of development induced displacement. This is why the dissemination of place/lessness  into our places has to be attentively scrutinized. Its unhoming dynamism has to be clearly studied. We can understand this unhoming dynamism of a condition of place/lessness with the help of the concept body-with-out-organs which we have already applied in the first part.  This notion provides an insight  into the dynamism of the manner in which  a place/less condition hallows out meanings, memories,  histories, emotions associated with a place and infuse new meanings, objects  etc.,  that become  the new organs of  body of the place. This means by converting the place into a body-without-organs, a place/less condition infuses new meanings into the place as a result of which we feel displaced and dislocated from our rootedness to our place.  It almost gives us a feeling of our limbs being cut.  There are several ways place/lessness can disrupt a place. A place can be rendered place/less though ideology. Thus for instance, the ideology like narrow nationalism that we call Hindutva is a body-without-organs. It de-recognizes the minorities as the organs of the body of India. This means the minorities are rendered organs without a body and are exiled in their own country. Development induced displacement of people is another form of place/less condition that can afflict our place.  The use of technologies that often link us outside our home and take our time away from those who live with us is a form of place/less condition. The Phygital world or the hybridized amalgamation of the physical and the digital intensifies our place/less condition.

Dynamics of the Phygital

The indeterminism of the presence and the absence of coronavirus is allied to the phygital world that has invaded our place on the wings of the internet and artificial intelligence. It has almost enclosed us into our own echo chambers and cut us off from the real life.  The digital continuously attacks the physical as we easily travel using Google travel  app. We do not have to remember the familiar landmarks as we sail through with the help of the directions offered to us by  the apps  in the web. Today we have entered a phygital world of the simulacra.[14] The similar is all that we have. We are producing copies after copies and the real is lost in this chain of simulations.  Besides, while we travel we constantly access information about our favourite food, entertainment sites through  various signs that pop on screens of our mobile phone.  A hybridized phygital world lives along side our physical world rendering it more and more place/less.  The world of big data analytics is taking control over our minds.[15]  They study our footprints on the web with the help of artificial intelligence and using analytics to correlate our likes and dislikes. This means the world of big data analytics uses stimuli to trigger our responses that predicated by artificial intelligence. The future of humanity in the growing phygital world is bleak.  It appears that humanity is fasting becoming vulnerable of being enslaved by big data analytics.[16] The phygital world is fast proclaiming the death of our place and we are pushed into hybridized combinations of the digital and the physical. There are several blessings of this new phygital world. But as regards our place, it replaces it with place/lessness .  This place/lessness is not all evil. It is a great blessing to migrants and  those that work in foreign countries. These people can be in contact with their original places   through the wings of the phygital .   The pandemic has pushed us indoors and we have migrated seamlessly into the phygital world.  The coronovirus has displaced us  from the physical world and we are happily  living in the digital world. We seem to be confined to the margins of our place. Coronovirus has successfully castrated our place. Indeed, our place has become place/less

Reframing our Place

In the wake of coronavirus, we are lost in our own place.  Our assemblage of place is disassembled. We have to reassemble our place again. Under cornavirus, we do the same by sanitizing it. Sanitization only makes it temporarily habitable.  We are trapped in a castrated place. We will be free only with the end of the pandemic.

Living with heterotopias

Coronovirus has put our place into a disorder. It has displaced the order of things.[17]  We are challenged to live with this previously unthinkable place.  We have to find affinity with the new order of things. It can open our eyes to certain unperceived aspects of things.  We have to learn to inhabit a counter-place. Children usually enjoy disordered order like a forest. They find in the disorder creative spaces to play hind and seek.  Place has its own disciplinary practices. In several ways place shapes us as we shape it.  With the advent of the pandemic, our place has become a place of deviation. We cannot inhabit our place. We have to take up a new disciplinary regime. We have to mark our distance. We have to practice social distancing. We have to retreat indoors.  We  are confined to live on the margin or edge of our place.  We are forced to internalize the gaze of surveillance so that we can self police ourselves, use masks,  practice hand hygiene to protect us from the deadly virus.  Our world within our world has changed and we have to learn to live with these unfamiliar heterotopias. These are real places of our refuge, containment and escape from the life threatening condition. We have already tried to set up new connections on wings of the digital world. We have come to live in dynamic, fast paced phygital world.  We have to come to terms with the fact that we cannot easily divide otherness.  This means we have to give up the binary logic of our thinking.  Otherness is all around us. Our intimate places have become other to us.  Our place has become heterotopia.[18] Unlike utopias which exist in the future in a no man’s land, hetorotopia actually exists in our place. We are challenged to embrace it.   Heterotopias are disruptive.  Living with them is like looking into a mirror.  They give us a feeling being in there and not there at the same time. They also disrupt our experience of time. We experience spatio-temporal discontinuities and intensities.

Living with Otherness

Our place is both subverting and complementing us.  There is an otherness within it that is unhoming us. We have the radical experience of being thrown into it without our choice. Absurdity is forced on us and we are challenged to learn to live with it.  We are diverted from our everyday experience and are immersed into otherness that introduces a kind of pause into our life. We have somewhat lost our control over our place and intensely feel a sense of being uprooted. But it is not the end of the road for us. It can become a place of thinking of other ways of being-in-the-world.  This means our place has become space of boundary crossing and space for generating difference.  It opens up in Foucault’s word ‘tangled paths, strange places, secret passages and unexpected communications’.[19]   Indeed, we are challenged to live joyfully with enclosures that are seemingly dangerous.  To embrace this life we need the daring and delight of children. Our place is not dissolved by cornonavirus but it has become other. It alienates us but these limitations cannot become our limits. They open alternate ways of imagining and being in-the-world. We have reached a Galileo point. Just like Galileo’s discovery of the moving earth around the sun open a limitless space and the place of anything on earth becomes a point in reference to the movement the earth, our place and things within it find meaning and significance with reference to the indeterminate presence and absence of the lethal virus. Thus, our place with the presence of place/lessness becomes a Galileo’s point that opens infinite space for us to think alternate ways of being-human-in-our-world.  In fact our place is not static. It is dynamic and is already a heterogeneous. We have territorialized it to suit us. This is why the change that has disrupted our comfort zones is an occasion to invent alternate places and embrace other ways of being-human-in-the-world.    Perhaps we may actualize utopias that would become counter-palaces that we have not imagined so far.

Living the Phygital

Foucault teaches that when a utopia is actualized, we enter the heterotopia.[20] All societies exhibit heterotopias.   In the ancient times there were privileged forbidden sacred places that reserved to individuals that are in some kind of crisis in relation to the society in which they live.  People is crisis of transition who were forbidden entrance into these places were menstruating or pregnant women, adolescent etc.[21] we may see the honeymoon trip for a newly married girl  may be also viewed as heterotypic place with the markers of the local place where a women is expected to  enjoy her first sex. [22] Cemetery is another heterotopia where the dead is thought to be waiting for their resurrection.  The utopia of resurrection is enacted in the rituals and the tombs of in cemetery.  In a very real way the cemetery becomes a dark resting place for every believer living around it.[23]  Heterotopias like cinema theatres where three dimension space in portrayed a two dimensional screens[24] or sacred space where God is supposed to be living.  These heterotopias are close to the phygital world that has become popular under the global pandemic. We live our slices of life in the phygital world.  We have entered the heterochronies  as well as heterotopias  on the wings of intermeshing of  the digital and the physical .  The internet accumulates time as well as space.  Just like the museums and libraries accumulate time,[25] the internet accumulates and intensifies time.  Moreover as the encyclopaedia houses a lot of information in a space so to the internet accumulates space. The communication technologies, the development of the internet and AI have enabled us to go phygital. The coronavirus has accelerate our migration into the phygital  world and there is no turning back . We need critical mindful awareness as we sail through the new found place.


Our study has shown that coronavirus has imposed a place/lessness on us. All our places are castrated and are rendered unsafe. Our condition of being place/less has opened several vistas on our life and being in the world and opened us ways of imagining and living alternate ways of being-human-in –the-world.

[1] For an illustrations of how a place/less conditions afflicts humans.  See  Avery  F. Gordon, The Hawthorn Archive:  letters from the Utopian Margins ( New York : Fordham University Press, 2018) , 273

[2]  Phygital world is intertwining of our physical and the digital world.

[3] Robert Freestone and Edgar Liu, “ Revisiting Place and Placelessness’,  In Robert Freestone and Edgar Liu, Eds., Place and Placelessness revisited ( New York: Routledge, 2016), 2.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid, 5-6.

[7] Assemblage is a concept developed by Deleuze and Guattari. See Thomas Nail, “What is an Assemblage?” in SubStance, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 46, no. 1, 2017, pp 21-27.

[8] For details see Steven Miles, Spaces of Consumption: Pleasure and Placelessness in Postindustrial City (London: Sage 2010), 1-10.

[9] See Charles  Bathold, “The revolutionary interpretation of Deleuze and Gauttari”

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329696518_The_revolutionary_interpretation_of_Deleuze_and_Guattari/citation/download accessed on 21/11/2020.

[10]  See Deems D. Morrione, “When Signifiers Collide: Doubling, Semiotic Black Holes, and the Destructive Remainder of American Un/Real” https://www.jstor.org/stable/4489250?seq=1 accessed on 20/11/2020.

[11] See Meenu Gupta, “ Reflections of Indian Philosophy in Deleuze’s Body without organs” https://www.euppublishing.com/doi/abs/10.3366/dlgs.2018.0293?journalCode=dlgs accesed on 21/11/2020.

[12]  See Robert Freestone and Edgar Liu, “ Revisiting Place and Placelessness’, p 21.

[13] See Gilles Deleuze and Felix Gauttari, Nomadology: the War Machines ( New York: Semiotexte, 1986) also see Steve Best and Douglas Kellener , “Deleuze and Gauttari: Schizos, Nomads and Rhizomes” https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-1-349-21718-2_3  accessed on 21/11/2020.

[14] See Jean Baudrillard, “The Procession of Simulacra” https://midnightmediamusings.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/the-precession-of-simulacra-by-jean-baudrillard-a-summary/ accessed on 21/11/2020.

[15] Victor Ferrao, Being Human in a World of Artificial Intelligence (Delhi: Written Words, 2020), 27-36.

[16] Ibid.

[17]  Every society has underlying unquestioned assumptions. Foucault calls them episteme. It is the episteme that control the order of things. Psycho analytics call it the law of the father or the symbolic order.   See http://socialdemocracy21stcentury.blogspot.com/2015/03/foucaults-order-of-things-summary-and.html accessed on 21/11/2020.

[18]  See Michel Foucault, “ of other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias’ https://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/foucault1.pdf accessed on 21/10/2020.

[19]  Zhang Longxi, “The Myth of the Other. China in the Eyes of the West’ in  Hwa Jol Jung, Ed.,  Comparative Political culture  in an Age of Globalization: an Introductory Anthology ( New York Lexington Books,  2002), 84

[20] See Michel Foucault, “ of other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias’.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid,

[25] Ibid.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao