The theories of Henri Lefebvre, a Marxist theorist and philosopher, on the urban form and on everyday life have been particularly influential in the context of urban and geography studies.1Henri Lefebvre, De l’État (Paris: UGE, 1976); Henri Lefebvre, The Survival of Capitalism: Reproduction of the Relations of Production, trans. Frank Bryant (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1976); Chris Butler, Henri Lefebvre: Spatial Politics, Everyday Life and the Right to the City (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012). The representational possibilities of film are particularly suited to an interrogation of spatial dynamics. It is contended here that Lefebvre’s work on the production of space is also of interest to media industries studies, although underused in this context. This article builds upon the use of Lefebvre’s theories in other creative industries, including Robert Prey’s ongoing work on spatialisation and Spotify2Robert Prey, “Henri Lefebvre and the Production of Music Streaming Spaces,” Sociologica 9, no. 3 (2015): 1–22. and both Aphra Kerr’s and David Nieborg’s work in the games industries space.3Aphra Kerr, Global Games: Production, Circulation and Policy in the Networked Era, (Abingdon: Routledge, 2017); David Nieborg, “Triple-A: The political economy of the blockbuster video game,” PhD Thesis, (2011), University of Amsterdam, https://dare.uva.nl/search?metis.record.id=345555 It applies Lefebvre’s triadic conceptualisation of space to an analysis of the Irish cultural tax credit policies (Section 481/Section 481A). Film and other media production incentives are a significant part of the global production landscape, and are seen as crucial to the Irish media industries.
Through this analysis, this article explicitly draws links between Lefebvre’s concept of the production of space and his critique of the powers of the state form.4Henri Lefebvre, “Comments on a New State Form,” Antipode, 33, no. 5 (2001): 769–782; Andy Merrifield, Henri Lefebvre: A Critical Introduction (Abingdon: Routledge, 2006); Butler, Henri Lefebvre. This article engages with two distinct theories from Henri Lefebvre — his concept of spatialisation and the related concept of state intervention in society, the State Mode of Production (SMP) — in order to explore how they might be deployed in an analysis of the media industries landscape and in particular, the role of the state in facilitating such industries. Lefebvre’s crucial contribution to theory in this area examines how space is subject to forces of commodification, a process he terms “spatialisation.”5Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991).
Film and other audiovisual media tend to be transnational or global in form but are still grounded in the specificities of place and time, with the materiality of production conditions imprinted on cultural outputs. The identification of underlying ideologies in filmic representation of space is applicable to how we think about the material production of the (cinematic) space. This article therefore focuses on how specific public policies that support cultural production can be analysed through considerations of the spatial. It applies Lefebvre’s spatial theories to the example of the Irish tax credits system for the support of film production (in place since 1987) and, most recently, digital games (introduced in 2022), collectively known as Section 481/481A. These cultural tax policies operate as incentives for film and games production respectively in Ireland, allowing producer companies to use the film/digital games tax relief as a credit against any corporation tax payable. Section 481, the film tax relief, has historically been seen as pivotal to the growth of both the indigenous and inward investment film industry in Ireland, attracting the filming of productions such as Disney’s Disenchanted in 2021.
Lefebvre’s trialectic of space and its application to media production policies
Lefebvre’s approach emphasises that space is not a fixed entity that pre-exists human interaction, but instead is “a dynamic set of relations, actively produced through sociality, in a constantly mutating process.”6Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 2. Lefebvre’s most significant contribution to theory on space is his conceptual triad of space. He posits this as comprising spatial practice, representations of space and representational spaces (also termed as space perceived, conceived and lived). Spatial practice, or the physical level of space, as a concept embraces production and reproduction, thus ensuring continuity in society. Representations of space are tied to the relations of production, containing the mental level of space, and representational spaces (or spaces of representation) embody complex symbolisms and can be seen as the level containing the cultural aspects of social spatialisation.7Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 33; Rob Shields, Lefebvre, Love, and Struggle: Spatial Dialectics (Abingdon: Routledge 1999), 160–170.
Merrifield expands on Lefebvre’s conceptual triad as follows:
- Spatial practices which structure everyday reality and broader urban and social reality, including routes, networks, and patterns of interaction (space perceived).
- Representations of space include those drawn up by planners, engineers, and architects, namely the dominant use of space by society because it is tied to the relations of production (space conceived, or also discourses on space).
- Representational space/Spaces of representation: the lived space, the space of everyday experience (space lived).8Merrifield, Henri Lefebvre, 108–110.
Lefebvre’s theories have been used to much effect to explore the commodification of urban space, but are equally useful for thinking about the commodification of culture and the representational aspects of media production – for example, through considerations of who has the access to the means of production, who is represented, and the role of the state as facilitator in this process. Priya Jaikumar, for example, has analysed India as an example of a “filmed space” — that is, the “captured artifact of an encounter between a camera and its environment.”9Priya Jaikumar, Where Histories Reside: India as Filmed Space (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019), 17. Her analysis moves beyond considerations of pro-filmic space and instead looks at how “film functions as a politico-economic commodity” which “exemplifies and authorizes specific kinds of intersections between the material, social, and imagined spaces that constitute our world.”10Jaikumar, Where Histories Reside, 18 Within the context of European Union policy, which requires tax credits like Section 481/A to have a cultural as well as an economic rationale, audiovisual industries are therefore framed as both an economic and a cultural commodity. The use of Lefebvre’s spatial theories to interrogate the role of the state in supporting audiovisual production in Ireland allows us to critique the operation of film and other cultural tax credits as operating within a neoliberal environment, but also to recognise the potential of cultural creation.
Commodification of the cultural space
The use of Lefebvre’s spatial theories to think about audiovisual production policies enables us to understand the intersections between form, concept and space (that is, Lefebvre’s perceived, conceived and lived spaces) in the production space of the audiovisual industries. Lefebvre was critical of what he saw as the dominance of conceived space over lived space. Lived space is the space where human desires are formulated, developed and realised in a concrete fashion. The lived space dimension of the audiovisual industries includes the cultural significance of audiovisual production — that is, the meaning-making attributes of film, games, and other media products.
The use of Lefebvre’s trialectic of space allows us to uncover the hidden commodification inherent in the everyday practices of taxation policy
Taking into account the specific conditions under which the Section 481/A tax credit regimes operate, the space of the material form of production in Ireland can be perceived in the emphasis on physical production, through the promotion of Ireland as a welcoming space for inward productions – that is, the commodification of the space of the state. The rationale for such materiality is conceived through the structure of the tax credits which incentivise particular forms of production that align with the tax credit conditions. This conceived space, which sets up an abstract space of production, dominates the lived space of production, through the commodification of cultural production. This abstract space is, for Lefebvre, the space of capitalism and is shaped by both the state and the capitalist class. This conceived or abstract space of production is challenged by the lived space of Irish cultural production – including, for example, the everyday work practices of the creative industries, and the creation of representational audiovisual cultural products, like films, TV programs and digital games. The assumption of domination of the abstract space, the space of capitalism, over the social or lived space of the creative industries is in fact challenged by these everyday social forms of engagement which understand the creative industries as more than industrial forms, but also as forms of culture.
The use of tax credits to incentivise cultural production can at times be seen as a form of commodification of both the geographic and cultural space of Ireland, in that particular forms of commercialised production are incentivised. Neil Brenner and Stuart Elden hold that “Lefebvre argues that an epochal shift has occurred within capitalism: production no longer occurs merely in space; instead, space itself is now being produced in and through the process of capitalist development.” 11Neil Brenner and Stuart Elden, “Henri Lefebvre on State, Space, Territory”, International Political Sociology 3, no. 4 (2009): 185. Lefebvre ties his concerns around social space to key agendas of the political economy, including exchange and use value. For Lefebvre “space as a whole enters into the modernized mode of capitalist production: it is used to produce surplus value.”12Ibid., 187.
It must be emphasised that the three dimensions of space exist in a state of uncertainty,13Kanishka Goonewardena et al, eds., Space, Difference, Everyday Life: Reading Henri Lefebvre (Abingdon: Routledge, 2008). therefore Lefebvre’s thinking on space allows for exploration of the relational dynamic between different spatial dimensions. We can move from an understanding of space as commodified to an understanding of the active processes underpinning the organisation and creation of space. In particular, Lefebvre’s insights into the role of the state in society cracks open the often-concealed intersection of the state and capitalist industry within the media sector. For Lefebvre, space is not just a natural construct but is actively produced by and within society and as part of the social relations of production.
Lefebvre’s work builds on Marx, including most obviously the concept of commodification. Lefebvre expands the concept of commodification to the production of space, holding that space is “at once a precondition and a result of social superstructures”;14Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 85. it is a product to be used and, simultaneously, a means of production. Fuchs focuses on the links between Lefebvre and Marx, arguing that Lefebvre “wants to advance a Marxist approach that does not stress products (structural Marxism) but production.”15Christian Fuchs, Marxist Humanism and Communication Theory: Communication and Society Volume One (Abingdon: Routledge 2021, 110. For Lefebvre, state-economy relations have been transformed, at least in Western Europe, in a process that has masked the deepening imbrication of the state in “producing, maintaining, and reproducing the basic socio-institutional and territorial preconditions for capital accumulation.”16Henri Lefebvre, State, Space, World: Selected Essays, trans. Gerald Moore, Neil Brenner, and Stuart Elden (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), 18.
Lefebvre holds that “one of the reasons why capitalism has survived into the twentieth century is because of its flexibility in constructing and reconstructing the relations of space and the global space economy, in constituting the world market.”17Lefebvre, The Survival of Capitalism, 21. Capitalism, for Lefebvre, has produced an abstract space that depends on a network of infrastructure, much of which is state-supported at least through forms of regulation, such as banks, and centres of production.
In the case of the Irish audio-visual industries, the regulation of production, through the provisions of an explicit tax code that incentivises production, operates to transform the cultural space into a commodified space
In the case of the Irish audio-visual industries, the regulation of production, through the provisions of an explicit tax code that incentivises production, operates to transform the cultural space into a commodified space. For example, the film tax credit system is deliberately designed to increase the attractiveness of Ireland as a destination space for film production — that is, for inward investment. On the one hand, this can be framed as a commodification of the geographic and cultural space of Ireland, and analysed as an example of Lefebvre’s concept of conceived space. However, we must keep in mind the porosity of boundaries between the different conceptualisations of space. This allows us to also frame the process of incentivising inward investment production through the operation of a tax credit within the concept of the lived or social space, in that an active film industry in Ireland provides local employment, training and experience.
A number of academics have considered spatialisation in the context of the games industry, including Aphra Kerr and Anthony Cawley, who look at the digital games industry in Ireland.18Aphra Kerr and Anthony Cawley, “The spatialisation of the digital games industry: Lessons from Ireland,” International Journal of Cultural Policy 18, no. 4 (2012): 398–418. They operationalise Lefebvre’s theories in the context of the spatial distribution of the games industry across regional and local financial, cultural and labour markets. In Global Games, Kerr applies Lefebvre’s work on spatialisation to the global digital games industry. Kerr holds that Lefebvre’s approach to spatial practices works as a “helpful corrective to a static place-based lens.”19Kerr, Global Games, 22. Kerr uses spatialisation as a framework for an analysis of the relationship between the global games industry and space, highlighting the need for what she describes as a “multi-scalar analysis of organisations,” including national governments, transnational corporations, and regulatory bodies.20Ibid., 22. Nieborg has undertaken a significant intervention into the spatialised dynamics of globalised, capitalist flows in the digital games industry. He similarly uses Lefebvre’s spatialisation to analyse the relationship between the local and the global, interrogating how capitalism shaped the console game commodity form in his analysis of the blockbuster videogame.21Nieborg, 2011.
The State Mode of [cultural] Production
The intersection of Lefebvre’s theories on space and the role of the state coalesce in his concept of the State Mode of Production (SMP). This concept was developed in his as yet not fully translated four-volume work De L’État. 22Lefebvre, De L’État. SMP is described by Benner as “the state’s increasingly direct role in the promotion and management of capitalist industrial growth.”23Neil Brenner, “Henri Lefebvre’s Critique of State Productivism,” in Space, Difference, and Everyday Life: Henri Lefebvre and Radical Politics, ed. Kanishka Goonewardena et al (Abingdon: Routledge, 2008), 236. and is held by Lefebvre to describe the ultimate controlling hand of the state which, for Lefebvre, should be resisted at all times (in a process he calls autogestion). Through the concept of the SMP, Lefebvre traced the changing historical role of the state, identifying a new period (post-World War II) in which the state became a historical necessity in capitalist development. Despite the rhetoric of the free market within neoliberalist states, the state still plays a significant role in the support and regulation of the audiovisual media markets, as illustrated by the crucial role of the state in supporting media production through the provision of tax credits like Section 481/A.
For Lefebvre, the definition of a state is centred on space. He argues that “the state framework, and the state as framework, cannot be conceived of without reference to the instrumental space that they make use of.”24Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 231. Emphasis in original. One of the reasons why capitalism has survived into the twentieth century (and beyond) is because of its flexibility in constructing and reconstructing the relations of space and the global space economy, in constituting the world market25Lefebvre, The Survival of Capitalism, 106. or as Lefebvre states, “by occupying space, by producing a space.”26Lefebvre, The Survival of Capitalism, 21. Emphasis in original. The state produces its own space, which “regulates and organizes a disintegrating national space at the heart of a consolidating global space.”27Henri Lefebvre, “Space and the State’, in State/Space: A Reader, ed. Neil Brenner, Bob Jessop, Martin Jones, and Gordon MacLeod (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2003), 85. Therefore, he holds that ‘the economy is thus recast in spatial terms – flows…and stocks’28Lefebvre, (2003) p.85 which tend to be controlled by the state through coordination of processes which lead to what Lefebvre calls the SMP.
The provision of tax credits in Ireland to incentivise audiovisual production operates within a broadly neoliberal environment. Brenner has applied Lefebvre’s theories to considerations of neoliberalism.29Neil Brenner, “State Theory in the Political Conjuncture: Henri Lefebvre’s ‘Comments on a new state form'”, Antipode 33, no. 5 (2001), 783–808; Brenner, “Henri Lefebvre’s Critique of State Productivism”; Brenner and Elden, “Henri Lefebvre on State, Space, Territory.” Despite the specific temporal and geographic context of Lefebvre’s theories, they are useful to “illuminate the present formation of neoliberalizing capitalism and neoconservative geopolitical reaction in the early twenty-first century”30Brenner and Elden (2009), 5. given that Lefebvre considers the totality of forces shaping society. Brenner holds that neoliberalism can be seen as a new form of SMP. He considers that the currently emergent ‘hyperproductivist form’31Brenner, “State Theory in the Political Conjuncture”, 799. Emphasis in original. of the SMP may signal three things: (1) an intensified role for the state; (2) the dissociation of state productivism from the mechanisms of social redistribution; and/or (3) a massive deepening of uneven geographical development within and between national territories. Brenner argues that a new form of the SMP may be emerging, one in which “the state’s function as an agent for the commodification of its territory — at once on national, regional, and urban scales — has acquired an unprecedented supremacy over other regulatory operations within the state’s institutional architecture.”32Ibid., 799.
Lefebvre’s theory of the SMP is a useful analytic lens through which to critically decode the state’s role in the media production landscape via the provision of tax credit regimes. Lefebvre’s state theory provides a foundation for considering how “the intended outcome of contemporary geopolitical strategies is no longer crude territorial expansion, but rather the free passage of goods, energy, and military power across the globe.”33Lefebvre, State, Space, World, 37. The space of cultural production is challenged by global flows and assisted by state regulation thus “established grids of state spatial regulation are … reworked, in part as a means to reconfigure established geographies of capitalist accumulation and uneven spatial development.”34Ibid, 10. The state is attempting to adjust to changing global geoeconomic and geopolitical conditions and incentivise cultural production through the provision of tax credits.
This spatial focus interrogates the role of the state in the multiple spatialising practices operating within a political economy of audiovisual industries. The conceived and perceived spaces constructed by policy developments — that is, the social and political structures that operate as both “opportunities and constraints”35Julian R.A. Clark and and Alun R. Jones, “The Spatialising Politics of European Political Practice: Transacting ‘Eastness’ in the European Union,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 29, no. 2 (2011): 294. — act upon the lived practices of citizens (lived space). This approach gets to the heart of the political economy of audiovisual industries in its attempt to understand the power structures that shape the production of meaning-making creative products. The application of the trialectic approach to the film tax credit system in Ireland shows the continued importance of the state in the media production process. The process of spatialisation underpins Lefebvre’s understanding of the role of the state within capitalist production. The state has a significant role to play in the shaping of the media production landscape through the incentivisation of production. Ultimately, Lefebvre’s aim can be seen as to unpack the social or spatial practices inherent in the relationships within capitalism to uncover revolutionary potential. For him, social space is a social product, but this tendency is concealed through the illusion of transparency, the existence of an illusion of natural simplicity. As Brenner and Elden comment on Lefebvre’s work, “states have come to play a key role in the management and maintenance of capitalist growth at all spatial scales, from the local to the worldwide; therefore the critique of capitalism necessarily entails the critique of modern state power.”36Brenner and Elden, “Henri Lefebvre on State, Space, Territory”, 17.
Lefebvre’s academic project was critical of the dominance of conceived space (that is, the space of data/capital) over lived space (that is, the space of the individual/cultural expression as lived practices). Using Lefebvre’s theories of spatialisation and the concept of the SMP allows for a way to theorise the rationale for state intervention in the audiovisual industries. A spatialised lens identifies Lefebvre’s trialectical spatial dimensions, the perceived space (of policy), the conceived space (of commodification) and the lived space of social and cultural life through representation by media forms. Lefebvre did not offer a clean approach to spatial dynamics within spatialisation; rather, he suggested some tools to open up interrogation of that which is concealed by capitalism. With this in mind, it is possible to identify a spatial dimension to film (as a product), to a film industry (as an industry operating in a capitalist, globalised environment), and to a national cinema. Space has multiple meanings within the media form, from the real space of production to the constructed space of representation.
Dr Maria O’Brien is a practitioner and scholar working in audiovisual and digital programming and policy. She is a co-founder of the East Asian Film Festival and was recently awarded support as a Future Screens Fellow to pursue new digital media. Maria’s doctoral research at Dublin City University was in the political economy of the audiovisual industry. With a former career in law, her work focuses on the intersection of law and policy in film and screen media. She has held lecturing roles in Dublin City University and University of Maynooth and is currently a Lecturer in Arts Management & Cultural Policy at Queen’s University Belfast.
|↑1||Henri Lefebvre, De l’État (Paris: UGE, 1976); Henri Lefebvre, The Survival of Capitalism: Reproduction of the Relations of Production, trans. Frank Bryant (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1976); Chris Butler, Henri Lefebvre: Spatial Politics, Everyday Life and the Right to the City (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012).|
|↑2||Robert Prey, “Henri Lefebvre and the Production of Music Streaming Spaces,” Sociologica 9, no. 3 (2015): 1–22.|
|↑3||Aphra Kerr, Global Games: Production, Circulation and Policy in the Networked Era, (Abingdon: Routledge, 2017); David Nieborg, “Triple-A: The political economy of the blockbuster video game,” PhD Thesis, (2011), University of Amsterdam, https://dare.uva.nl/search?metis.record.id=345555|
|↑4||Henri Lefebvre, “Comments on a New State Form,” Antipode, 33, no. 5 (2001): 769–782; Andy Merrifield, Henri Lefebvre: A Critical Introduction (Abingdon: Routledge, 2006); Butler, Henri Lefebvre.|
|↑5||Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991).|
|↑6||Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 2.|
|↑7||Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 33; Rob Shields, Lefebvre, Love, and Struggle: Spatial Dialectics (Abingdon: Routledge 1999), 160–170.|
|↑8||Merrifield, Henri Lefebvre, 108–110.|
|↑9||Priya Jaikumar, Where Histories Reside: India as Filmed Space (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019), 17.|
|↑10||Jaikumar, Where Histories Reside, 18|
|↑11||Neil Brenner and Stuart Elden, “Henri Lefebvre on State, Space, Territory”, International Political Sociology 3, no. 4 (2009): 185.|
|↑13||Kanishka Goonewardena et al, eds., Space, Difference, Everyday Life: Reading Henri Lefebvre (Abingdon: Routledge, 2008).|
|↑14||Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 85.|
|↑15||Christian Fuchs, Marxist Humanism and Communication Theory: Communication and Society Volume One (Abingdon: Routledge 2021, 110.|
|↑16||Henri Lefebvre, State, Space, World: Selected Essays, trans. Gerald Moore, Neil Brenner, and Stuart Elden (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), 18.|
|↑17||Lefebvre, The Survival of Capitalism, 21.|
|↑18||Aphra Kerr and Anthony Cawley, “The spatialisation of the digital games industry: Lessons from Ireland,” International Journal of Cultural Policy 18, no. 4 (2012): 398–418.|
|↑19||Kerr, Global Games, 22.|
|↑22||Lefebvre, De L’État.|
|↑23||Neil Brenner, “Henri Lefebvre’s Critique of State Productivism,” in Space, Difference, and Everyday Life: Henri Lefebvre and Radical Politics, ed. Kanishka Goonewardena et al (Abingdon: Routledge, 2008), 236.|
|↑24||Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 231. Emphasis in original.|
|↑25||Lefebvre, The Survival of Capitalism, 106.|
|↑26||Lefebvre, The Survival of Capitalism, 21. Emphasis in original.|
|↑27||Henri Lefebvre, “Space and the State’, in State/Space: A Reader, ed. Neil Brenner, Bob Jessop, Martin Jones, and Gordon MacLeod (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2003), 85.|
|↑28||Lefebvre, (2003) p.85|
|↑29||Neil Brenner, “State Theory in the Political Conjuncture: Henri Lefebvre’s ‘Comments on a new state form'”, Antipode 33, no. 5 (2001), 783–808; Brenner, “Henri Lefebvre’s Critique of State Productivism”; Brenner and Elden, “Henri Lefebvre on State, Space, Territory.”|
|↑30||Brenner and Elden (2009), 5.|
|↑31||Brenner, “State Theory in the Political Conjuncture”, 799. Emphasis in original.|
|↑33||Lefebvre, State, Space, World, 37.|
|↑35||Julian R.A. Clark and and Alun R. Jones, “The Spatialising Politics of European Political Practice: Transacting ‘Eastness’ in the European Union,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 29, no. 2 (2011): 294.|
|↑36||Brenner and Elden, “Henri Lefebvre on State, Space, Territory”, 17.|