February 21, 2016
A heterotopia is a localized, “realized utopia” (178) that is connected to all other emplacements but is simultaneously distinct from them. Foucault argues that there are examples of heterotopias in virtually every human civilization and culture. The heterotopia is a place separated from the outside world, yet inextricable connected to it in a myriad of ways. Foucault acknowledges the growing interconnectedness of the world (more relevant than ever in the Internet-age) generating a prolific exchange of ideas, customs, knowledge, and culture. A heterotopia uses these influences but removes them from the general pool of society and places them in a new, unique environment.
The classroom exemplifies the heterotopia. In an ideal seminar format, for example, each individual student is part of the conversation, contributing ideas and unique perspectives that alter the views and thoughts of the other students. In a single session, each part of the seminar circle works with and against the others—students respond to and contradict one another: disparate parts creating and defining a whole. The classroom, in an ideal state, is a removed environment, a unique social setting where the transfer of knowledge, the exchange of ideas, the growing mind, is privileged above all else. It should be a space where these things are fostered– encouraging experiences, ideas, and growth that couldn’t occur in the outside world. In each culture, teaching and learning have been deemed important and necessary, and in many cases, an environment where this learning could take place was formed apart from everyday life so that it would prosper.