Social Space

Simmel describes four principles of space (Hurst 2005:65-66):

1)      Space is always exclusive and unique

2)      Space can be broken down into parts

3)      How members are tied to a particular “home” or physical location

4)      Distance and proximity

Instead of examining the Fredericksburg area, I decided to look at a unique kind of “gated community;” a military base.  I have grown up on a number of bases and they provide a unique social construction and arrangement because they can have an entire community in one confined location.  I will focus particularly on the one that my parents live on now in Norfolk, VA.

The interesting thing about military communities is that there is an entire social order in such a small community.  Part of the rankings and order are created by the military, but often how individuals fit into this system depends on social factors, particularly socio-economic status.  This occurs because of the basic structure of the military.  When simply joining the military out of high school or without higher education, you can enlist.  If you have a college education, you can join as an officer.  This already creates a division.  Over time, throughout your service you can move up in rank, which comes with better benefits and higher salaries.  There comes a point that you cannot exceed for officers and enlisted, but the differences in these ranks are quite significant.

This social order is apparent even in the design of the base.  For instance, when entering through the main gate onto the base, immediately to your left leads to office buildings and ships.  To your right, however, is the residential portion of the base.  This section begins with a group of homes similar to town houses for officers and their families.  These homes form a small community with a courtyard in the center containing a playground for their children.  A block down, as you approach the water and a beautiful view of the Chesapeake Bay, is the homes of the Flag officers.  These are huge homes built 100 years ago that are specifically designated to those at the highest ranks in the military.  The street is private and blocked off during rush hour so sailors will not drive and disturb these families.  Meanwhile, another few blocks down, there are large complexes filled with small apartments.  These apartments and the actual ships are the designated living environments for sailors, or enlisted military.  On ships they sleep on a bunk with a number of roommates, and the apartments are small and usually shared.

Another part of the base, further out, contains more officers’ homes, which are designed as most middle-class residential neighborhoods are today.  These homes are for higher level officers that are not quite at the top flag level.  In this section, there is also the Officers’ Club, which is exclusive to officers and is a more formal restaurant.  The only option comparable to this for sailors is the couple of food courts that exist on base.

This one base meets all four of these principles and makes apparent the social status and structure in the space, even in a location that is meant to benefit military members and provide affordable and decent options for them.  The entire space is an exclusive setting, only allowing military members and dependents onto the actual base. The base is broken down into sections based on their functions; offices, ship docks, residential areas determined by rank, and shopping areas. All military in the area is tied to this physical location.  Even military families who choose to live off the base have to commute and work in this location.  Finally, the proximity and distance from certain landmarks are sociologically determined, whether it be the fast food options close to the ships for sailors or the flag homes along the water.

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