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The Mall in Motion: A Narrative Stroll Through the Obstacle Course

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journal contribution
posted on 15.03.2010, 16:42 by Jennifer Smith Maguire
How does one begin to write about motion, a process, in itself, that is always passing by, slipping away while attempts to capture it are made in words, on a map, or in notes (musical or otherwise)? Spaces of transition, such as hotel lobbies, bus depots, and highways, are difficult to capture, and often impossible to understand without their crucial element of movement. Shopping malls are such a space, and involve multiple levels of movement. As a private space designed to facilitate commercial exchange, there is the necessary fiscal movement of commodities. This in turn requires a second level of motion: the circulation of consumers. The shopping mall cannot be described solely on the basis of its floor plan, location or size; it can only be encountered *in motion*, as a matrix of time and space through which passes a multitude of trajectories. Without the movement of people, the mall itself is dead, not just in the financial sense, but in the spatial sense as well: the mall is incomplete without the crowd. Mirrors reproduce only commodities, floors reflect only muzac, and escalators transport only their own steps. The dependence of the mall on its kinetic component establishes the constitutive role of the crowd. The crowd in the mall is not an undifferentiated mass, regardless of how subtly the mall attempts to script its space and enforce the imperative to purchase. The "crowd" is a heterogeneous, moving collection of agents with different motivations, and disparate agendas. As such, the constitutive nature of the crowd preserves the potential for social use of a private space which is dedicated to the circulation of commodities and is understood only in motion.



Speed: Technology, Media, Society, 1996, 1 (3).

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Speed: Technology


University of California, Santa Barbara.

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This paper was published as Speed: Technology, Media, Society, 1996, 1 (3). It is available from



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