The Utopian Imagination: Spatial Play in a Festival Marketplace

ABSTRACT - This study introduces the work of French philospher, Louis Marin, one of utopia's most original thinkers. It shows how his theoretical reflections on utopic signifying practices and notion of 'spatial play' can offer fresh insights into the spaces that contribute to the consumer experience in a festival marketplace. With reference to longitudinal study carried in the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, Dublin, the research highlights the interplay and tensions that exist between the physical space that is the shopping centre location and the symbolic space that is the consumer imagination.


Pauline Maclaran, Stephen Brown, and Lorna Stevens (1999) ,"The Utopian Imagination: Spatial Play in a Festival Marketplace", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, eds. Bernard Dubois, Tina M. Lowrey, and L. J. Shrum, Marc Vanhuele, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 304-309.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 1999      Pages 304-309


Pauline Maclaran, The Queen's University of Belfast, Northern Ireland

Stephen Brown, University of Ulster, Northern Ireland

Lorna Stevens, University of Ulster, Northern Ireland


This study introduces the work of French philospher, Louis Marin, one of utopia's most original thinkers. It shows how his theoretical reflections on utopic signifying practices and notion of 'spatial play' can offer fresh insights into the spaces that contribute to the consumer experience in a festival marketplace. With reference to longitudinal study carried in the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, Dublin, the research highlights the interplay and tensions that exist between the physical space that is the shopping centre location and the symbolic space that is the consumer imagination.


The utopian imagination has long held a privileged position in the human heart and can justifiably claim to have originated over three thousand visions of perfection (Manuel and Manuel, 1979). These visions of ideal societies where an individual can lead the 'good life' in complete harmony and community with the environment have taken many forms. They have ranged from the idealisation of times past, such as the Golden Age or the idea of the noble savage, to times future, with perfection to be found in other-worldly regions or distant planets (Kumar, 1991). Advertising creatives have responded to this 'human propensity' (Manuel and Manuel, 1979) by frequently portraying idealised vistas to which their target audience may aspire through consumption of a particular product or service, indulging consumers' aspirations for both literal and imaginative ideal states.

Indeed, unlocking the imagination is now increasingly recognised as playing a crucial role in exploring marketing phenomenon, such as experiential and hedonic consumption (Hirschman and Holbrook, 1982). Campbell (1987) has shown that consumption is as much a matter of emotion and feeling as rational behaviour. A purchase may frequently be less important than the overall experience, with the desire for, rather than the actual purchase of goods, often serving as a bridge to displaced hopes and ideals (Belk, 1996; McCracken, 1988), and with the joys of longing often rivalling those of actual gratification. Retail environments have responded to this experiential quality of consumer behaviour by developing ever more sophisticated and fantastic shopping locations which encourage leisure and browsing (Maynard and Milligen, 1995; McCloud, 1989) and the utopian qualities of such environments have been noted by many (Goss, 1993; Langman, 1992; Crawford, 1992; Chaney, 1990; Kowinski, 1985). These references to utopia, however, have only made colloquial use of the term and, so far, there has been no theorisation around the concept in relation to consumption.

In pursuit of this utopian consumption analogy, then, this study introduces the work of French philospher, Louis Marin, one of utopia's most original thinkers and a major contributor to the nature and functioning of the utopian imagination (Hill, 1989). It considers his theoretical reflections on utopic signifying practices and notion of 'spatial play' (Les Utopics) which have revitalised a body of literature that has frequently been denigrated and dismissed in terms of any relevant contribution to twentieth century thought. Drawing on this work by Marin (1984) the research seeks to offer fresh insights into the spaces that contribute to the consumer experience in the context of retailing environments by exploring a type of shopping centre known as a festival marketplace. Festive markets are often located in historic structures such as railroad terminals, warehouses and industrial buildings that have fallen into disuse (Robertson, 1995). These environments encourage browsing, with few necessities available to purchase. Any goods that may be seen as a little out of the ordinary, including craft items and luxuries are given precedence (Reekie, 1992). Famous developments of this nature include San Francisco's Ghirardelli Square, Baltimore's Harborplace, Boston's Faneuil Hall, New Orleans' Jackson Brewery, London's Covent Garden and Brisbane's McWhirter's Marketplace

First this paper examines the work of Louis Marin in more detail and expands on his key concepts. Next it considers these in relation to the festival marketplace, showing how Marin's concepts can give a heightened appreciation of the nature of the festival marketplace and the characteristics that differentiate it from the traditional shopping mall. It then discusses these same concepts in relation to a longitudinal study carried out with consumers, retailers and management in the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, a festival marketplace in Dublin. The conclusion highlights the interplay and tensions that exist between the physical space that is the shopping centre location and the symbolic space that is the consumer imagination.


Louis Marin, although highly acclaimed in France for his writings on semiotics, literature and philosophy, is one of the lesser known French poststructuralist thinkers outside his home country. This is possibly due to the fact that up until his death in 1992, at the age of sixty-one, few of his writings had been translated into English. More recently several works have been translated which reveal an exciting and provocative approach to the readings of texts. These include Cross-Readings, a wide-ranging series of readings of texts from classical works by Herodutus and Ovid to children's literature such as Robinson Crusoe and Jules Verne (Marin, 1998); and Food for Thought, which looks at the body as represented in text and image from fairy tales to biblical narratives (Marin, 1997).

For the purposes of this present study, however, we are going to concentrate on what is generally regarded as his best known work and his first available in English in 1984. This is his study entitled Utopics: The Semiological Play of Textual Spaces in which he takes Thomas More's (1516) novel Utopia as his principal object of study and develops an innovative analytic method that becomes applicable to the reading of any utopian text (Hill,1989).

Sir Thomas More's seminal work offers the detailed depiction of a perfect society, hidden away on the island of Utopia. In his book he describes meticulously the workings of this ideal society, with detailed discussions on the form of government and even the society's language and poetry. Although many readers will be familiar with this work they will probably be less knowledgeable about the genre of utopian writings that this work spawned. Broadly speaking, these writings divide into two groupings:

- the literary utopias, which like More's, describe some type of ideal commonwealth where social harmony and perfection have been achieved. Typically these are of the travelogue variety and are dominated by a narrator who acts as objective commentator and mediator between the existing world and the ideal that is portrayed. These literary utopian writings tend to give a comprehensive prescription for the ideal life with the minutiae of day-to-day living spelt out in their imaginary domains. Examples of this type of utopian writing one are Edward Bellamy's Looking Backwards and Francis Bacon's New Atlantis (Levitas, 1990).

- the emancipatory utopias which place more emphasis on critical content and less on literary form. These put forward a critical portrayal of the future that is intended to transcend the existing and, usually unsatisfactory conditions, and work towards a more perfect world. Typically these utopian visions are produced by socialist or Marxist writers and are temporal rather than spatial (Brown et al, 1996). Rather than specifying detailed workings of some imaginary society these emancipatory utopian writings stipulate goals for which to universally strive. Examples of this type of utopian writing are Karl Mannheim's Ideology and Utopia and Ernst Bloch's Principle of Hope (Levitas, 1990).

Marin's work provides a unique bridge between these two distinct utopian groupings and between what has been up until now the separation of the utopian format from the actual function of utopia (Levitas, 1990; Moylan, 1986; Plattel, 1972). Marin revisits More's Utopia and deconstructs the meaning of the text to shed new light on its significance. His focus is on the process of utopia, on the set of mental operations that go into its conception (Jameson, 1977). He begins with the word utopia itself, seeing the negation ('u' of utopia) as signifying a space that is between affirmation and negation, a space which is neither yes or no, true or false, neither one nor the other. He emphasises the importance of this space, conceptualising it as 'the neutral', a space of neutrality in which contradictions are allowed to play against one another rather than being resolved or hidden in the text. Leading on from this, he makes an important analytical distinction between utopia and myth. Whilst myth dissembles contradictions, as in the LTvi-Straussean interpretation (LTvi-Strauss, 1979), by mediating basic contradictions within a culture (life/death etc.), Marin argues that utopia performs the inverse function. It allows basic contradictions to play out against each other. Marin's interpretation of the word 'play' is of particular significance: he intends its use to indicate the interplay between tensions, as in the way two taut ropes 'play' against each other. The fact that the word utopia is also a play on both the Greek ou-topos (no-place) and eu-topos (a place of happiness) is a further indication to Marin that happiness is to be found in indeterminancy, or neutralisation (Hill, 1989).

In Marin's view utopia is not a perfected version of More's sixteenth century society but a dislocated version, a fictional space in which the normal presuppositions of discourse have been suspended. For example, More takes what is normally used as a temporal symbol, the new moon, and makes it a spatial one in the form of the Island of Utopia which is in the shape of a half moon (Hill, 1989). The island itself is no place; it does not exist anywhere, other than in the space of the text. Other names in Utopia contribute to this overarching theme of neutralisation, such as the river called No-water (Anydrus) and the prince called No-people (Ademus). It is neither the old world nor the new, neither the present, past nor future. In this way a utopian text becomes self-deconstructive; its referent is always an absent one. Utopian practice, therefore, establishes itself in the distance between reality and its other, or, according to Marin, the gap between the text.

A utopia becomes degenerate when, like Disneyland, fiction gives way to representation and becomes immobilised in ideology. Disneyland functions more like the LTvi-Straussean view of myth: it papers over contradictions instead of allowing them to play; and it acts as a narrative that resolves formally a fundamental social contradiction. In these respects Marin shares the view of many well-known utopian thinkers, such as Bloch (1988), and Marcuse (1970), who maintain that utopia is not a realisable project, nor even a prescriptive format to be attained. In fact, a utopia once gained negates itself (Baudrillard, 1988), becoming in turn the status quo to be questioned and critiqued. In effect, it is the function of utopia that is of most significance. This rests upon hope and desire, looking for the future in the present and inspiring creativity, innovation and change. Amongst other things, such as fairy tales, Bloch (1988) sees this function in simple daydreams. By deconstructing More's text Marin shows that it also provides this function; and that More did not intend his Utopia to indicate a realisable project, nor offer a prescriptive format as a recipe for the initiation of human perfection. Rather, the purpose of More's vision is to present a creative and playful set of imaginings that contrast with the reality of the times in which he was living.

In summary, it seems that there are four main issues to emerge from Marin's work on utopia: 1) utopia as a neutral space; 2) utopia as a space where contradictions can be played out; 3) utopia as existing in the gaps between the text; 4) utopia as degenerate when it becomes an ideology. It is these concepts, then, that we bring to bear on the utopian aspects of the festival marketplace and our interpretation of the consumer experiences therein.


The role of the festival marketplace is to rejuvenate decaying historical business and waterfront districts in inner city areas (Goss, 1993) and markets of this nature have dramatically changed the image of many American cities (Fondersmith, 1988). Although they have been described as downtown's answer to the suburban mall (Maitland, 1985) markets such as these actually provide a very different function from the average out-of-town shopping centre. Whilst they certainly bring shoppers and tourists back to downtown, perhaps their most crucial feature is that they also re-create the social dynamism that attracts people to cities in the first place (Zoglin, 1996). Although it is well recognised that they breathe life back into the city through the creation of new civic gathering places, there has been little scrutiny of how they actually achieve these effects. This is where Marin's four concepts can prove particularly useful in revealing some of the underlying subtleties at play in such a space.

Utopia as a Neutral Space

In terms of his concept of the 'neutral', Wood (1985, p.81) describes festival marketplaces as 'pseudoplaces', places that stand for something that never existed. Indeed, this signification seems to be their very essence: at once they hark back to an idealised past through their refurbishment of an historic setting, whilst offering the promise of an idealised future through the proliferation of consumption fantasies within the setting. Spaces such as these articulate an ideology of nostalgia which, according to Goss (1993), can be understood as a lament on the perceived loss of authenticity, spontaneity and community. This nostalgia accompanies the 'millennial unease' (Brown, 1997): an ending to the twentieth century that is characterised by a popular feeling of anxiety (Dunant and Porter, 1996). There is an overriding sense of disillusionment which means that as hopes of progress fade and the grand narratives of modernity crumble to dust, we console ourselves by looking backwards towards our heritage and tradition (Lowenthal,1998). The festival marketplace maximises these feelings to create a sense of 'nowhereness' both in time and space.

Utopia as a Space for Contradictions

There are, thus, many contradictions inherent in the overall conception of such a marketplace. Indeed, these are the very factors that differentiate it from its suburban rival, the traditional shopping mall:-

1. Past vs. Present: It includes the redevelopment of an historic building which, rather than being a museum, consists of an eclectic, postmodern blending of the old with the new, that does not attempt to make chronological sense (Reekie, 1992).

2. Local vs Global: A unique sense of place is created through the distinctive identity that the shopping centre management create for their sites. This identity is firmly located within the character of the immediate surroundings and gives a sense of heritage and community to a downtown area.

3. Unique Retail vs Mass Market: the festive market covers not only luxuries, but any commodity that might be seen as a little out of the ordinary. For example, small, independent retailers offer hand-made craft items and usually there are no chain store operators or anchor stores.

4. Hedonistic vs Utilitarian Shopping: it is an environment dedicated to leisure retailing. The emphasis is on an informal, relaxed style of shopping, removed from everyday, utilitarian shopping. The overall atmosphere is one of browsing and gazing, either at the array of products, other shoppers or the setting itself. An abundance of restaurants and seating areas facilitate this spectatorship. There will also be the provision of entertainment to create a venue that is reminiscent of fairs or markets of bygone eras. For example, there may be frequent musical performances or even period-type actors strolling around the area.

5. Consumption vs. Production: the significance of the festive market to postmodern forms of retailing lies particularly in a physical proximity between artistic creation, design and consumption. This effect is often created through spaces devoted to art exhibitions or hand crafting displays. Spatial arrangements are used in this way to suggest to consumers that the creation of works of art and the act of consumption are parallel, synonymous behaviours.

Utopia as the Gaps between the Text

The differentiating features of a festival market, then, hold many implicit contradictions that create the gaps where the mind can roam and explore; spaces where the experience, and fantasy elements can take over. Indeed, studies undertaken by the Rouse Company (the original developers of Faneuil Hall in 1976) have indicated that seventy percent of visitors come just 'for the experience' (Maynard and Milligen, 1995). Given that the modern shopping trip fulfils many different needs above and beyond any utilitarian function, a purchase is frequently the least significant factor, superceded by an immersion in the overall multisensory experience (Bloch and Bruce, 1984). Campbell (1987) has shown how modern pleasure-seeking is characterised by a highly rationalized form of self-illusory hedonism. Not only is this a behaviour fed by desire for, and anticipation of, a promised sensory experience, but it also depends on emotional pleasure and the ability of an individual to imaginatively create mental images for self-consumption. Campbell (p.77) refers to this day-dreaming or fantasizing as 'modern autonomous imaginative hedonism'. The festival marketplace is dedicated to this consumer imagination, as a retail space that also provides a space for the mind; a mindspace, as it were, within a unique physical space.

Utopia as Degenerate

The last of Marin's four concepts, that of the degenerate utopia, also seems particularly pertinent to the history of the festival marketplace. Whilst Rouse's vision to create this type of unique downtown space has been supremely successful, as evidenced by its proliferation worldwide, he is not without critics. Zoglin (1996) describes Rouse's vision as being so influential that it eventually took on an 'anesthetising quality' of its own in terms of the cliched nature of its restored buildings, speciality shops and side shows. In his view too much novelty becomes self-defeating with the speciality market itself becoming saturated and the consumer becoming increasingly immune to its attractions (Robertson, 1995; Sawicki, 1989).

Other criticisms concerning the issues of private and public partnerships over such ventures testify to further potential degeneration and to a 'mythic' representation. The rationale behind a festive market development is to provide business opportunities to local merchants and, accordingly, it attracts civic investment. However speciality stores are not necessarily owned by private, independents and, in a more sinister turn, large companies may masquerade as small ones in order to enter the urban market in this manner (Sawicki, 1992). Also, although there are no conspicuously contrived traffic flows between anchor stores as in the traditional shopping mall, these environments are every bit as manipulated by the management, albeit to mimic the disordered, chaotic nature of a traditional marketplace. Indeed, the atmosphere is deliberately engineered to be reminiscent of market squares and communal gathering places from bygone times (Bivins, 1989).


The findings that we are now going to discuss in relation to Marin's concepts are part of an ongoing interpretive project, a longitudinal study of the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre in Dublin. In keeping with this type of approach we have used multiple data sources (Belk et al, 1989; Wallendorf and Belk, 1988; Lincoln and Guba, 1985) which required a variety of research methods: observation studies and photographic recordings over a period of two years; 25 in-depth interviews with retailers and management in the centre; 4 group discussions with past and present shoppers; and 60 subjective personal introspection accounts written by male and female shoppers from a wide variety of backgrounds and age ranges. In particular, this latter, somewhat controversial technique (cf. Brown, 1997 for a full discussion), has yielded rich insights into consumer feelings in relation to the Powerscourt experience. Furthermore the methodological approach to this study has been developed around the core premise made by Hirschman and Holbrook (1992) that all consumer behaviour can be regarded as a text in search of interpretation. In keeping with standard literary theory practice, the reading of all the findings interweaves Marin's perspectives with the data and each informs the other (cf. Brown et al, 1999).

The location for this present study, the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre in Dublin, is the refurbished Georgian residence of Lord Powerscourt, built in the late eighteenth century. It was chosen for the study because it is the only festival marketplace in Ireland, North or South. Situated just off Dublin's busiest shopping area, Grafton Street, it was developed into a shopping centre in 1981. Its advertising literature stresses its credentials as a festival marketplace. It describes itself as one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture open to the public and as a meeting place where special events throughout the year are free of charge to its visitors. These include string quartet recitals, jazz concerts, flower exhibitions, fashion shows and craft demonstrations. A focal point is the grand piano. On a raised central stage its melodious tones resonate throughout the building. The speciality shops include antiques and art galleries, housing some of the leading dealers in Ireland; fashion shops containing some of Ireland's leading young designers as well as European designer labels; jewellers and goldsmiths offering handmade pieces; a wide selection of craft shops selling everything from wooden toys to handmade shoes and boots; and many restaurants catering for a wide variety of tastes.


There are several factors that contribute to Powerscourt being a no-place, or in Marin's terminology, a 'neutral' place. First there is the fact that many visitors stumble across the centre by chance and it is therefore not associated with the main central Dublin shopping. Signage to the centre is almost non-existent except for one small discrete sign on the main thoroughfare, Grafton Street, and thus is easily missed. This means that often the centre is a serendipitous find which surprises and delights. Consumers describe it as 'out of the way', 'hidden' and 'tucked away like a hidden treasure'. There is often an overriding sense of exploration, a voyage of discovery that characterises the traditional literary utopian finds. The Powerscourt Centre, therefore, is seen as a place apart. It provides a welcome antidote to the hectic streets of a busy Dublin day, teaming with tourists; and it offers a welcome rest from the swirling crowds and jostling bodies on Grafton Street. In this sense it is viewed as very different, a peaceful place, as 'an oasis', or a 'haven'; and as a respite from normal everyday life, whether it be the everyday world of shopping or the everyday world of work. One habituT related how he loved to leave the office telephones far behind and escape for coffee. He referred to the gentler pace in Powerscourt as having 'a fantasy escapist element'.

All this contributes to the overall feelings of elsewhereness, a dislocation from the present, and a distancing which is both spatial and temporal. This removal from normal activities enhances the potential fantasy elements of the experience. Indeed, more than one introspective essay conveyed the feeling of walking into a dream or of 'leaving the hurly-burly of Dublin's main shopping area and entering a bygone time', as one essayist expressed it.

Frequently, with its abundance of stalls and nooks and crannies, accounts describe Powerscourt as being like a traditional market or bazaar. Markets, of course, have long held connotations of being in-between spaces because traditionally they were located at a crossroads. They have provided bridges between communities and stood between the sacred and secular, the mundane and exotic, the local and global (Stallybrass and White, 1986). Consequently, markets have many connotations of strangeness, of a mingling of unfamiliar worlds where anything is possible; where there may be chance encounters with things unfamiliar and pleasurable. Essentially they are liminoid zones, in-between places and spaces, which echo Marin's definition of the neutral.


As a retail space Powerscourt is full of contradictions and underlying tensions that remain unresolved and that play against each other. Like More's Island of Utopia, this is neither the old world nor the new, neither eighteenth century Georgian times or modern day Ireland. One of the attractions mentioned by consumers, is that it seems less commercialised and bland that the rest of the main street, an 'anchor' in an otherwise large and impersonal city. Some even venerate it as a 'testament to time' describing a 'coming home feeling' of tradition that sets it apart. At once it is a commercial space and somewhere that evokes other, more aesthetic values, both in terms of its preservation of a historic building and the arts, crafts and antiques contained within. One consumer described this feeling as 'a cultural superiority which masks its innate commerciality'.

Its two entrances symbolise these inherent contradictions. The original front entrance with its marbled black and white floor, its empty fireplace and its high ceiling is somewhat cold and forbidding, reminiscent of distant times and an even more distant aristocracy. In sharp contrast the original back entrance (now used more frequently as the front) is a profusion of flowers and fruit that spill out onto the street. Its welcoming earthen flagstones and cosy ambience invite consumers to enter and go beyond, to investigate and explore. Contradictions in these two entrances abound: urban/rural, high culture/low culture, aristocracy/peasantry, coldness/warmth, temperance/indulgence. Within the centre itself these tensions remain unresolved, playing against each other and underlying the overall design and layout. Powerscourt consists of three levels, tiered balconies with restaurants and shops that overlook a central courtyard that holds another restaurant and a grand piano on a raised platform. Whereas the higher levels are devoted to designer labels, shops, goldsmiths, antiques and art galleries, the ground floor is characterised by an abundance of bric-a-brac shops and cheap jewellery stalls. As one consumer put it: 'there are some really tacky products and some really lovely products'. The centre defies the traditional marketing-oriented approach of segmentation, targeting and positioning, exhibiting instead a de-differentiation associated with postmodern times.


The unresolved contradictions that abound in Powerscourt create gaps that leave room for the utopian imagination. These are the missing details that we fill in through the mind's eye as we consciously and unconsciously rearrange reality and our place in that reality (Geoghegan, 1987). For example, one consumer recalled how, as a student, he had relished having access to this site of the Anglo-Irish landed gentry. He talked of his subliminal feelings of being able to hold his head up in the townhouse of a titled family, describing his sense that this was just one slightly beyond him. He added 'you're going into a new world or something fantastic as in fantasy'.

Others recounted the thrill of experiencing a retail area where the rooms had once been used for something else and of walking along 'other people's footsteps'. The gaps this creates between past and present produces many nostalgic feelings which enchant and inspire. 'Charmed' is a word that recurs often in this context together with many references to feelings of history, the open space of the courtyard, and the piano's melodies, 'redolent of soulful evenings gathered round a fire'.

Several consumers who had visited at Christmas time, when the centre is lavishly decorated, recalled childhood emotions in their accounts. For one 'the pretty twinkly lights and garlands of holly' carried her back to the past and gave her 'a warm anticipatory feeling of lovely surprises to come'. Nostalgia and anticipation thus become intermingled, evoking both past and future in a present that is neither one nor the other. Another shopper talked of her excitement at climbing the heavy wooden staircase. She described the many doorways as 'beckoning to come forth'.

Sometimes the utopian gaps become dystopian as realisation approaches. One retailer, a well-known Dublin hairdresser, recounted how a client, on the morning of her wedding, had rushed out of his salon screaming, threatening legal action over her finished hairstyle which had failed to meet her expectations. A young lecturer spoke of the anticipation she had had over an outfit in the centre's most prestigious clothes shop, The Design Centre. Once having put it on, however, her anticipation turned to antipathy when she realised she had seen the same suit on a middle-aged TV personality. She related how, feeling 50 and middle-aged, she left the centre in a dejected mood and without a purchase.


A dystopian theme is very pertinent to the current state of the shopping centre, which for the last year has been undergoing a major refurbishment. The management's intention is to revitalise an image that they acknowledge has become somewhat jaded in recent times. For locals, certainly, the novelty value of Powerscourt has long since worn off and most look elsewhere for a leisure time distraction. Management's intention is to reposition the centre towards an eighteen to forty year age group and include certain national chain stores, albeit the smaller and more select ones. In adopting this more traditional marketing approach many contradictions and anomalies will then be resolved. For instance, all the bric-a-brac stalls on the ground floor will disappear, to be replaced by good quality merchandise; and traffic flows will be given careful consideration. There are plans to institute a 'circular pedestrian flow' on the upstairs floors where there has often been considerable chaos and even disorientation caused amongst consumers. The central space, leading the eye from the piano on its raised platform to the soaring heights of the atrium, is to have an additional floor that will carry an upmarket coffee chain. Much of the feeling of light and space will therefore be obliterated in this re-design.

Consequently, at present there is an overriding air of uncertainty, which sometimes manifests itself as mistrust and even hostility amongst the retailers. The management are taking more that three times the predicted timeframe for the refurbishment; there is dust and dirt everywhere; and many shops stand empty and dilapidated. Eager consumers who visit the centre leave with a sense of disappointment and disillusionment. Furthermore, certain tenants have been asked to leave because they no longer equate to the management vision of the appropriate tenant mix for Powerscourt. It seems that the management is thus trying to bring all the Powerscourt spaces, whether mental or physical, more tightly under its control. Of course in any utopian vision there must always be a boundary definition, a limitation to its horizons (Marin, 1993). This requires a delicate balance between individual and communal needs, or, in the case of Powerscourt, a sensitive mix of retail space and mindspace. Yet now a certain homogeneity seems inevitable together with the resultant implication that the creation of a management 'myth', or ideology, will leave no room for 'spatial play'.

As if testifying to this degeneration, the grand piano, once such a splendid symbol of the consumer anticipation that Powerscourt could evoke, sits amid the dirt and rubble. It is now only used by the builders as a convenient resting place for coffee mugs and working tools. Most certainly, it will never play again.


In summary, then, this paper has demonstrated how Marin's concepts can deepen our understanding of 'being-in-the-marketplace' (Sherry, 1998), both at the generic level (the festival marketplace) and at the specific level (Powerscourt Townhouse Centre). In particular, it has illustrated the nature of retail spaces in relation to the utopian imagination and the changes that may happen to those spaces, both mental and physical, over time. Marin's overarching theme of spatial play highlights several important points: how this imagination is fuelled by contradictions; how there are many underlying tensions that exist and contribute to a location's imaginative potential; and how there is a particular tension between the consumer imagination and the quest for managerial control. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Marin's notion of spatial play conveys perfectly the playfulness of the consumer imagination, its creative spirit which seeks to find spaces where it may celebrate what Belk (1996) describes as the 'myself-that-could-be'.


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Pauline Maclaran, The Queen's University of Belfast, Northern Ireland
Stephen Brown, University of Ulster, Northern Ireland
Lorna Stevens, University of Ulster, Northern Ireland


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4 | 1999

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