Expert feedback on the canal as a heterotopia

I’m grateful to Peter Johnson (a leading expert in heterotopias) for sharing his thoughts on the canal as a heterotopia (original post here) . Peter replied through my question on his blog (, which I’ve quoted below.

He suggested that the barge might be more fruitful than the canal for a study of heterotopia, which I understand. I’m not necessarily interested in making a study of heterotopia and it’s enough for the ideas that underpin it to help with my thinking. But Peter’s comments are helpful in guiding me to avoid stretching the meaning of heterotopia to fit the canal and confirm my earlier doubts about using it directly as a reference.

Blog extract – Peter Johnson

Peter, thank you for maintaining this fantastic resource. I’m a very mature student in my final year BA (Hons) Photography and came across the word heterotopia in an article on a photography project, Fordlândia ( – from there I soon arrived at your website. My photographic body of work is concerned with the deindustrialised Leeds & Liverpool canal as a contested space and I’ve found the ideas in heterotopia helpful in articulating what draws me to the space. However, I’m interested to know whether you would consider the canal a heterotopia. I’ve put a short post on my study blog with my thoughts ( and if you are willing, I’d love to hear what you think.


 Andrew Fitzgibbon July 3, 2020 @ 1:55 pm

  •  Peter Johnson July 8, 2020 @ 10:39 amHi Andrew, thanks for getting in touch. Your project sounds very interesting. I will look at your blog, have a think and get back to you. PeterREPLY
  •  Peter Johnson July 13, 2020 @ 5:09 pmHi again The article by Diane Morgan might be helpful. It’s about the changing role of a barge on the Seine. think concentrating on canal boats rather than canals generally would be more productive in terms of heterotopia, although you cannot have one without the other! They have different uses (work, home, garden, play, shop …); they change use and appearance; they hide secrets perhaps. They are private but at same time they are often by public walking paths, cycle paths, very exposed. There is also a sense of freedom but at the same time you are part of a very rigid system. Certainly worth pursuing. best wishes PeterREPLY
    •  Andrew Fitzgibbon July 15, 2020 @ 12:12 pmHi and thanks Peter. The article was useful. I don’t find the boats interesting for image making and they are very difficult to access in these strange times! I see what you mean and how they would make an interesting heterotopic study for someone out there. Regardless, I’ve found some of the ideas of heterotopia useful in thinking about social constructed spaces more broadly. Best, Andrew.