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(Re)configuring Crusoe’s Habitation: an application of space syntax theory to Robinson Crusoe

Simon Demetriou


This essay applies space syntax theory to an analysis of the habitation built by Robinson Crusoe on his island. In so doing, it aims to provide a new perspective on the near-universal critical view that Crusoe’s stay on the island, and within it his construction of a built environment, forms part of a linear, monologic recapitulation of Western civilisation.

The essay adopts the dual approach of space syntax. First, Crusoe’s habitation is objectively analysed as a configuration that co-constitutes socio-cultural patterns of meaning and motion, considering its levels of integration, segregation and intelligibility. This section exposes fundamental problems with the critical views outlined above, for two reasons. First, because it reveals that spaces are in constant flux, simultaneously producing and being produced by socio-cultural conditions. Second, because the same configuration can be read syntactically in a number of ways depending on starting point.

My second section considers the language in which Crusoe’s habitation is expressed as reflective of the phenomenology of these spaces as the lived imaginative/emotional experiences of Defoe’s character. It is argued that within the meanings made syntactically possible, the choice and experience of meanings is less to do with Crusoe’s cultural/civilizational progression than with Defoe’s rendering of the fluctuations of his character’s individual subjective experience.

From this, I hope to prove that an application of space syntax highlights the fact that the spaces of Crusoe’s habitation are fundamentally heterotopic: rather than simply creating and evolving in value, they are spaces where value is continually contested and inverted. Finally, the essay suggests that the conclusions drawn from considering the space syntax of Crusoe’s habitation might lead the way to viewing Robinson Crusoe and the novel form evolving in the eighteenth century as heterotopias.


Crusoe; Defoe; space; phenomenology; heterotopia

Full Text: JOSS_7_2017_P179-192