Liminal Publics, Marginal Resistance

Learning from Nubian spaces

  • Menna Agha University of Antwerp
  • Els DeVos, Prof. University of Antwerp


In 1964, indigenous Nubians were displaced from their original land – the land between what is now Egypt and that of Sudan – to modernised settlements built by the Egyptian state. The Nubians dissatisfaction with the novel built environment translated into transgressive public spaces. One of the most common transgressions was the addition of an external bench called Mastaba. Since power relations between men and women have changed, the built environment now acts as a catalyst in the exclusion of women from formal public spaces such as conventional coffee shops and squares. Mastabas function as liminal spaces, spaces which blur the boundaries between public and private spheres. As these spaces do not suit the formal understanding of public spaces, we investigate these liminal spaces in order to reveal the spatial tactics of the marginal. We argue that the existence of these spaces raises issues of spatial justice and spatial resistance.


 The behaviour of liminal public spaces varies; they have the ability to transform adjacent spaces. This research investigates the role of the Mastaba in opening up the public space for women, thereby giving them the ability to contribute to the writing of their social contract. We base our analysis on extensive fieldwork, consisting of auto-ethnographic observations and participation, informed by a feminist epistemology. We use tools of spatial analysis to explore an alternative public space offered by liminality. To question the binary notions of private and public space, we ask ourselves: where does that space start? As spatial professionals, we also wonder: can we contest the hegemonic definition of public space and contribute to spatial resistance? Drawing lessons from the case of the Mastaba, we propose contingencies for designing the liminal that serve the marginal.

How to Cite
Agha, Menna, and Els DeVos. 2017. “Liminal Publics, Marginal Resistance”. IDEA JOURNAL, December, 88-101.
Design Research Paper