Put away the science fiction books; we’re not talking about that kind of space. The new, trendy meaning of SPACE is more inner than outer, and it’s a close cousin to ENVIRONMENT: an undefined region of thought and attitude (cue Rod Serling) in which certain desirable things occur. Think of the last time you heard someone say: “We need to create a space for such-and-such a discussion.” Or: “This idea really belongs in the such-and-such space.”
“Our goal,” a foundation officer said at a meeting on after-school programs, “is to enlarge the whole space for thinking about how kids spend their day.” “This program,” said another, “opens up the child development space to an array of new participants.” On another topic, a foundation report trumpets “a new strategic space” for building start-up civic organizations. Most of the time, this sense of space seems to delineate a circle of conversation or realm of ideas where the floor is open to a given category of thinking or points of view.
The word has come, in some sort of trendy, post–New Age sense, to suggest a place of intellectual welcome, where certain people or schools of thought (but not, in truth, everyone) can let their hair down and express their more troublesome or unvarnished thoughts. Grantmakers are especially prone to creating “spaces” where they and their grantees can discuss things not fit for the tender ears of the wider world. Thus far, this touchy-feely sense of SPACE is more likely to turn up in conferences and management retreats than in writing. But its roots seem to lie primarily in the therapist’s office — the only space where this nebulous word has real meaning.