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Key Thinkers on Space and Place

This book compiles critical discussions on 66 thinkers who, in the editors’ opinion, ‘have contributed significantly to theoretical discussions of the importance of space and place in shaping cultural social, economic and political life in recent years’. Each thinker is discussed by a different academic, in the same format for each thinker: biographical details and theoretical context, spacial contributions, and key advances and controversies. Followed by a listing of the key works of the thinker.

The book is about geography, and one needs to understand the meaning of the word in its full sense. The Royal Geographic Society describes this as follows:

Geography is the study of Earth’s landscapes, peoples, places and environments. It is, quite simply, about the world in which we live.

Geography is unique in bridging the social sciences (human geography) with the natural sciences (physical geography). Human geography concerns the understanding of the dynamics of cultures, societies and economies, and physical geography concerns the understanding of the dynamics of physical landscapes and the environment.

Geography puts this understanding of social and physical processes within the context of places and regions – recognising the great differences in cultures, political systems, economies, landscapes and environments across the world, and the links between them. Understanding the causes of differences and inequalities between places and social groups underlie much of the newer developments in human geography……..

Geography is, in the broadest sense, an education for life and for living. Learning through geography – whether gained through formal learning or experientially through travel, fieldwork and expeditions – helps us all to be more socially and environmentally sensitive, informed and responsible citizens and employees.

In this context, the book is important for photographers seeking to understand and interpret the world around them, which they are aiming to communicate through photos.

Whilst I found the book valuable overall, it has one major problem. Each chapter (one for each thinker) is written by a different academic and while some of them write in an accessible way, others write in an abstract style, dense with obscure terminology that makes reading as heavy-going as running through treacle! A number of the thinkers were described as seeking to depart from the traditional academic language of geography to make it more accessible. It’s a shame that the academics writing the discussions didn’t follow the lead of these thinkers.

The book provides valuable insight into thinking about what makes places the way they are and the interdependency of factors such as culture, politics, economics, and social models. It has encouraged me to think of places in multi-dimensional terms and what lies beneath commonly referenced terms such as nation and globalisation.

To mention a few specific thinkers that caught my attention as a photographer:

  • Marc Augé who has worked with photographers, including a book. A Journey Apart, on airports and the experiences of the frequent flier (with photographer Francesco Cianciotta) – used to illustrate the concept of non-spaces.
  • Manuel Castells discusses how local ways of life are being undermined by global capital networks, in particular the ‘proliferation of serialised ahistorical and acultural building projects that undermine the ‘meaningful relationship between society and architecture’, giving international hotels, airports and supermarkets as examples. This aspect creates sameness in many of our urban landscapes.
  • Anthony Giddens discusses culture as ‘defining what is normal and what is note, what is important and what is not, what is acceptable and what is note, within each social context. Culture is acquired through a lifelong process of socialisation from cradle to grave’. This view has important to photographers whose culture could unknowingly influence the choices made when making photographs.
  • Bertrand Latour also worked with a photographer on an experimental ‘virtual book’ on Paris – there is a link to this in my references.

Above all, having opened a new awareness in my, I will use this book as reference for ideas when attempting interpret geography through my photos.

 

References

Hubbard P and Kitchen R [editors]. Key thinkers on space and place. Second edition, Sage Publishing (2011). Kindle edition [last accessed 10.5.15]

Latour B [online]. Paris: invisible city [virtual book – online]. Available from http://www.bruno-latour.fr/virtual/EN/index.html [accessed 10.5.15]

Royal Geographical Society [online]. What is geography [webpage]. Available from http://www.rgs.org/geographytoday/what+is+geography.htm [accessed 10.5.15]

 

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