A Spatial Manifesto

This website grew out of my interest in people and places. I believe there are important connections between the places around us, and who we are both as individuals and as groups. This website is therefore my manifesto for space.

It is a cliche to suggest that humans are social beings. It is less well acknowledged that humans are also spatial beings. But from the moment we are born, the spaces we inhabit play a crucial role in who we are, how we behave, where we can go, and how we may feel. The world around us is therefore both social and spatial; geography plays a key role in making us who we are. 

This website seeks to outline some of the ways in which all geographical contexts play a crucial significance in our lives. To emphasise the influence of space on our identity is important – many political and economic decisions ignore the role that geography plays. But as Edward Said notes, “none of us is outside or beyond geography, none of us is completely free from the struggle over geography” (1993:7). This website offers a manifesto for geography, highlighting the ways in which space and place influence our lives and identities.  

Approaching the world ‘as if place mattered’ too.

Many scholars have made a manifesto for space (most notably Massey, 2005; Soja, 1996, 2010). But what is the case for suggesting that geography plays a key role in making us who we are?

If you viewed the world from a scientific perspective you could be forgiven for thinking that place and space were largely irrelevant to human behaviour. As Madanipour et al (2001:7) identify, in many areas of decision-making the tradition has been to “treat space and place as unproblematic, as part of an obvious reality, often [simply] as a surface on which things happen”. From this perspective, humans are outside and beyond geography, detached from the spatial context as if it exerts no effect on their actions.

Nicholas Entrikin puts it this way:

“for most of the past century, geographers have approached their subject in a manner that could be characterised in terms similar to those used by Italo Calvino (1972:77) to describe the fictional citizens of Baucis, who, as residents of a city built on stilts, lived in the sky and gazed at the earth through telescopes, never tiring ‘of examining it, leaf by leaf, stone by stone, ant by ant, contemplating with fascination their own absence’” (2001:694).

However, it is really possible to stand outside the world, when our feet, and our lives, are firmly planted within it? Indeed, isn’t it this connection between ourselves and the places we live in, that furnishes us with insight about the world? As Merleau-Ponty puts it, ‘how could we know the world if we were not of it?’ (cited in Davidson, 2003).

The scientific view of space is challenged by geographers who regard space and place as a medium for action rather than a container of it. From this perspective, geographies have an influence on the social actions occurring within them, in Tilley’s words, place is “something that is involved in the action and cannot be divorced from it” (1994:10). This is not to say that geographies somehow determine social behavior. Indeed as much as places may constrain social life, they also enable it, places are taken and made by different social groups, with some (perhaps all) places becoming politicized and cultured by human beings. Places then, are not only a medium but also an outcome of action, producing and being produced through human practice.

Places then not only simply locate an activity, but also provide the medium for it. Places themselves are both social and spatial, they comprise the built and social context of community relations, and the particular worldview or way of life associated with an area. Through these, places generate connections with people who live in or know the area. Geographies then are not simply points on a compass or co-ordinates on a map, but are also social and cultural. They are, in the words of Preston, ‘deeply woven into the fabric of who we are’ (2003: XVI). The role that geography plays in making our lives meaningful and giving us a sense of identity should not be overlooked. Rather than being ‘highly abstract and remote from experience’ (Tuan, 1975: 151) the places around us are ‘thoroughly meshed’ (Casey, 2001: 684) into the human condition.

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