Category Archives: cultural geography

The emotional in geography

Text: Bill Psarras © 2014

I am not a geographer but an artist, yet often find myself speaking in geographical terms. Given my gradual interest on the emotional aspect of urban experience, the field of ’emotional geographies’ was one of the main concepts I researched the last three years. Geography constitutes a spatial science which explores the interrelations of physical processes and human patters on earth. It derives from the Greek geographia (γεωγραφία) which means ‘to write, to describe the Earth’ – a word used for the first time by ancient Greek geographer, mathematician and poet, Eratosthenes (276-194 BC).

Geography: Brief trajectories

Speaking of geography discipline, its two main aspects are physical geography and human geography. While the physical in geography explores scientifically the earth, its landscapes, morphologies and climate patterns among others – on the other hand – human geography focuses on the human, social, cultural and economic patterns that shape society. My intention is not to delve into a detailed historical trajectory of terms; however anyone can go further into such knowledge by looking here or numerous books. Looking at the socio-cultural perspectives of the wider human geography, the geographical thinking was extended throughout 20th century into a focus on the social and cultural entanglements of human relations – concentrating on issues of power, gender-space (Massey), identity, politics but also on more recent subfields of mobilities (Cresswell, Urry, Auge), cities (Harvey), globalization (Thrift) and emotion among others. The cultural perspective in geography extended the discourse across various fields. The integration of geographical thinking across such emerging constellations brought apart from a ‘spatial turn’, a ‘cultural turn’ as well. Indeed, if we think of geography as a rational field, it was influenced by a ‘formal and quantitative’ grasp of space, to echo Lefebvre (1991: 49) as well as from an ocularcentric logic (Cosgrove in Rodaway, 1994).

Why emotional matters

To acknowledge the emotional in geography is something that challenges the scientific roots of the field. Yet since 1970s a number of human geographers (Tuan, 1974; Relph, 1976; Casey, 1993 among others) have mentioned the links between place and human experience. Since the beginning of the 21st century, geographical voices have argued on an emergence of ’emotional geographies’ (Anderson & Smith, 2001) and a gradual ’emotional turn’ (Bondi et al, 2005). Anderson and Smith (2001) argued for an emotional geography that considers the socio-spatial dimensions of emotions in everyday life. In other words, emotional geography examines the interconnection between people, places and emotions (Gregory, 2011). What have been suggested – and clarifies things – is that the intention of emotional geographies is not to objectify (to visualize) emotions but to consider them as ‘relational flows, fluxes and currents’ (Bondi et al, 2005) that are produced within the everyday and impact on the everyday. The becoming character of such emotional entanglements between people, places and socio-cultural situations seems thus to be of great importance. If we think of everyday life, emotions are significant part of the complex social, cultural, political and technological layers that comprise our lives – they have social aspects. Indeed, emotions are subjective but as Smith et al (2009: 11) argues, they are important indicators of our ‘entanglement with the world’. While contemporary geographers (i.e. Bondi, Davidson, Smith, Anderson) have argued on a direct, live and performative way of exploring emotional geographies – the performative element has interrconnections with the ‘non-representational theory‘ that other geographers (i.e. Thrift, Dewsbury, McCormack e.t.c.) have also suggested.

The shift of geography towards such direct, ambulatory and performative ways challenges the visual logic of geography – what Bonnett (2003) describes as the need to have a ‘big picture of the world’. Therefore, it initiates a dialogue on other senses as well – something that as I also researched in my PhD, may have connections to the walking practice and the aspects of flaneur and psychogeography. More thoughts soon.

Image from Mascalls School website

Image from Mascalls School website

Bibliography

  • Anderson, K. and Smith, S. (2001). ‘Emotional geographies’ Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 26, pp. 7–10.
  • Bondi, L. Davidson, J. and Smith, M. (eds.) (2005). Introduction: Geography’s Emotional Turn. In Emotional Geographies, London: Ashgate, pp. 1-16.
  • Bonnett, A. (2003). ‘Geography as the world discipline: Connecting popular and academic geographical imaginations’ Area, 35 (1), pp. 55-63.
  • Gregory, D. (2011). ‘Emotional Geography’ In Gregory, D. Johnston, R., Pratt, G.,Watts, M. and Whatmore, S. (eds.) The Dictionary of Human Geography (5th ed.), London; New York: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 188-189.
  • Lefebvre, H. (1991). The Production of Space, trans. Nicholson-Smith, D. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Rodaway, P. (1994). Sensuous Geographies: Body, Sense, and Place. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Smith, M., Davidson, J., Cameron, L. and Bondi, L. (eds.) (2009). Geography and emotion: Emerging constellations. In Emotion, Place and Culture, Aldershot: Ashgate Press, pp. 1-18.
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