The Spatial Turn: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (Routledge Studies in Human Geography)

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In the process of drawing together diverse political strands of civil society, they re-present space in forms that undermine the taken- for-grantedness of hegemonic spatialities. The rise to prominence of socially constructed space, as produced rather than given, involves a transition in how space itself is theorized, what it means, how it is made.

Harkening back to the famous seventeenth-century debate between Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz, in which space assumed absolute versus rel- ative properties, respectively, Barney Warf suggests that modernity portrayed space as a surface, i. Conversely, socially constructed, poststructuralist notions of space entail the metaphor of networks, such as the internet, which are forever partial, incomplete, and never fully known.


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Conceptually, the appreciation of networked space has taken various forms, such as globalized commodity chains, Massey's power- geometries, and Deleuzian rhizomes. Some moved happily into democratic societies, whereas others sank into abysmal dic- tatorships even worse than they suffered under their Soviet overlords.

The geog- raphy of these transformations opened a spatial turn in political science, in which political change can be fruitfully seen as path-dependent and contingent rather than predetermined by any given set of institutional factors. In making this argu- ment, he explores the provocative question as to whether geography is a mean- ingful category through which to explore such issues or whether space is only a proxy for other, aspatial causal forces.

Despite the earnest efforts of earlier approaches such as the Chicago School, Sociology has tended to ignore space and spatiality as constitutive features of social life in favor of perspectives that stress general explanatory laws and minimize the time-space contexts of social processes e.

Harry Dahms maintains that as sociologists have grappled with the enormous changes wrought by globalization, the field has come to appreciate space anew. In this perspective, space materializes at the intersections of deep, underlying forces and the surface appearances of everyday life and behavior. By incorporating space, sociologists both avoid the empiricism that continually confronts the field and many others, including Geography and are well positioned to appreciate the complexity of con- temporary structural transformations and individual identity formation.

Space has played such a long and important role in literary criticism that it is difficult to know where to begin to summarize its significance. Pamela Gilbert's essay approaches the spatial turn in English literature by delving into sex and city, both the nineteenth-century version in London and its twentieth-century counter- part in New York. The city - that dense, complex, often bewildering environment that offers so many opportunities and possibilities for anonymity - has for centuries generated connotations of illicit sexuality, of adulterous affairs, casual encounters, prostitution, predatory attacks, and homosexuality.

Drawing upon a wealth of tropes, poems, stories, novels, and television shows, Gilbert shows us that the spaces of the city simultaneously gave rise to particular forms of sexual- ity, legitimate or otherwise, and in turn were shaped by those practices. Pragmatically and conceptually, the depiction of space has played a major role in the discourses of history. Santa Arias's essay contextualizes the relationship between geography and history by examining the role of space in the works by William Robertson and Juan Bautista Munoz.

She focuses on the place of car- tography in historical accounts in order to explore eighteenth-century forms of geopolitics and show how the layering of history onto the map and the insistence on national contributions to geographical knowledge were turned into justifica- tions of empire in the name of progress and civilization. Colombian anthropologist Margarita Serge offers insights into the spatial turn in her discipline by delving ethnographically into the multiple ways in which people and landscape are intertwined in the region of Sierra Nevada de Santa Introduction 9 Marta.

Over time, multiple groups shaped, and were in turn shaped by, this area, from Tairona to Kogui Indians, campesinos, guerrillas, and marijuana growers. In sharing her insights from this project, she reveals an Andean place that is constituted simultaneously in histor- ical, material, and ideological terms, and how the status of being an "insider" or "outsider" is problematized through the act of understanding and navigating the locale's complex cultural and political dynamics.

Religion in all its varied forms has, of course, always been deeply spatial, an observation that geographical scholars of religious beliefs have long known. John Corrigan draws upon this lengthy corpus of scholarship to explicate how religious spaces operate at the interface of two worlds, the material and the theological. He notes that such places are always "polylocative," ever-fluctuating between the real and the imagined, the present and the hereafter.

He traces this notion through a series of events and processes that are simultaneously temporal, spatial, secu- lar, and religious, such as pilgrimage, migration, rituals, the inscription of the reli- gious body, material culture including food and music , religious practices, the state, and the construction of time and memory, all of which reflect, inform, sus- tain, and at times challenge the dominant norms of theological institutions. For scholars concerned with colonialism, space has been an indispensable avenue through which one can appreciate the complex dynamics of the European conquest.

In the case of Latin America, Mariselle Melendez draws upon post- structural cultural geography and critical cartography to analyze how an eighteenth-century Peruvian newspaper, the Mercurio Peruano, was caught up within and amplified the political dynamics of the nascent independence move- ment, the construction of Creole identity, and the propagation of Enlightenment rationality in the New World. Such an exercise is useful in revealing how spatial discourses are not simply reflective of social and geographic transformations, but also constitutive of them.

Joan Ramon Resina explores the interface between film and geography, the realm in which the real and the cinematic bleed into one another.

The study of Human Geography in the contemporary world

Film captures and reproduces space, bringing it to the eye and into consciousness in a manner no other technique can quite approximate. But what is gained and what is lost in this appropriation? Resina utilizes Luis Bunuel's Land Without Bread, a surreal- ist documentary about an impoverished region in Spain, Las Hurdes, to explicate how the real and the magical become blurred through the vision of the camera, a visual "surface of meaning.


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As geographers opened doors to other fields - and went through them - space has acquired properties and qualities that few could have foreseen when they initiated the spatial turn. Far from the traditional, Cartesian notion of space as a set of physical places, contemporary thought throughout the social sciences and humanities reveals it as a variegated, complex, often bewildering series of differ- ent types of locations: physical, mythological, symbolic, imagined, linguistic, 10 Barney Warf and Santa Arias cartographic, perceptual, representational, i.

Indeed, as geographic thought has penetrated fields outside of geog- raphy, the nature of space has become ever more diverse. Indeed, so wide-ranging are the types of space that have emerged in the wake of the spatial turn that geographers have lost control of their defining subject of study, the one topic that united a notoriously heterogeneous and schizophrenic discipline. All of these essays demonstrate, in some way, shape or form, that "space matters," not for the trivial and self-evident reason that everything occurs in space, but because where events unfold is integral to how they take shape.

As historicism gradually loosens its tenacious hold over social thought, causality and context are inseparably fused. Space is not simply a passive reflection of social and cultural trends, but an active participant, i. Those who relegate geography to epiphenomenal status do so at their own risk, depriving themselves of a critically important instrument with which to gain insight into the contingent logics of human affairs.

By now this argument has been made clear a sufficiently large number of times that space has become indispensable across the social sciences and humanities. In this light, the spatial turn is irreversible. Soja There is no word for what I do, for what I passionately profess. I identified myself as a geographer at an early age and have accepted a series of qualifying labels over the years: regional, political, theoretical, development, quantitative, Africanist, critical, Marxist, structuralist, anti-humanist, neo-marxist, and more recently postmarxist, poststructuralist, postcolonial, postmodern.

But geographer no longer seems enough, even with all its adjectival baggage, to describe someone who interprets the world by assertively foregrounding a spatial perspective. I put space first, before seeing things historically or socially, or as essentially political or economic or cultural, or shaped by class, race, gender, sexual preference; or screened through discourse, linguistics, psychoanalysis, Marxism, feminism, or any other specialized disposition.

I try to see the world through all these percep- tive lenses, but the primary focus is insistently spatial, informed, motivated, and inspired by a critical spatial perspective. If geographer is not enough, what am I? If I foregrounded temporality rather than spatiality, naming would be easy. I would be called a historian, a transdisci- plinary observer of lived time in all its multitude of expressions. Although there are deep parallels between the spatial-geographical and temporal-historical perspec- tives, however, there is no term like historian to describe the all-encompassing spatializer, the person who believes not just that space matters but that it is a vital existential force shaping our lives, an influential aspect of everything that ever was, is, or will be, a transdisciplinary way of looking at and interpreting the world that is as insightful and revealing as that of the historian.

For me, what is true for the historical applies also to the spatial and I have devoted my academic career to advocating this critical comparability. Few others, even within the discipline of geography, are so assertively spatial, so convinced that spatial thinking is central to the production of knowledge and so driven by the need to inform others of the epistemological power of a critical spatial perspective. What then are my nominal choices?

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Spatial theorist? All these help, but are not quite there yet, for the comparison with the simple and self-confident identity of historian leads to further complications. Spatializing or being a geographer has never had the same intellectual prestige and recognized interpretive power as historicizing or being a historian , even though there is nothing in Western philosophical and theoretical thought that 12 Edward W. Soja unequivocally establishes an intrinsic privileging of time over space or history over geography.

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Yet such a privileging continues to prevail. So whatever we call the spa- tial equivalent of historian, that person must contend with an entrenched legacy of scholarly and popular discrimination and subordination maintained, even if out of conscious awareness, by the still hegemonic "history boys. It defines the Spatial Turn from the start as a response to a long-standing if often unperceived ontological and epistemological bias in all the human sciences, including such spatial disci- plines as geography and architecture. This spatial advocacy is not against histor- ical interpretation, an anti-history, nor is it a substitution of spatial for historical determination, as some skeptics have seen it to be.

Over the past ten years, the number of dedicated spatial thinkers across all disci- plines and modes of thought has been increasing exponentially, spreading a belief that the materialized and socially constructed spatiality of human life is just as revealingly significant, ontologically and epistemologically, as life's historicality and sociality Soja Whether we are pondering the increasing intervention of the electronic media in our daily routines; seeking ways to act politically to reduce poverty, racism, sexual discrimination, and environmental degradation; trying to understand the multiplying geopolitical conflicts around the globe; or seeking new insights through academic research and writing, we are becoming increasingly aware that we are, and always have been, intrinsically spatial as well as temporal beings, active participants in the production and reproduction of the encompassing human geographies in which we live, as much and with similarly given constraints as we make our histories.

The Spatial Turn is still ongoing and has not yet reached into the mainstream of most academic disciplines.

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Its future expansion, however, has the potential to be one of the most significant intellectual and political developments of the twenty-first century. Framed by a series of autobiographical notes and by a belief that biographies are as much geographies as they are histories, what follows aims at gaining some further understanding of this still advancing and potentially epochal paradigm shift. Geographical awakenings Growing up enveloped in the heterogeneous densities of the Bronx helped make me a geographer by the time I was eight, and I have been a passionately commit- ted proponent of thinking geographically ever since.

My budding geographical imagination was locally grounded in the thick layers of social interaction and co- present cultural diversity that drenched the streetscapes of the outer borough. The street's densely socialized geography was intricately mapped out: marble games of various sorts in several specific locations; hit-the-penny, slug, and baseball card Taking space personally 13 flipping on the square-lined cement sidewalk; hi-bounce rubber ball games played off certain stoops and curbs, with stickball taking up the entire street; and "four corners," the most popular game of all and my favorite, attracting multiple gener- ations and occasionally some heavy betting by the 'big guys' making almost constant use of the highly focal street corner.

All of the children had detailed mental maps, varying with the seasons, of the use value of nearly every square inch of our lived streetspace.

The Spatial Turn : Interdisciplinary Perspectives

From the start, however, my mental mapping always soared beyond the local, seeking to explore and vicariously experience the ever-widening other spaces that stretched outward from my street corner-defined homeland. My very being became quickly absorbed in thinking geographically, project- ing myself into other spaces and places, imaginatively exploring faraway cities and regions and cultures as escape, education, adventure. I think I was born to spatialize, to celebrate my emplacement in that nesting of nodal regions that defines our being-in-the-world.

My geographical imagination was also and always particularly and intensively urban. Cities focused my attention. When I was 1 0 or so I was swept up by a com- pulsion to know, name, and locate every major city on earth. I compiled a list, hand-written at first and then typed out a year later, organized by country, with cities over one million written in red ink, those over , in black underlined in red, and all other cities over , just in black, making sure to include the capital city even if it were under my , threshold.

I located them all in atlases and gazetteers, etching the political-territorial map of the world into my seemingly eidetic geographical memory.