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Early conceptualizations of cultural geography by the Berkeley School tended to focus on the morphology of cultural landscapes. Cultural geography has since developed from being a subdiscipline into a dominant critical perspective within the social sciences. Developments in cultural geography in the 1990s focused on questioning various cultural representations (landscape as text). Subsequent work questioned the theoretical and political status of ‘culture,’ with the effect of blurring taken-for-granted distinctions between culture, nature, and economy. More recently, cultural geography has been developed further through an engagement with ‘more-than representational’ thinking and the ‘mobilities’ paradigm.
- The Berkeley School
- New Cultural Geographies
- Performances and Performativities
Cultural geography as a subdisciplinary category has been credited as being “perhaps the most ambiguous term in the discipline’s lexicon” (Price and Lewis, 1993), for two reasons. Firstly, the term ‘culture’ is often not defined; there is simply an “easy coupling with geography in which both refer to a general sensitivity to issues of context, difference, and the local” (Barnett, 1998: 631). Secondly, there has been a proliferation of cultural geographical approaches since the 1980s: “the revival of cultural geography in a radically new form was one of the most striking [disciplinary] developments of the 1980s” (Gregory, 1994: 98).
Cultural geography has developed from being a subdiscipline into a dominant critical perspective within the social sciences. The Berkeley School, with its focus on the relationships between cultural groups and natural environments, dominated Anglo-American cultural geography until the 1980s. Developments in cultural geography in the 1990s focused on various cultural representations (landscape as text, or way of seeing) and on a variety of ways that cultural identities and places are intertwined. This work questioned the theoretical and political status of ‘culture,’ with the effect of blurring taken-for-granted distinctions between culture, nature, and economy. More recently, this work has been developed further through an engagement with ‘ways of telling’ in terms of a more narrative approach to landscape (Daniels and Lorimer, 2012) as well as through ‘more-than representational’ thinking and the emerging ‘mobilities’ paradigm (Sheller and Urry, 2006; Adey, 2009).
The Berkeley School
The term ‘cultural geography’ can be traced to nineteenth-century German scholarship, but is thought to have been introduced into American geography in the 1920s by Carl Sauer (Price and Lewis, 1993). Sauer, his colleagues in the geography department at Berkeley, and their students dominated American cultural geography until the 1980s. (This is not to say that this was the only strand of ‘traditional’ cultural geography. For an overview of a broader range of traditional cultural geographies, see Foote et al., 1994.) Sauer (1925) framed cultural geography in opposition to environmental determinism, which he criticized for subjecting the diversity of cultures to a monocausal, nomothetic theory. Sauer instead advocated historical synthetic accounts of human interaction with natural environments. For Sauer, landscape study was an exercise in historical reconstruction that sought to show how a particular cultural group, working on and through the natural landscape, enacted a cultural landscape. The relevant unit of observation was the cultural region, defined as an area over which a functionally coherent way of life dominated, echoing the French geographer Vidal de la Blache’s perspectives on genres de vie (ways of life). Members of the Berkeley School explored a range of themes in mostly rural locations: the migration of human groups and the process of adaption of a familiar culture to a new land; the domestication of plants and animals; the development, intensification, and dispersion of agriculture; ancient cultivation systems; and the genesis and diffusion of cultural traits and material culture such as folk housing (for a review see Mathewson, 1998).
In the early 1980s, as new approaches to cultural geography were developed, a (contested) critique of the Berkeley School emerged. Berkeley School cultural geography was charged with conceiving cultural groups and regions as unities, and deploying a superorganic conceptualization of culture that invested agency in culture rather than individuals and ignored power relations (Shurmer-Smith and Hannam, 1994). However, there has been a renewed appreciation of the cultural ecology tradition that grew out of the Berkeley School (Willems-Braun, 1997). Crang (1998: 16) has drawn attention to the ways in which Sauer bound the material and social, viewing crop species and gene pools, for example, as the “material expression and embodiment of social processes and knowledge.”
New Cultural Geographies
In the 1990s a new generation of cultural geographers began to engage with a diverse range of philosophical traditions, and social and cultural theories from cultural studies, anthropology, and sociology such that the subdisciplinary – indeed disciplinary – boundaries of cultural geography became blurred. The so-called ‘linguistic’ turn was felt throughout the social sciences and humanities; in cultural geography it focused attention on the landscape as text and the politics of the representations that geographers produce with the publication of Peter Jackson’s (1989) influential text Maps of Meaning and the subsequent establishment of new academic journals such as Ecumene which would later evolve into Cultural Geographies (Crang and Mitchell, 2002). As Crang and Mitchell (2000: 2) argued, this journal would illustrate research aimed at “the wider deployment and development of cultural geographic imaginations: as part of returns to the ‘traditional’ humanities – history, literature studies, art criticism and philosophy – and through the emergence of newer interdisciplinary fields of cultural, media, queer, postcolonial, gender, environmental, urban and science studies. It is these transdisciplinary shifts that are placing cultural geographies at the centre of a more extensive intellectual landscape.” They then went on to argue that Cultural Geographies sought to map out “the intellectual field of cultural geography not in terms of opposing camps – such as ‘new’ cultural geography and ‘old’ cultural geography – but by bringing together concerns over the cultural geographies of knowledge, landscape, nature and environment, and space and place” (Crang and Mitchell, 2002: 1). This has been acknowledged as helping to theoretically invigorate cultural geography in the US (Olwig, 2010). It also heralded an emphasis in innovative qualitative methods in cultural geography (Shurmer-Smith, 2003, DeLyser and Rogers, 2010). Nevertheless, a continuing theme has been in terms of mapping and reading cultural landscapes in variously nuanced ways (Mathewson, 1998, 1999; Mitchell, 2002; Crang, 2003; Della Dora, 2009).
There has been a long tradition of ‘reading’ the landscape in cultural geography. Peirce Lewis (1979: 12), for example, described the landscape as ‘our unwitting autobiography.’ Since the 1980s, however, the metaphor of landscape as text has been pursued more rigorously through a fuller engagement with literary and cultural theory; for example, in Duncan’s (1990) now-classic study of the Kandyan Kingdom in early nineteenth-century Sri Lanka, he describes how the king of Kandy concretized two intertwined discourses on kingship through a massive city-building program, in an attempt to secure his political power; this landscape transformation was then interpreted differently by the king, nobles, and peasants, through the lens of the two key texts. The story, then, is of intertextuality, of the interplay of discourses enacted in landscape and texts.
This textualization of landscape has itself been criticized, less in relation to Duncan’s specific empirical application than as a general theory of landscape interpretation. It has been criticized for erasing process (Gregory, 1994), for overemphasizing the coherence of texts and landscapes, and for suppressing traces of nonhuman others: “it treats the landscape as a blank page that only human actors can read and write upon” (Demeritt, 1994: 170). Nevertheless, the metaphor has been reworked, for example, around the notion of theater and the script, to draw out the open, performative possibilities of text – partly structured and partly improvised. Gregory (1999), for example, analyzed the scripting of Egypt in the nineteenth century by a growing tourism industry. European tourists not only read voluminously when traveling down the Nile, the guidebooks also provided stage directions for transforming dahabeeah (floating barges) into ‘secure viewing platforms’ and the remains of ancient Egypt were literally and materially staged as an ‘extended exhibition.’ It is this attention to the materiality and spatiality of writing, in this case travel writing, that distinguishes the work of cultural geographers (Duncan and Gregory, 1999).
The humanistic geographers of the early 1980s were drawn to the textual metaphor; Cosgrove (1985) entreated them to pay closer attention to the visual, as a way of understanding one of their key, though untheorized, concepts, that of landscape. In Gregory’s (1994: 98) assessment, this recognition of the ‘conceptuality’ of landscape was one of the ‘cardinal achievements’ of the revival of cultural geography in the 1980s. Cosgrove traced the emergence of landscape as a visual ideology, as a way of seeing, in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Europe. The discovery of linear perspective enabled a realist illusion of space: “Landscape is thus a way of seeing, a composition and structuring of the world so that it may be appropriated by a detached individual spectator to whom an illusion of order and control is offered through the composition of space according to the certainties of geometry” (Cosgrove, 1985: 55). This way of seeing coincided with and supported a transition from feudalism to capitalism, and new social relations with nature, and land as property. What landscape paintings achieve aesthetically “maps, surveys, and ordnance charts achieve practically” (Cosgrove, 1985: 55); this recognition led to a critical reassessment of another of geographers’ representational forms: the map. The assumed link between reality and representation has been broken, and maps are now read as “mechanisms for defining social relationships, sustaining social rules, and strengthening social values” (Harley, 1992: 237), as ‘technologies of power’ and as ‘performances’ (Pinder, 2007: 459). Kitchin and Dodge (2007: 331) take this a stage further and urge us to “rethink cartography as ontogenetic in nature; that is maps emerge through practices” such that “mapping is a process of constant reterritorialization.”
Issues of power, politics, and performances have thus become central concerns for contemporary cultural geographers (Jackson, 1989; Shurmer-Smith and Hannam, 1994). Landscapes not only express social relations, they are also an important means of enacting them. And landscapes, like maps, are such effective technologies of power because they tend to naturalize these relations (Cresswell, 1996; Mitchell, 1996). Critical attention has also been given to the various cultural geographies that constitute colonial relations, in the past and in the ‘colonial present’ as well as with issues of racism, nationalism, identity, location, belonging, diaspora, and memory (Sidaway, 2000; Nash, 2002, 2003; Price, 2010; Tolia-Kelly, 2010).
Developing from this, cultural geographers have drawn from Bruno Latour and Donna Haraway to interrogate the assumed duality between nature and culture (Demeritt, 1994; Mitchell, 1995; Matless, 1996, 1997). There are two issues at stake. First, the division between nature and culture enforces the view that humans are the sole social agents. An artifactual understanding of nature pluralizes agency; cultural geographers are now willing to consider that we live in a livelier world in which nonhuman actors also have agency. The notion of agency has been reworked, away from that of a conscious and controlling self, to one of having effects. Second, conceptualizing the boundary between nature and culture as a social construction has opened up a rich set of investigations around both the production of the boundary and slippages across it. In particular, Sarah Whatmore (2006) has been at the forefront of developing materialist concerns, which engage with science and technology studies and issues of performance (see below) to theorize a ‘more-than-human world’ in which nature and culture are articulated as ‘lived.’ She further argues that both ‘old’ and ‘new’ cultural geographies have sought to “cast the making of landscapes (whether worked or represented) as an exclusively human achievement in which the stuff of the world is so much putty in our hands” (Whatmore, 2006: 603). Instead, she argues drawing upon the philosopher Gilles Deleuze for conceptualizing nature and culture in terms of ‘livingness.’ Moreover, the lines between economy and culture are no less blurry particularly when we examine issues of consumption, urbanization, and the mobility of capital (Jackson, 2002; Castree, 2004; Gibson and Kong, 2005; Amin and Thrift, 2007; Thrift, 2012). Economic development is increasingly about culture, whether it be in the form of tourism or the redevelopment of urban areas for the purposes of spectacle and consumption. Access to jobs and job performances are increasingly interpreted as cultural phenomena and cultural geographers have begun to examine this in the context of hospitality work (Bell, 2007).
Performances and Performativities
More recently, cultural geographies have taken a particular interest in practices of tourism, which had previously been approached from either anthropological or managerial perspectives. Cultural geographers were at the forefront of the launch of more theoretically orientated and informed academic journals, such as Tourist Studies and Tourism Geographies, as well as with a more explicit engagement with theory in longer established journals such as Annals of Tourism Research. As Franklin and Crang (2001: 3) point out, “tourism has broken away from its beginnings as a relatively minor and ephemeral ritual of modern national life to become a significant modality through which transnational modern life is organized.” Rather than analyzing aspects of cultural tourism per se as a somewhat elite activity, they have sought to challenge some of the taken-for-granted dualisms in the analysis of tourism such as the distinction between the everyday and the exotic (Hannam and Knox, 2010). The close ties and connections between what we do at home and what we do on holiday have been explored by Knox (2009) in an account of mass tourism in the Mediterranean. Gale (2009) further backs this up with his study of the ‘Paris plage,’ the synthetic beach located on the banks of the Seine in Paris on which office workers, tourists, and local leisure-seekers engage in a simulation of beach tourism in the heart of the city.
Latterly, and perhaps more importantly, this has focused attention on the theorization of various embodied practices and experiences, touristic, or otherwise. The classic Cartesian mind/body dualism led many thinkers to consider minds and bodies as separate entities rather than recognizing their interconnectedness in the experience of being human. It is no longer a question of human subjects being considered to be a mind within a body, but about thinking beyond that dualism to see humans as embodied beings. As an example, tourism offers a range of physical and sensual stimuli that reassert the embodied nature of human life: the warmth of the sun on the face, water lapping around your feet, the increased heart rate while riding the roller coaster, the discomfort of the long-haul flight, the upset stomach, the hotel massage, the feelings of being under the influence of alcohol, the bumps of a rickshaw, or even of dancing (Hannam and Knox, 2010).
Some aspects of, and kinds of tourism easily lend themselves to being described as performances. The notion of performance, however, has a much wider and more significant meaning in the social sciences than simply those times when people dress up in costumes and follow scripts, act on a stage, or sing and dance. However, tourism as an industry or cultural activity is however very much tied up with the presentation of place, culture, heritage, or events, and these presentations could be said to take place on stages that are created out of the interaction between destinations or attractions and their staff and visitors. Edensor (2001) took the metaphor of performance further by casting tourists, marketeers, attraction staff and managers, and tour guides as the playwrights, directors, and stage crew.
Building on the notion of performance, since the late 1990s a number of cultural geographers (Nash, 2000; Lorimer, 2008; Wylie, 2010) have sought to develop nonrepresentational forms of theorization by considering the notion of ‘performativity.’ Performativity is an attempt to “find a more embodied way of rethinking the relationships between determining social structures and personal agency” (Nash, 2000: 654). By nonrepresentational, these writers argue that researchers should not just focus on texts and reading or images and their processing, but also ways of trying to think about and write about physical or emotional behaviors that do not readily lend them to being written about. Nonrepresentational theories challenged the status of social constructionist understandings of the world by highlighting some of the limitations of the representational approaches to studying cultural landscapes outlined above.
Nigel Thrift (1997: 126–127) argues that nonrepresentational theory is about “practices, mundane everyday practices, that shape the conduct of human beings toward others and themselves at particular sites.” It is a project not “concerned with representation and meaning, but with the performative ‘presentations,’ ‘showings,’ and ‘manifestations’ of everyday life.” It seeks to appreciate the ways in which ordinary people appreciate “the skills and knowledges they get from being embodied beings.” Drawing upon Thrift’s work, Nash (2000: 655), meanwhile, argues that the notion of performativity “is concerned with practices through which we become ‘subjects’ decentred, affective, but embodied, relational, expressive and involved with others and objects in a world continually in process. . The emphasis is on practices that cannot adequately be spoken of, that words cannot capture, that texts cannot convey – on forms of experience and movement that are not only or never cognitive.” This was further developed into what has been termed ‘more-than representational’ theory in order to incorporate the insights of landscape analysis with the new emphasis on embodied encounters (Lorimer, 2005, 2008). Landscapes are retheorized from this perspective as ‘traveling landscape-objects’ (Della Dora, 2009). Cultural geographers have examined such embodied encounters through, for example, the analysis of nonrational spectro-geographies (Maddern and Adey, 2008), lethargy and tiredness (Bissell, 2009), and touristic activities in slum spaces (Diekmann and Hannam, 2012), but also through the diverse aeromobilities and automobilities discussed below.
Developing from the concern with embodied practices and recognizing that cultures are not static, cultural geographers have also been concerned with everyday practices of movement (Adey, 2009; Price, 2010) and have been active, along with sociologists and anthropologists, in the development of what has been termed the ‘new mobilities paradigm’ (Sheller and Urry, 2006). In short, proponents of the mobilities paradigm argue that the concept of mobilities is concerned with mapping and understanding both the large-scale movements of people, objects, capital, and information across the world, as well as the more local processes of daily transportation, movement through public space, and the travel of material things within everyday life simultaneously (Hannam et al., 2006).
A great deal of mobilities research has analyzed forms and experiences of so-called ‘corporeal’ travel. This involves the travel of people for work, leisure, family life, pleasure, migration, and escape, organized in terms of contrasting time–space modalities (ranging from daily commuting to once-in-a-lifetime exile). Using an explicit mobilities perspective, recent work has considered how the technologies of travel have led to new cultural forms, including new cultural identities and subjectivities (see Blunt, 2007). It is recognized that political, technological, financial, and transportational changes have been critical in significantly lowering the mobility barriers for many but not for all. Indeed immobilities become particularly apparent during times of crisis and disaster (Hannam et al., 2006) and social mobilities may be marked by inequalities and injustices (Cresswell, 2010).
The conceptualization of places is important for the study of mobilities in this context (Cresswell, 2004). Often a clear distinction is made between places and those traveling to places; pushing or pulling people to visit. The mobilities paradigm argues against the ontology of distinct ‘places’ and ‘people’ (Sheller and Urry, 2006). Rather there is a complex relationality of places and persons. Places are thus not so much fixed but are implicated within complex networks through which ‘hosts, guests, buildings, objects, and machines’ are contingently brought together to produce certain performances. Moreover, places are also “about proximities, about the bodily co-presence of people who happen to be in that place at that time, doing activities together, moments of physical proximity between people that make travel desirable or even obligatory for some” (Hannam et al., 2006: 13).
From this perspective, cultural geographies have also become concerned with aspects of transport, of mapping the various aeromobilities and automobilities of everyday life (Cresswell, 2010). The sociotechnical system of air travel that has been turned into a form of mass mobility requires an exceptionally extensive and immobile place, the airport city with tens of thousands of workers orchestrating the millions of air journeys taking place each day (Hannam et al., 2006). At airports, travelers have their bodies biometrically scanned or ‘read’ and are continually monitored on CCTV. That symbol of national allegiance and identity – the passport – is now ‘chipped’ and used by governments as a tool to monitor the population’s movements. The objects people carry, too, are also subject to processes of control through X-rays and searches. Moreover, the very material and immaterial architecture of the modern airport is calculated to control the corporeal movements of the traveler (Adey et al., 2007; Adey, 2008). When this breaks down due to an unexpected environmental event such as the Icelandic ash cloud eruption the consequences can be extreme (Adey and Anderson, 2011).
Through the notion of automobility, personal vehicles may effectively offer the tourist freedom and flexibility other modes of travel do not. Cars enable people to tailor their own itineraries and allow them to control the routes they travel between destinations. They also permit the driver (and his or her passengers) to decide when and where to stop, and consequently allow direction and velocity to be controlled. As Urry (2000: 61) has noted, the road has the power to ‘set people free’ as drivers are offered a range of choices, inaccessible to those using public methods of transport. Cars are therefore identified as important tools that may permit adventure (Sheller and Urry, 2000, 2003; Featherstone, 2004; Huijbens and Benediktsson, 2007; Collin-Lange and Benediktsson, 2011; Butler and Hannam, 2012) and have consequently fostered a ‘dynamic culture of individualism’ (Jacobsen, 2004: 7) but with significant consequences for the global environment (Vanderheiden, 2006).
Phillip Crang (2010: 192) recently argued that “cultural geography is no longer fashionable” but remains lively, creative, and experimental as the above discussions illustrate. Cultural geography is currently extremely vibrant, no longer operating as a bounded subdiscipline concerned simply with landscapes but as a critical perspective on everyday life.
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