Thursday, 31 July 2014

Day 2 - Key Thinkers on Space and Place

This is a thick book, and probably one I could never read in a day. Thankfully I had read about half prior and had a good idea of which thinkers I need to read.

It's a useful introduction to human geography (the discipline from which most the thinkers come from) as well as a philosophers, anthropologists, religious studies scholars and political theorists (oh, and a few economists).

For each other it provides a biography overview, key ideas, their unique contributions to space/place, and a list of key works. For someone, like me, who was trying to get an understanding of a field that wasn't his own  - it was incredibly useful.

It's also a good reference book - quite often a journal or another book will reference, in passing, someone's thoughts or ideas on a particular issue in the field. Naturally, wikipedia isn't of much help here and I'm not keen on spending time trying to find their key works to get a feel of what is being referred to - as such, a quick dip into Key Thinkers on Space and Place helped contextualise whatever I was reading.

I'd really recommend it for anyone doing qualitative social science research. The emphasis in qual research often ends up on the people, the words, the actions -divorced from the setting in which it takes place. This book is a reminder that such thinking is misleading. It means we imagine the world as a blank canvas upon which social interaction 'happens'. This unspoken theory means we imagine an action can happen here, or there, with few changes. The argument many of the theorists in this book put forward is that space/place is inextricably linked to social action and agency. Not only in influencing it, but being influenced by it.

We attribute, or perhaps inherit, meaning from places and spaces. We transform them and react to them. One theorist argues the importance of space/place is in that space, is by virtue, limited. One thing can be at one place at one time. Yet the meanings attributed to place are infinite.

The books only drawback, I felt, was its size and its diverse authors. Not every author had the same skill in summarising succinctly a theorisers work. Sometimes I would leave a section feeling an author had conveyed the ideas of a key thinker well, giving me a tangible new idea or theory to take away with me. Other times I completed a section feeling empty-handed, and no better informed on a thinkers ideas or contentions.

That said - great book and one worth reading if you're trying to get a grasp of the field, as I was.

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