Thursday, May 16, 2013

The fascination of Topophilia and place

Image above: The A life revealed - fascinating! National Geographic girl, her eyes have captivated the world since she appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1985. Now here is her story.   Interestingly the picture was almost not published!

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Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

A love of place: "...we are either place-oriented or people-oriented."

“People think that geography is about capitals, land forms, and so on. But it is also about place — its emotional tone, social meaning, and generative potential.” — Yi-Fu Tuan, Professor of Geography

Yi-Fu Tuan is a humanist geography, who popularised the term Topophilia in geography in the 1970s as a way to counter what humanists saw as a tendency to treat places as mere sites or locations. Instead, Yi-Fu as a humanist geographer argued, the places we inhabit have as many personalities as those whose lives have intersected with them, and the stories we tell about places often say as much about who we are, as about where our feet are planted.
Humanist geography is a branch of geography that studies how humans interact with space and their physical and social environments. It also looks at the spatial and temporal distribution of population as well as the organisation of the world’s societies. Most importantly though, humanistic geography stresses people’s perceptions, creativity, personal beliefs, and experiences in developing attitudes on their environments.
Time, age, sadness, loss, goodness, happiness, and the concept of home are all themes Yi-Fu Tuan explored at length in his more than 20 books, including his best known works, "Topophilia", “Space & Place,” and his most recent book, “Humanist Geography: An Individual’s Search for Meaning.”
I first came across the work of Yi-Fu Tuan as a geography student at Adelaide University when he visited Adelaide in 1973. His work fascinated me and really enriched my perception of what geographical thinking was about (beyond things, distribution and location). As we have been writing the Australian Curriculum: Geography and developing the concept of place in the curriculum, the work of Yi-Fu Tuan has again resonated with me. The recent article on Yi-Fu Tuan was a real insight into his thinking and commitment to the concept of place as part of modern geography.  Hence I thought it was time to do a Spatialworlds posting on topophilia in relation to the place of place in the new curriculum.

Topophilia (From Greek topos "place" and -philia, "love of") is a strong sense of place, which often becomes mixed with the sense of cultural identity among certain peoples and a love of certain aspects of such a place.
The question asked in Yi-Fu Tuan,s book, "Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perceptions, Attitudes, and Values" is what are the links between environment and world view? Topophilia, the affective bond between people and place, is the primary theme of Yi-Fu's work as he examines environmental perceptions and values at different levels: the species, the group, and the individual. Yi-Fu Tuan holds culture and environment and topophilia and environment as distinct in order to show how they mutually contribute to the formation of values.

"Topophilia" examines the search for environment in the city, suburb, countryside, and wilderness from a dialectical perspective, distinguishes different types of environmental experience, and describes their character."

During the 1960s and 1970s, the idea of place in determining people's behavior was at the forefront of human geography and replaced any attention previously given to space. In his 1977 article, "Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience," Tuan argued that to define space, one must be able to move from one place to another, but in order for a place to exist, it needs a space. Thus, Tuan concluded that these two ideas are dependent upon one another.
Whilst searching for materials on topophilia on the Internet I came across this interesting treatment of the term in film. Topophilia: a journey home, a rediscovered identity is a short film about our connection to the landscape we inhabit and the feeling it can inspire.

In short, topophilia is the affective bond between people and place. Topophilia is a very important term to explore as we look at the concept of place in the Australian Curriculum: Geography. As I have conducted professional learning on the concepts in the curriculum, the discussion often turns to the difference between space and place. To teach the Australian Curriculum: Geography well and as intended, there is a need for geography teachers to engage with the term Topophilia so that they can see that place and space are very different and that place is a very rich concept to enhance the teaching of geographical thinking in the classroom.

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