Thursday, February 24, 2005

same old story...

I apologize, too, for posting late, also have flu. What really struck me about Cowie's article is his recurring mention of young low-paid women workers as the backbone of the whole capitalist house of cards. In new communication technology industries it's the same old story - young underpaid girls and women who often do this work. My question is, if the whole capitalist game depends on cheap labor and the exploitation of workers, is it worthy of constantly fueling? If we had the political will to change the exploitations inherent in this system, what would happen?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Information Infrastructure: Not Really so Novel, After All

I apologize for the lateness of this post, like half of the rest of Madison, I came down with the flu this week, and am only just now approaching coherence.

One really short question this week: John refers to information infrastructure as being a novel concept. Perhaps it was, at that time, a novel concept within mass communication, but it's at the center of many studies in LIS. My question is, of all the pieces of the infrastructure John has named, what are some key pieces that he leaves out? And how key is the internet in the modern infrastructure?

Vivid and subtle lack of truth

The goal of an “informed citizenry” led the first communications revolution by John’s depictions, followed by the informational environment that eventually formed foundation for the US information infrastructure. The premise of our fifth estate grew out of the goal to inform the masses and critique government (and business) but just as political and economic interests helped other parts of our infrastructure evolve, we’ve now let those interests overtake our media systems that no longer deliver on this goal.

An informed citizenry of a questioned government / business / society is less and less present in the US – about national and regional issues. Most vivid are the “spin” of last couple decades, polarization of media fostered by corporate ownership, and now complete and accepted secrecy/propaganda from the Bush Admin. But more subtle is the insight from Cowie’s industrial production, or say the book Fast Food Nation, where people aren’t informed about real sources of changes and issues in their local area.

As we keep looking to the media to correct this issue itself – which isn’t happening fast enough if at all – to offset the lack of critical thinking prevalent in America – should we be turning to a solution that is more about infrastructure or working through another “market force,” and less about doing the right thing? I’m not advocating regulation but wondering, are there forces at work or available that can help correct this situation?

What about global comunication technology?

I was rather surprised to see that Cowie never really addresses the role of global comunication technologies in transnational corporate relations. Much has been made of modern technologies, such as the Internet, offering marginalized groups more of an ability to mobilize in the public sector.

Therefore, might these technologies offer the same opportunities for workers in the private sector to create solidarity across borders and level the playing field between corporate leaders and workers?

By the way, how much does the auto industry actually contribute to illegal drug trafficking? (see Cowie, p. 201) :)

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

mass culture as a tool of raising consciousness?

According to Cowie, commercial culture may enable classless working-class to integrate them, so that the working class may be able to obtain“the possibility of a positive social and political response to the problem of capital mobility.”He finds the role of mass culture as“a glimmer of hope.”For this, he adopts Pierre Bourdieu's concept of habitus by emphasizing“the improvisation and spontaneity within the inherited structure that remolds the past and so shapes the future.”He seems to believe that working class can overcome the limit of solidarity derived from the working class' perception of community by practicing, educating and experiencing a common class culture. However, I think that mass culture is so powerful to engulf even working-class culture into just commercialism in capitalist society that even the slightest possibility to become conscious can not be realized through the experience of mass culture. I accept the Frankfurt school's critic on mass culture in a sense.

Lost in Translation

Cowie, in his discussion of the continuous struggle of industrial capital to maintain the social conditions necessary for profitability, argues that the problem of offshore production, that is the transnationalization of production, is not fundamentally different in cause or consequence from the problem of transregionalization of industry several decades earlier, although transnationalization does throw into question the role of the nation-state. But I think the recent trend toward outsourcing of tech and other forms of frontline customer support to countries such as China and India creats a fundamentally different problem than these earlier trends because it does not involve production processes hidden from the consumer. In the case of outsourcing, the consumer is confronted with an often rather obvious "other" directly, on the telephone. "There" is suddenly "here." This phenomenon changes the dynamic of transnationalization in a fundamental way. And somehow it's not unexpected that at least some of U.S. firms who embraced outsourcing of customer support initially are now rolling back those programs out of, they contend, concerns about quality of service.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Here Be Dragons (courtesy of MS Clipart)

Building out from some of the things we talked about today, here is one of my favorite commentaries on the effect of desktop computing on information production, "(Weblogs and) The Mass Amateurisation of (Nearly) Everything":

But what both of these attempts to understand weblogging have in common is this sense of amateurisation. They both argue that weblogging software constitutes a radical simplification of previously complex tools. Updating a website on a daily basis is no longer an activity that only a trained professional (or a passionate hobbyist) can accomplish. It's now open to pretty much everyone, cost-free and practically effortlessly...

But it's not just publishing or journalism that are going through a process of mass amateurisation at the moment. In fact over the last fifteen years or so pretty much all media creation has started to be deprofessionalised. We only have to look around us to see that this is the case - as individually created media content that originated on the internet has started to infect mass media. Hard-rocking poorly-animated kittens that once roamed e-mail newsletters ( are now showing up in adverts and credit-sequences, pop-songs written on home computers are reaching the top of the charts, weblog commentators in Iraq are getting columns in the national and international newspapers, music is being hybridised and spliced in the home for competitions on national radio stations. The whole of the mainstream media has started to look towards an undercurrent of individual amateur creation because of the creativity that's bubbling up from this previously unknown swathe of humanity. Mass-amateurisation is EVERYWHERE.

Much more in the link. I must admit that I am very much a part of this trend. I'm teaching myself how to do digital mixing with Garageband, and since getting a DVD burner last summer I've been shooting video footage on my Sony Cybershot still (for the most part) camera at local concerts to compile on DVD. Even in some areas where I do have some training and expertise I'm letting the new tools do the work for me -- my website is now run on Movable Type, instead of being manually maintained, and I haven't taken any photographs on film in months.

Author, Author

Thinking a little more about Harley. Any cultural artifact is a text that can be interrogated. But a novel or film is different from a map because of the idea of authorship and a mediating consciousness standing between the user and whatever reality is being represented or rendered. We assume authorship of works of art. However, with a map, I don't normally think in terms of authorship. I expect a closer relation between reality and its representation in a map. So textual analysis of work of art occurs in a different analytic context than of an object where authorship is not claimed.

Luddites ... relax ... somewhat

Openshaw discusses the "old school" (my words, not his) geographer's fear that GIS will eventually replace traditional ways of conducting geographical research, but I don't think this will be the case. Now, I am painfully ignorant about the the functions of GIS, but isn't it the case that new research tools are almost always modern versions of doing what we've always done? For instance, we use SPSS in social science research, which simply does what researchers did on paper before computers came along.

I would also argue that we have adapted communication technologies, such as the telephone and the Internet, to fit our societal needs. These technologies haven't forced us to adapt to the them in ways that dramatically impact society.

Therefore, Openshaw writes that, "GIS will not replace traditional tools but it does offer an extremely useful complement to them" (p. 681), and I agree with this. Maybe, however, those who are much more familiar with GIS will disagree with me!

Get your motor running...

I know there's been some GIS buzz over the readings this week, but I was particularly drawn to the Harley article (anyone up for a fieldtrip to UW-Milwaukee to look at that map collection?) So just for fun in class today I'm bringing in a Nat Geo map I bought recently of New Zealand. We can all stab it with our steely deconstruction knives!!!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


Although Sheppard refers to Habermas's concept of systemic colonization of the lifeworld several times in his article I found myself thinking more about Weber's "iron cage" nightmare during Sheppard's discussion of the dangers posed by the tendency of GIS analysis to rely on secondary data sources for empirical analysis. As Sheppard correctly observes, "this is a dangerous tendency because of the ways in which data are already laden with the theories, purposes, and social norms of the agencies that collect them." Weber talked about the end of instrumental reasoning and self-serving action being the self reduced to existence in an iron cage of rationality, devoid of both meaning and freedom. This is the same problem that Adorno and Horkheimer were working out in their analysis of mass culture. We are increasingly living in a world consisting nearly seamlessly of representations of the world constructed by unseen forces with the intent to manipulate attiitudes and behavior on a massive scale via various forms of mass media. I think Sheppard is right to be worried that GIS technologies, for all of their technological sophistication, still conform to the cardinal rule of data analysis: garbage in, garbage out.

True Geography: Openshaw and Harley

On my first read-through of Openshaw's editorial, I honestly found it rather amusing, but not particularly useful or effectiveness - the thing that stood out most in my mind was his theory that the critics of GIS weren't real geographers, and that was merely because I find it humorous when people think that accusing detractors of being hacks is an effective argument.

But my second glance through the articles this evening brought another possible dimension to mind; Openshaw seemed to define the geographer that Harley described, the geographer obsessed with creating and maintaining a reputation that is primarily objectively scientific. And in that way, despite Openshaw's claims of being progressive, he is actually quite traditional.


Technology: a research tool or a way of making life?

While reading this week's articles, I had a chance to think about the identity of geography in social sciences. The debate around GIS shows us how some geographers try to place their status as unique one among other adjacent academic areas. Even though I can understand their attempts, I couldn't have been shocked by Openshaw's claim: "One explanation for an antiGIS reaction would be that the GIS critics have essentially become nongeographers but, like a parasite, they are trapped within a host they may despise but cannot escape, so they continue to masquerade as geographers living out their fantasies in the geographical literature and doing their best to avoid geography rediscovering its geographical roots" (p. 678). It is understandable that he is trying to accuse so-called antiGIS geographers of be afraid of technology; however, they also have reasonable argument and concern about the tendency of spreading research using GIS. Therefore, Openshaw's argument may look as an attempt to keep an exclusively invested interest by monopolizing GIS. Everybody can use GIS for their own research in their own academic area. I think that in a sense such antiGIS scholars are much more afraid of technological determinism.

Man or machine?

While reading this week's articles I was struck by the constant discussion of the impact of GIS on the field. Obviously it appears there are scholars who are thrilled by the development of this geographic "tool" and those that are concerned for the future of the field.

More interesting to me however was the discussion of the way GIS is applied. Specifically, in the Sheppard article he discusses in great detail how GIS has impacted the ways of knowing and culture in a broader sense. I guess my question revolves around his main question - is it the impact of the technology or the social context that generate the issues he discusses. Are the authors we read for this week granting too much autonomy to GIS itself? Are not human scholars the people truly driving the research projects represented in their final stage by GIS?

This question might not seem that interesting but I was struck by how Sheppard, and possibly Openshaw, place such emphasis on the technology. Yes, Sheppard addresses the vague concept of "social context" but does not directly address the scholars themselves. Therefore, I kept thinking isn't the debate geographers are facing regarding the use of GIS the same all scholars face whenever they engage in research?

It is our duty to constantly question our ways of knowing and the biases we bring to any research problem to understand and look for what is being included and what is exlcuded and the resulting effect our research may have on society. Has that responsiblity shifted so much in regards to GIS that geographers are now "scapegoating," and I use that term loosely, and placing the responsibility on the technology?

An interesting case for geographical analysis

A fellow geographer here at UW, Kris Olds, passed this article on to the geography mailing list and I thought it was a nice example to use with respect to the various geographic ways of thinking we've been discussing in class the last few weeks. Plus, I think just maybe there is an unexamined set of mass communication issues lurking under the surface. The piece appeared in the NYT last week.

February 9, 2005

Keeping Iowa's Young Folks at Home After They've Seen Minnesota

Lately the Iowa Legislature has been trying to find a way to solve a basic problem: how to keep young people from leaving the state. Right now, Iowa's "brain drain" is second only to North Dakota's. The Legislature is toying with a simple idea, getting rid of state income tax for everyone under 30. This proposal was front-page news in California, where most of Iowa moved in the 1960's.

 Let me translate the economics of this plan. The State Legislature proposes to offer every young tax-paying Iowan a large delivery pizza - or its cash equivalent, about $12 - every week of the year. But smart young Iowans know this is only an average figure. The more you earn, the more state income tax you save.

 If ever there were an incentive to earn your first hundred million by the time you're 30, this would be it. Never mind that South Dakota, right next door, charges no income tax no matter how old you are.

Of course, there are serious questions about financing this tax break, which could cost as much as $200 million a year. The best bet would be to require young people to spend their dole on the Iowa Lottery.

 Iowans are resolutely practical about such proposals. One state legislator, quoted in The Minneapolis Star Tribune, said: "Let's face it. Des Moines will never be Minneapolis." He might have added that Council Bluffs would never be Kansas City. Another Iowan, when asked what the state needed to keep its young people, said, "An ocean would help." This is the kind of big thinking Iowa has always been famous for.

 But $600, the average yearly state income tax for Iowan 20-somethings, is not enough to undo decades of social erosion. The problems Iowa faces are the very solutions it chose two and three generations ago. The state's demographic dilemma wasn't caused by bad weather or high income taxes or the lack of a body of water larger than Rathbun Lake - an Army Corps of Engineers reservoir sometimes known as "Iowa's ocean." It was caused by the state's wholehearted, uncritical embrace of industrial agriculture, which has depopulated the countryside, destroyed the economic and social texture of small towns, and made certain that ordinary Iowans are defenseless against the pollution of factory farming.

These days, all the entry-level jobs in agriculture - the state's biggest industry - happen to be down at the local slaughterhouse, and most of those jobs were filled by the governor's incentive, a few years ago, to bring 100,000 immigrant workers into the state.

 Business leaders all across Iowa have been racking their brains to think of ways to spur economic development. But nearly every idea leaves industrial agriculture intact. That means a few families living amid vast tracts of genetically modified soybeans and corn, with here and there a hog confinement site or a cattle feedlot to break the monotony.

 People love to blame the death of America's small towns on the coming of Wal-Mart, but in Iowa, Wal-Mart is just a parasite preying on the remains of a way of life that ended years ago. Every farming crisis - they seem to come at least once a decade - has shaken a few more farmers out of the business, consolidating land holdings and decreasing the rural population that actually depends on small towns to do business in. The complex connection between town and country that characterized the state when I lived there has long since been broken.

 There is not enough life in the small towns of Iowa to keep a young person, and there is no opportunity on the land. The state faces an excruciating paradox. It can foster economic development of a kind that devours farmland - the sort of thing that is happening around Des Moines. Or it can try to reimagine the nature of farming, with certain opposition from farmers themselves and without any help from the federal government, which has fostered industrial agriculture for decades.

 I used to joke that Iowa's two leading crops were rural poverty and crystal meth. But it's not a joke. The fact is that Iowa is a beautiful state. Minneapolis isn't that far away. Iowa would be a great place to live, if only the air and the water weren't polluted and you could be sure you wouldn't find yourself living next to 10,000 sows in a hog prison. There was a time, well within my dad's memory, when Iowa's agriculture was diversified and when the towns were rich in a culture of their own devising.

 I grew up in the latter days of such a town, and I find it hard to imagine a better place to have been a kid.

 My family moved away from Iowa in 1966, for reasons that had to do with my mother's health and not with economics or even the decline in pheasant hunting. I'd like to say I stared out the rear window as we pulled out of town, watching the state of my boyhood recede, but I didn't. We were going to California, which trumps Minneapolis. I was lucky to leave before I knew I would need to.

P.S. If you ever have the chance to take a class with Kris over in geography, jump at it.

Monday, February 14, 2005

When is information meaningful?

I researched many old maps to find out the history of where we live, and to Harley’s points about influence… the French created our maps and their place names either were dubbed for the natives, or the NAs eventually took on the names. If the French hadn’t mapped it out, I wonder what all of the places around here would be called. My question is, do we still do this today through GIS? Is our information today via GIS any better really (tho arguably more exact and scientific) than the info provided by long-ago mappers? Is it really not the information itself but rather the use of the information that is meaningful? To the mention again of Marshall McLuhan, can we further think of this meaning in the contexts of community but even more so in the ways we as humans have developed our linear thinking based on centuries of mapping?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

I'm too tired to think of something witty

In reading the articles for this week I was struck by the role media plays in constructing what da Costa refers to as the "unreal city" of "city of imagination." Whether it be movies, books, music, or the Internet it appears up to the audience/receiver to define representaions of space for themselves, especially when a physical counterpart is nonexistant. Sure, the "auteur" creates a representation of a city or crafts an entirely new city based on bits and pieces of cities gleaned from their experiences but it is up to the audience to truly decipher the message and make meaning of the representation of place. Therefore, I'm curious in spite of this observation whether or not this really matters. In our hypermediated society where audiences are increasingly able to investigate far off locations through the web, movies, etc., does the "unreal city" even exist? If we have such detailed knowledge of places we've never personally experienced in a physical sense how are our interpretaions of these "real cities" any different than interpretations of an auteur's "city of imagination"? Sure, da Costa claims that representations on film can also include objective and faithful representations of real cities (documentaries) as well as "cinematic cities" where fictional events take place in recognizable places but I'm not sure I really believe there's a difference when you consider the wealth of representations of place we store cognitively compared to our actual personal experience. Half of the time I feel I'm living in a "city of imagination" myself! Any thoughts or comments to this incoherent babble?

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Ethnography and expections

Bell spends a lot of verbiage in his piece on explicating what ethnography could or should mean in the context of cyberspace (whatever that could or should mean). While he manages to address quite a few reasonable approaches, and extend those approaches into issues of practice and ethics, I think he misses something that should be of central interest to us.

If the methodology of ethnography gives us fits when applied to cyberspace as a broad, theoretical concept, the first thing we should do is begin to focus on particular applications, rather than demand that "cyberspace" be a singular entity. Cyberspace is large; it contains multitudes. To expect a unified theory of cyberethnography that looks like a retrofitted version of traditional ethnography is a little silly. So how might this be applied situationally? If we're going to attempt to translate the methodology of ethnography out of the physical field and into the virtual, it makes sense to examine the ways in which our online subjects resemble those studied offline. Christine Hine asks, "Do you have to be logged on 24 hours a day, or can you visit the setting at periodic intervals?" The answer, I believe, lies in the offline study of similar subjects. What level of participation would you expect for a physically located study of the same people or ideas? I'm being a little facetious here, because this sort of methodological development presents obvious problems -- primarily, that an ethnographic study being conducted on the Internet will not necessarily have any analogue in the offline world.

My high school French teacher used to tell us that French was not English in disguise whenever we wanted to simply replace English words with French ones, without adjusting word order or context. The primary concern I have with the ideas presented by Bell and the conservative researchers he cites is that they seem to be approaching the Internet as if it were the offline world in disguise. I find it very difficult to accept research and analysis written in the 1990's as especially relevant to questions about how to use and examine the Internet in 2005; indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if I felt the same way about today's publications by the end of the decade. I don't see Bell and the others doing much beyond trying to fit the square peg of ethnography into the round hole of online community. The way I see it, it makes more sense to start from scratch and figure out an entire process that works for the Internet, than to start from the premise that the offline world and its accepted methods ought to be the baseline. (That said, I'm not sure I would agree with the claim that the Internet constitutes its own uniquely existent and identifiable "world," either.)

As with most contrarian blog posts, however, I don't have any solid suggestions for what I'm proposing. Ideas?

So what?

That was a Miles allusion, not a putdown of the readings, but my pervasive sense as I read the first three articles was: nice filler for rounding out research into place/space, just to ensure you haven't missed a dimension that might inform, but it's hard to see how important these readings are for considering weightier questions. For the DaCosta article: Manhattan is popular because people need a Shangri-La and a Sodom, but for purposes of understanding community I don't see much use for film analysis except to get a better read on the nature of nostalgia. The Cohen piece sheds sonic significance on iPod and Walkman use, but music seems to have disappeared from modern city/suburbscapes (it'd be great to examine the import of this), so that appears to be somewhat of a dead-end. And since no one reads anymore, at least in the J201 generation, Kneale's piece appears to have little applicability. I know I'm being extreme with these comments, but maybe it's the nihilism pills I took this morning...

How Soon Is Now?

I mentioned in class last week that I was reading William Gibson's latest novel, Pattern Recognition. As discussed by Kneale in this week's readings, Gibson is very concerned with place and the texture of places in which people live and work. Kneale describes him as a science fiction writer and that's true of his earlier work. All the more interesting then that the new book takes place in contemporary London, Tokyo and Moscow. Maybe postmodernity means no longer needing to imagine a future because the future is now.


I'm new to this type of research, so I'm trying to get a grasp on the concepts that were put forth in the da Costa and Kneale pieces. They contend, unless I'm wrong (very possible), that researchers can make substantive observations about geography in reality by comparing it to geographic depictions in books and movies. Is this possible? Isn't the subjectivity of the author/director too large of a barrier to effective research? I think it would be nearly impossible, short of climbing into his/her head, to interpret the rationale for an author's/director's decision to depict a place in a certain way. Therefore, the research consists primarily of the researcher's subjective interpretation of the reasons for the author's/director's depiction.

Kneale tries to address this issue, but he doesn't, in my opinion, explain how this sort of research can be objective in any way. Can this problem be overcome in the way Kneale says it can?

By the way, I'm not sure I'm stating this as well as I should (sorry!) -- still trying to shake the last remnants of the flu!

cyberculture, communication, and LIS (just a tiny bit, I promise. I couldn't resist)

As you might guess from the title, I'm actually an invader-student from Greg's other department up Park St, and one of the first things that struck me about Bell's article was the easy comparisons I could make to his discussion of some of the challenges of the internet to some of the literature in LIS, specifically related to the open source movement and academic scholarship.

But that was only the initial thing that caught my attention - Bell's reference to cyberspace being a discrete, distinct world of its own (with its own mode of operation, customs, etc?). With the internet being ubiquitous as a research tool in this day and age, it's certainly something that people in the "information" field should examine, as well as those in communication.

But the question is...can we really consider the Internet to be its own discrete world, as cyberethnographers seem to want us to do? While there are certainly a group of protocols related to the Internet that are unique to the medium...does this really make cyberspace something entirely separate?

(Of course, I could be interpreting too literally here...if so, then their definition of world is also something that should be examined.)

Mass Media, Cyberculture and Effects on Human View

Each of these articles alludes to the idea that reality is the mixed compilation of different perceptions for humans of space over time (or to go one dark step further, is there any truth or just manipulation?). Inter-textuality is a fascinating component of movies, writings and music – and the Internet. Is the Internet of today, which is markedly different in substance and use than it was in the late 90s, subject to the same inter-textuality concerns within the Internet itself and all media forms in general?
Building on some past discussions from class and other theorists (like McLuhan), if human (individual, societal and cultural) development is in some way a function of mass media, does the Internet contribute in a new way to humans developing a “boundless” geographical mental view as opposed to the linear view we take in through reading and other media? How does the “self-created” web experience differ from the ready-to-eat media vehicles in conveying culture, sense of place, values and societal norms? And to what degree should we be measuring cyberculture in physical and virtual places?

cultural studies as a way of investigating virtual space

This week's reading remined me of cultural studies in our field of communication. I think that in a sense cultural geography is essentially identified with cultural studies. Frankly, I can't see any big differece between them. Then, between when we focus on the concept of space and time and when we focus on the concept of society, what difference can we expect from our inquiry?

In addition, in the wake of postmodernist/poststructualist, cultural studies defies such monolithic discovery of the world as the ones from "positivist," it purposes to reveal the spontaneity of the agent, human being. Thus, I think that cultural studies and cultural geography need to develop audience studies to be more sophisticated. Particularly, in order to protect cyber space from the capitalist' penetration, if we find users' unique intepretations and usages of cyber space, it might provide a good chance to develop rationale and discourse to project cyber space from the domination of capitalist's retionale.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The "elusive present"

I thought a lot about Will's comments on postmodernism and found this in Michael Real's Exploring Media Culture (1996) He calls postmodernism the "elusive present" and lists these characteristics:

1 - the domination of the style of pastiche in art, architecture and overall aesthitics, a style that combines "unlikely combinations" of styles borrowed from past cultural products...

2 - the breakdown of "grand narratives," especially the "metanarrative of science as universal human problem-solver..."

3 - the centrality of communication technologies to provide global access to "a culture of mass reproduction ...or copies of which there is no original..."

4 - the consumer culture of late capitalism, where the "Puritan ethic of production has been replaced by the commercial ethic of conspicuous consumption"

5 - "the fragmentation of sensibility into discontinuous forms of knowledge and culture in which anchored mearings and permament principles are absent...includes a culture marked by excess and overload and marked by...minimalism and decoration, together with a personal and social life dominated by the pleasure principle, relativism, privatism , and a schizophremia that dips in and out of different personalities...."

6 - "an inability to resolve from within postmodernism the dilemmas that postmodernism describes so forcefully..."

Given these characteristics of postmodernism and others we discussed, are we there yet, or somewhere in between?

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Yi-Fu Tuan web site

By the way, as some of you may have realized, Yi-Fu Tuan was a UW geographer and still has a web site with an interesting series of "Dear Colleague" letters, one of which was just recently posted. Check it out if you like: Yi-Fu Tuan

The Division Bell

One of the problems that I'm seeing in this lit and in our discussions of it is that we are lacking boundaries (ironic, perhaps, in a discussion about space and place). When we say "cities," do we mean all congregations of people over a certain number, or do we mean American urban centers? If the latter, how do we categorize them? New York is not Houston is not Lansing is not San Diego is not Atlanta, etc. While they may share some characteristics, and all participate in a level of national culture, it would be foolish to declare that a resident of Cambridge, MA, has the same relationship with space and place as someone in Waukesha. Before we try to figure out what cities are collectively, perhaps we should first figure out what they are not collectively but are selectively. (That's the kind of sentence you can only get away with on a blog, in an graduate discussion setting or both.)

Tuan begins dividing things up another way -- by differences in perception among different types of city-dwellers. I took a seminar on the American party system over the poli. sci. department last semester and spent most of it harping on the influence of perception (and of the media on perception) on the issues at hand. This is a critical issue here as well. How do different types of people learn about their relationships with space and place? How do perceptions of those relationships map onto reality? Are the characteristics (perceived or real) structural in nature? Are they imposed on an ad hoc basis by a force such as a state government?

The influence of place on idividual identity

In regards to the Tuan article I was drawn to this concept of places having an essence that can only truly be appreciated once we leave that physical space. Yet Fields of Care “can be known in essence only from within” (p. 451) – you must have repeated experience with them, live them, form a social bond with the place. My question/comment involves the role of a physical space's identity/essence in influencing the identity of the individuals who occupy that space. If we learn the essence of a place through either leaving it or having repeated interaction with it does our perception of the physical place have an effect on my identity? Does my sense of self rely on my connection to my physical surroundings? I would argue in the affirmative - thoughts?

(from Kevin Kiley)

Last week, we discussed the role of communication technologies in our
perceptions of geography. Tuan examines James' (1961) idea that the
decline in one's sense of place can be attributed to, among other
things, "... the loss of intimate contact with the physical setting in
an age when people seldom walk and almost never loiter ..." (p. 453).
Therefore, do modern technologies, such as the Internet, which exists
in the realm of cyberspace and thus involves an absence of physical
contact, further undermine one's sense of place or can the idea
of "place" be adapted to apply to these new technologies?

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Dear Me, I'm Flustered...

I had all kinds of strong reactions to the Dear & Fluster piece this week, and not all of them good. I'll start with some of their terms, all on p. 2, and perhaps continue the critique in discussion tomorrow (sorry I'm posting late, but I've finally got IE back online in my PC -- Firefox wouldn't allow me to post).

First, where they say "Human landscapes are created by knowledgeable actors operating within a specific social context (or structure)", immediately calls to mind the many ways actors act on human landscapes quite unconsciously.

Second, where they attempt to add the term "space" to "structure" and "agency," my response was: isn't space a form of structure? How is it different?

Third, just a bit down the page where the authors break down their three "levels of analysis" as "structures, institutions, and agents" my hackles went up. Institutions certainly act as agents. And to this list shouldn't they add "catalysts" or some similar concept to describe such factors as technological changes, such as broadband Internet, or psychological, such as media-induced fear in the wake of 9/11. Finally, where does the media fit in all this? I'm not comfortable simply labeling it an "institution."

Ok... I'll end my rant here... see youse tomorrow...


Historic place thoughts, media influence

Historians told us that the land where our house sits on Lake Butte des Morts was once of importance to native Americans who lived and died (and are buried here, but that’s another story), then French fur-traders, then Euro-American settlers. These historians said humans typically continue to occupy places of meaning across cultures. Tuan’s public symbols/ fields of care would apply at different times to this place – I’d argue it’s been both. What really is this space if not defined by human experience, and is prioritizing time over space (as in my description) the best vantage (Harvey)? I see a meaning that is determined by collective human values (which if I was a good post-modernist, should be one of many perspectives…). This land is geographically important in different ways to different peoples at different times – sustenance via wild rice and game, then commerce for fur trade and trading post, then access for lumber trade and eventually recreational lake living. Is this place’s value to change based on how our society views aspects that relate to it, and how does the media influence it (arguably it didn’t until maybe the mid- to late-1800s) – talking up lake living, marveling big polluting speedboats, scaring us about contaminated fish and high taxes? How does or could the media factor into the perceptions and evolution of this space?

sense of identity vs. collective egoism

According to Yi-Fu Tuan, "although the residents of an area may have a strong sense of place, this sense is not necessarily self-conscious. … Residents not only sense but know that their world has an identity and a boundary when they feel threatened, as when people of another race wants to move in, or when the area is the target of highway construction or urban renewal" (Suttles, 1972) (453-454).

However, when residents of an area confront a threat like above example, collective egoism (NIMBY) may instigate a strong sense of place and sense of identity. In this situation, how can we distinguish a strong sense of place as a result of a threat from collective egoism? People may try to have a collective identity and a sense of community in order to realize their goals and interests.

The Secret Lives of Cities

At the very beginning of his essay, Yi-Fu Tuan very briefly discusses the spirit and personalities of places - how people seem to assign a soul to a place that affects them deeply in some way. As soon as I read that, I was reminded of something I'd read a couple of years ago from Neil Gaiman's Sandman series of graphic novels:

Perhaps a city is a living thing. Each city has its own personality, after all.

Los Angeles is not Vienna. London is not Moscow. Chicago is not Paris. Each city is a collection of lives and buildings and it has its own personality.

So, if a city has a personality, maybe it also has a soul. Maybe it dreams.

I do not fear cities sleeping, stretched out unconscious around their rivers and estuaries, like cats in the moonlight. Sleeping cities are tame and harmless things.

What I that one day the cities will waken. That some day the cities will rise.

Aside from the obvious fantasy of this (Sandman is after all an urban fantasy series), what do we think of this idea that physical places have personality and soul? Why do you think that we assign what is essentially a congregation of buildings and monuments the qualities of a living thing?