Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Power of place

I tell students that human beings think metaphorically, that we filter new experience through what we already know. We extend the "known" into the "what's happening now." In many ways, and for much the same reason, you could also say we think in terms of places. Place and space involve memories as old as we have. They are familiar. We certainly seem to extend spatial logics into all sorts of other fields of experience (to use a spatial metaphor; indeed, I count at least eight spatial metaphors in this paragraph alone).

The other day I jotted down a number of place/space terms commonly used to talk about things besides places and spaces: closed, open (mind), protected, exposed, buffered, porous (positions), smooth, striated, guarded, unguarded, internal, external (personality traits), world view (culture), worlds within worlds, spheres (of understanding), boundary (personal), area (of expertise), country (system of ideas - "that's a foreign idea"), territory, field (as anthropology or biology), plow (through a text), circle back (in conversation), triangulate (in logic), tangent (rhetoric), arc (of discussion), poles (of position), distance between (points of view), point/counter-point (as if intellectual stances were in places), flat, steep, uphill, downhill, horizon (all referring to intellectual endeavors as much as to landscapes).

Implaced is motivated by the notion that we use spaces and places, including embodied, placed-based logics, to organize our knowledge of the world and ourselves. Understanding how we think about space and place will help us understand matters of culture and identity.

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