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Yi-Fu Tuan “Space and Place: Humanistic Perspective”

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Yi-Fu Tuan is a Chinese-American geographer whose traits have greatly influenced humanistic geography. Tuan gains his observations from the hustle and bustle of the everyday world and is always on the lookout learning and indeed searching for new meanings towards a persons place within society. He emphasises this by saying ” I think the expression “I am the camera” fits me, because I am always looking”. He is as much a psychologist as he is a geographer, concerning himself above all with the way that human beings respond to their physical environment.

Tuan’s discussions have become invaluable for modern day geographers by trying to explain “space” and “place” and attaching some meaning towards them. Tuan believes that a place is a person’s emotional attachment to a certain location with insinuates that certain area to a place. He believes that a place is irrelevant of address or co-ordinates but rather that a place is one persons attachment to a place be it socially, emotionally or culturally. He states that when these emotions come in to play a location is turned into a place.

This place could indeed have positive memories such as the house you grew up in as a child or indeed negative ones such as your old school and of an unhappy education. Indeed Tuan has a strong view on place stating that spatial location derives form position in society rather than vie-versa ” the Jones live on the wrong side of the tracks because of their socio-economic position”. His view remains strong indicating that ones place within society mirrors his location meaning that one with wealth has a choice where to locate and one with a low income background will locate where it is possible to survive.

After determining your place within society your life style will follow suite. Tuan’s argues that place is a combination of factors including location and socio-economic status as well as personal traits all combined to insinuate a place. Tuan also believes that for a space to become a place it must incorporate a sense of “personality” and of “spirit” in order to link it with our mind our subconscious. It appears personality has two aspects one commands awe and the other evokes affection.

Places which command the awe and sublime such as the Grand Canyon and Ayres rock are powerful and indeed have personality this also relevant to monumental art and holy sites. However as these places have personality it is true to say that an old pair of shoes or jeans can evoke affection. Ayres rock has the grandeur and awe and the shoes have affection, it is true to say that areas can dissuade either of these traits but very rarely they have neither. Tuan ascertains that only humans can have “a sense of place” which is defined again by two meanings.

The fist meaning is the visual or aesthetic beauty of a particular place, the other being perceived by the remaining senses smell, taste and touch. Tuan’s states ” we can know a place subconsciously, through touch and remembered fragrances, unaided by the discriminating eye”. He is discribing how a certain memory such as a smell or taste can be trigged by our personal perception of a region in other words this is our “sense of place”. Tuan in my opinion is correcting in saying that “to be always on the move is, of course to lose place to be placeless”.

This is true to the extent that a person who is constantly on the move would not have fully absorbed the character and atmosphere of the region. One could argue against this theory as a person’s sense of place could be enhanced as with constant travel the sense of homesickness is inevitably revoked and has a strong sense of place is identified. The longing for home could be defined under “fields of care” this is linked to the strong emotional bond to a region. “Fields of care” are invisible to that of the outsider and rarely understand the importance of the particular place.

A field of care could be the street in which you grew up in or the playground you and your friends played. These places may seem inconspicuous to many but in ones opinion they evoke a strong sense of nostalgia. Tuan also relates that modern man has become increasingly de-centralised and more secular to the idea of place. He argues that modern lifestyle has forced man to become more independent and worldly in a sense that they no longer have strong emotional links to a single region.

This was not the case in the past as gangs in large cities were very territorial and protected their plot from other rival gangs. This evoked pride and passion onto the members and felt a strong emotional bond to the area despite of their low socio-economic background. Tuan also associates the west with being secular and loosing their sense of “spirit” and “personality” He believes that the west spiritual places are places which honour past hero’s and celebrations have become more individual such as commemeratingwars or national events.

He reveals that countries such as china have various spiritual places in which spirits rule the forests and mountains and somewhere endowed with human pedigrees and carried human ranks. He believes that the west discourages belief in spirit and in my opinion I agree. From Tuan’s perspective he sees that a location can become a place overnight through the ingenuity of architects and engineers one that can command awe, however a space needs a long time in order for it to become a place.

Tuan throughout the article made numerous references to how space leads to memories and emotions, which in turn create a persons perception to a sense of place. I found Tuan’s arguments very articulate and very persuasive, although they were at times a bit metaphorical and somewhat detached he has made a broad and well-defined statement. They are in no doubt in valuable to human geography in providing a fresh and new point of view to humanistic geography.

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