Place, space, and scale

My goal in this “Places” section is to provide detailed stories about specific places, in a variety of formats, as a way of discussing some core ideas within human geography with my readers. Human geography is a diverse, exciting field of study and research focused on questions about the dynamic processes of human activity on, and interaction with, the surface of the earth. This includes things like the development of the territorial nation-state, the emergence and operation of a global capitalist economy, the relationship between human society and ecological systems, processes of urbanization and the meaning and function of the built environment, and the links between cultural identity and place. For example, the picture above, which I also use detail from for the main banner image on this site, is a false color satellite image from the NASA Landsat database of agricultural fields near Garden City, Kansas (here and here). Explaining and understanding how this spatial pattern of agricultural development has occurred, and how political, economic, and cultural patterns associated with it and connecting Garden City to the rest of the world mediate the relationship between this spot on the surface of the earth and other places, even to the extent of understanding why and how this particular representation of that place through a certain kind of satellite image matters, is something a human geographer might do in their day to day work.

Most social science disciplines examine these same issues, but human geography does it using some key concepts and perspectives that center spatial relationships. There is intense conceptual and theoretical debate among geographers over the importance, meaning, and definition of central concepts, but it’s safe to say that three core ideas that all human geographers use in some way (or at least that they must deal with, either to explain or critique) are space, place, and scale. Geography is also of course the real-world material and, spatial organization of social life, shaped and conditioned by our ideas about how that organization occurs and how it should look. This drives the development of our ideas, understanding, and uses of space, place, and scale, which in turn shape and condition that material world.

As I noted on the welcome page of this site and (will eventually discuss on) the teaching page, I designed and now teach an introductory course on this topic, titled, unsurprisingly, Space, Place, and Scale: Foundations of Human Geography. This has inspired my attempts to tell stories of specific places on this blog, but for that course I also recorded three mini-lectures on these main concepts that might be useful for those who don’t have much background on or in human geography. For those who are already well-versed in all this, I would love your feedback and critiques. Future posts will be more specific to individual places, but I thought for the first post it would be good to share my thoughts on these more fundamental ideas. I am happy to let others incorporate them into their own classes, but please contact me and let me know you’re going to do so. Not because I’ll say no, but because these are from 2015 and if I know whether and how they’re being used, I can let you know if and when I update them in the near future for my own course. If you’re a student looking to quote or otherwise use them in a paper, please makes sure to quote and cite them properly because social scientists are sticklers for these kind of arcane rules but also because you didn’t actually write it and you should demonstrate where and how you’re building on others’ ideas and words.

I have included here the recorded mp3 files and the pdf transcripts of the mini-lectures on space, place, and scale. They are a bit wonky, referencing my intro course explicitly because that is why I recorded them, but if you can ignore that part, then hopefully they are of interest. The one on place references a song by Neko Case, “Thrice All-American,” from her album Furnace Room Lullaby, for which I no longer have a right to distribute in this format, so it ends kind of abruptly. If you want to hear the song though, you can preview it on iTunes, and a version of it is available via YouTube.


Transcript: space-transcript


Transcript: place-transcript


Transcript: scale-transcript

One thought on “Place, space, and scale

Comments are closed.