Intercorporeal, Intersubjective, Imaginary and Rational Spatialities: Between Existence and Abstraction

Untitled © Denise Startin

“If a person feels inside a place, he or she is here rather than there, safe rather than threatened, enclosed rather than exposed, at ease rather than stressed. Relph suggests that the more profoundly inside a place a person feels, the stronger will be his or her identity with that place.”

‘Space is multiple. Such multiplicity is both the precondition for and the result of spatial practices. Spatiality and practicality ground one another. There are different ways of attempting to grasp this co-dependent multiplicity. For example,

“…Relph defines four sorts of space, or knowledge about space, produced by different relationships to places. At the first step ‘pragmatic’ spaces are organised by our bodily situation (left or right, up or down). Second is perceptual space, organised through our intentions and centred on us – what we focus upon, what we look at, thus tending to be centred on the observer. Existential space is informed by cultural structures as much as our perceptions – it is space full of social meaning. This space is defined in relationship to some human experience or task. Finally, cognitive space is how we abstractly model spatial relationships.” (Crang, 1998:110). While this is a valuable starting point, recent re-thinkings of the phenomenological heritage, within which Relph lies, may point to a slightly different classification, coordinating person-hood with place-hood. This schema is based on the intercorporeal (as embodied-situated interaction), the intersubjective (as symbolic, performative, narrative interaction), the imaginary (as fantasmal, intracorporeal, medial-virtual interaction) and rational (as geometric, logical, coded interaction), each with their different degrees of freedom. Each of these four dimensions may or may not be well integrated and may well be skewed in various different directions, such that, for example, one’s fantasmal imaginings may begin to dominate and render unsustainable one’s intercorporeal and intersubjective relations. Through integration of these dimensions, spatial practices coordinate, integrate and separate spatialities centred on the self, and its motivated engagement with the world, with the spatialities that derive from geometric and logical calculation and fabrication, the structures of the designed and manufactured world. This is to acknowledge, while re-articulating Heidegger’s focus on care:

“Heidegger does not talk about intentions so much as care. Since we are always engaged with the world, we must focus our attention on particular aspects at any given time. We thus have different types and levels of care for different things at different times. The world might then be seen as comprising different levels of care.” (Crang, 1998: 110). The conclusion that Crang draws from this passage above, in which Relph interprets Heidegger, is that (human) knowledge of the world is always em-placed. It starts from and continues to be based around places as centres of care about the world. Thus, notes Crang, employing this approach suggests that we make sense of the world through the materials at hand, not from abstract schemes.

However, the situation is more complicated, is it not? For while we navigate the world from our centre of care, this process of caring is facilitated or hindered by the environments with which we are engaged. We are permitted to care in some places, where we have a degree of control, where we have been granted or have granted ourselves space, where we can attach ourselves without fear of dislocation or alienation. We would be foolish to care too much in places where our control is limited and the potential for alienation is immense. Also, we act and are acted upon, we are protagonists in a struggle to define the places where our centre of care is comfortable, “at home”. That is, according to Relph, as explained by Seamon and Sowers (2008: 45),

The em-placed character of knowledge is two-fold: embodied and situated. We experience both the embodied experience (our-self) and the situated experience (our-self and others) and the respective (abstract) ‘logics’ of our embodied-world and the situation-world. We must acknowledge the sense that is made for us by the situation-environment, by traces of ourselves-in-the-past as well as others-in-the moment, as much as the sense that we make, and the emergent sense that occurs through that negotiation, the processes of making mutually intelligible. This is at the core of spatial practices. Thus, to pick up Crang’s note, while we do make sense from the materials at hand, we also have to make sense of the abstract schemes which have been realised all around us. We live in a designed, fabricated world, shaped by abstract thinking in many ways. We are not free to make sense solely as we will or as we imagine, individually or collectively, but in negotiation between what we imagine and will and what we are given to understand.’

Crang, M. (1998) Cultural Geography. London: Routledge.
Relph, E. (1976) Place and placelessness. London: Pion.Seamon, D. and Sowers, J. (2008) Place and Placelessness (1976), Edward Relph, in Key Texts in Human Geography, edited by P. Hubbard, R. Kitchin and G. Valentine. London: Sage, pp. 43-51.Text reproduced from