Reynolds, Geographies of Writing

Reynolds, Nedra. Geographies of Writing: Inhabiting Places and Encountering Difference. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2004. Print. (244 pages)

Chapter 1: Between metaphor and materiality

In this chapter, Reynolds looks to the field’s use of spatial metaphors to describe how we collectively experience and theorize Composition and the field’s work: “spatial metaphors dominate our thinking about language and learning” (13). She specifically notes the “attraction to movement and the neglect of material space in many contemporary discourses. I argue that we need both movement and dwelling and that we must pay attention not only to borderlands but also to places that borders surround” (13).

Spatial metaphors allude to some “concrete, material ‘reality’…Spatial metaphors come from somewhere, in other words, and they then go on to influence our responses to other places; they are formed through the material world and the ways in which people experience space and place” (13-4). Simply put, both metaphor (and its implied, perceived boundaries through language) and material (objective markers?) combine and interact to create social space. Likewise, how people use, produce, and reproduce space—guided by metaphor and involving materiality—contribute to these construction of social space. She points to three ways space is used, produced, and reproduced:

Spatial practice (perceived) is the “material expression of social relations in space” (15). The spatial practices shape lifeworlds: “Spatial practices, therefore, evolve from movements or placements that we take for granted, or boundaries that seem clear or uncontested, and they develop into the habitual ways we move through the world” (14).

Representations of Space (conceived) refers to the conceptualized space that “takes form through verbal signs and codes…this second formation makes the rules for space; representations of space ‘are certainly abstract, but they also play a part in social and poltical practice’” (15).

Representational Spaces (lived) “are lived spaces of inhabitants and users….representational spaces overlay physical space but need not obey any rules of consistency or cohesiveness. Lived space has its source in history and is ‘alive: it speaks’” (15). For instance, refer to DeCerteau’s discussion of strategies and tactics—this seems to refer to the tactics to create a lived space.

As a demonstrating example, Reynolds talks about how the university is a conceived—through various kinds of discourses and rhetoric—as an educational institution (representational space); however, such representation may conceal its perceived and practiced role as a workplace (spatial practices). However the two, combined, refer to the lived ore representational space. “Lived, perceived, and conceived space fold into and spin across one another, working together to accomplish the production of space” (16).

Reynolds also considers the role of technology in this process; namely, technologies, themselves, construct and contribute to our experiences of space. She specifically points to the ways the certain technologies—like fax machines, pagers, cell phones, computers—contribute to time-space compressions, simulating the speeding up of activities of travel and movement. She also mentions the role of cell phones as an emerging technology that influences our experiences with space: “cellular phones and networks of mobile communications are changing our notions of space as they also offer forms of resistance to concepts of absolute or container space. Cell phones confuse the divisions between public and private space and offer a way for people to, in a sense, write their own personal geographies by reporting on their comings and goings, their progress or halted movements in space” (21).  However, Reynolds also discusses the way the cell phones work as a new panopticon: they both “reflect how out of touch and disconnected people feel in this culture and how movement is hugely appealing but risky” (22). “Cell phones draw attention to place at the same time that they try to overcome it” (24).

Finally, these technologies can also become a means of facilitating different kinds of geographies through the ways we can access different people: in other words, they can facilitate imagined geographies: where we can look beyond the material space toward a kind of common ideal or bond.

Reynolds also points to the way the body is a kind of interface between material, metaphor, and technology. “bodies engage in acts of writing under certain physical or material conditions. The body, of course, is imprinted with and affected by the spatial and social world in which it moves…it’s nevertheless true that writers need a place to work: a place to sit, a surface, lighting” (42). Reyonds, in other words, looks more broadly at affordances of media to a more capacious view of the materials involved in writing: not simply the medium or implement, but rather, she looks toward the whole constructed environments (both metaphoric and built) that contribute to the writing of a text.


Chapter 2: Reading Landscapes and Walking the Streets: Geography and the Visual

In this chapter, Reynolds considers geography as a field of study whose conceptual frameworks of place and place-making can be particularly insightful for our concerns with rhetoric. In particular, she alludes to the visual-material aspects of creating knowledge in space, specifically pointing the flaneur who is emblematic of how movement through material space is a source of experience-as-meaning-making.

“Geography (literally, writing the earth) is a social science—the study of people encountering the earth” (51). Reynolds divides geography into physical geography (concerned with positive inquiries into geographic facts) and human geography which concerns itself with the materiality of human interaction with earth. Human geography, in particular, allows us to notice how cultural attitudes, ideologies, and social practices are shaped, in part, by living in areas distinguished by specific geographic, material, spatial features. “The ‘new’ cultural geography…is more likely to treat landscape as a site for the production of culture—as ideologically loaded as a city street or suburban neighborhood” (56). “Cultures are produced and reproduced through actual social practice that takes place in historically contingent and geographically specific contexts” (56). Put otherwise, social practices are key to how we enact culture and likewise, how we enact space. As such, the ordinary and mundane practices of everyday life and navigation through space are part of a feedback loop that constructs and reflects the dynamics of culture. As Reynolds points out, our social practices in space can be constrained by the built environment (i.e. walls); however, Reynolds is quick to point out that while culture is develop out from place, it is not overdetermined by it.

Looking to the everyday social practices, Reynolds offers a framework that is positioned between Williams’ structure of feeling and habitus. Structures of feelings refer to “meanings and values as they are actually lived and felt…specifically affective elements of consciousness and relationships… social forms become social consciousness only when they are lived, actively, in real relationships” (58). In other words, Raymonds positions social genres of behavior in space as aligned with the structure of consciousness. Geography, specifically, is a site of lived enaction of encounters and relationships. Habitus refers to “how social behaviors, habits, become so naturalized as to be inscribed onto the body, as a result of ‘the sedimented history of particular practices’” (58). “Practices and habits become inscribed upon the body, and many of these habits evolve from places, from where we hang out or from our usual haunts” (58). One’s habitus is thus theorized to account for differences in class, race, gender, etc: different groups enact different habitus.

Reynolds also notes how geography is a seeing discipline: “whose premises and proofs, methodologies and conclusions, stem from visual evidence” (55). She specifically points to the often patriarchal bias associated with the visual: nature is often inscribed as feminine and, thus, the gaze as masculine. Furthermore, she also notes the ways that certain kinds of visual images—and the ways they are produced, reproduced, and circulated—can be used as commodified visual experiences that function to make places consumable and knowable. However, such commodification of place can often reproduce ideological understandings of place that misinform the public about what we ‘know’ about the place (see, for instance, Hales). “it’s also important to consider the power of memory in archiving and reproducing visual images: while pictures from memory cannot usually be reproduced and shared, they do have a huge influence on people’s experiences with or responses to place” (63). Images that reproduce the “concept-city” from the gods-eye-view often occludes the methods of walking in the city as a means of knowing. There is a disconnection when the concept-city is conflated with knowing the city: knowing involves, at least, walking through the city to create meaning.

De Certeau, in particular, sees walking as a rhetorical practice: “the act of walking is to the urban system what the speech as is to language” (“Walking in the City” De Certeau 98 qtd in Reynolds 69). The movement within the city is an act of knowing it—making knowledge and meaning from it. As such, Reynolds draws attention to the flaneur and the act of flanerie which is “an approach to street life, a way of moving through the world, collecting, arranging, and remembering, dependent on seeing” (70). The flaneur is both spectacle (dressed to be seen) and spectator (interested in experience even more so than knowledge). “The flaneur now stands for ‘a mode of being in the world.’…the flaneur nevertheless provides a striking example of how identities are formed through place and how places can be embodied in the planning and architecture of the modern city” (74).


Chapter 3: Maps of the Everyday: Habitual Pathways and Contested Places

Here, Reynolds is primarily concerned with the rhetoricality of maps and how the “objective” map often occludes the lived, mental maps used to enact lived spaces in everyday life.

While often masquerading as objective fact, maps are rhetorical acts: they make selections of reality through the presence or absence of pertinent information and gear its discourse for particular audiences and contexts. Such maps often occlude mental maps developed by walkers in the city: “walkers and residents also depend on different types of maps, memories, or landmarks to find their way around, even for such mundane activities as errands or appointments” (81). She refers to these as habitual pathways which are characterized by the routinized and sanctioned navigations (often influenced by strategies such as street signage, roads, and walls in the built environment).

In mapping out these habitual pathway and comparing them across populations of people, we can certainly note how different discourse communities navigate space. And, per Tuan, we can also note the degree of movement of different populations—movement being a key factor is understanding agency. “Mental maps are drawn by people’s experience in space and with specific locations—experiences that have everything to do with class, race, gender, age, mobility, and sexuality” (86).

As a research study, Reynolds interviews 8 students in Leeds to discuss their mental maps. Reynolds makes a couple observations based on the interviews:

The (Confined) Spatiality of Social Lives: first, Reynolds points out that as the world is becoming more connected, people appear to live more local lives. Many participants, while identifying as Leeds residence, confessed that they knew very little beyond their particular neighborhoods. Often, this was contributed to the students’ embodied identities and practices that prevented them from venturing away from their local neighborhoods: female participants were particularly hyper-aware of unsafe areas to their bodies. Others took note of affective feelings of being an outsider, not belonging to particular neighborhoods.

Contested Spaces: these are often seen as “liminal zones” or spaces of ambiguity “where the categories of inside/outside, private/public, or home/street become blurred or uncertain” (98). “In the interaction of people and the built environment, it is a truism that space is contested but relatively trivial conflicts can provide clues about power relations and the role of space in social contexts” (100). Hyde Park, Leeds, for instance, is a liminal zone where students and people of color often clash over the boundaries of space. There was a racial component to the boundaries that the students saw for these contested spaces.

No-Go Areas: either because of reputation or affective feelings that a place is unsafe (through signs of poverty), there are some areas where the students did not feel comfortable going.

Desire and Place: some places were obviously desirable to dwell or travel to due to how it reproduced a familiar sense of place for some (think, for example, the habitus of class) or the sense of community involved.

“these mental maps of Leeds illustrate the movement through the spatial world hinges upon contested places, geographies of exclusion, and sometimes invisible markers of boundaries. The images we carry around in our heads, even those that come from the reports of others, affect our willingness to explore or our choices of residential areas” (108). “Along with walking—forms of flanerie—and dwelling…mapping forms part of the techne for geographic rhetorics, those that focus on moving through the world, encountering the rub of differences, the fissures and gaps in discourse, the borders and fault lines” (109).


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