Sensuous Geographies: Body, Sense, and Place

Sensuous Geographies: Body, Sense, and Place

Sensuous Geographies: Body, Sense, and Place

Sensuous Geographies: Body, Sense, and Place


The contemporary challenge of postmodernity draws our attention to the nature of reality and the ways in which experience is constructed.
Sensuous Geographiesexplores our immediate sensuous experience of the world. Touch, smell, hearing and sight - the four senses chiefly relevant to geographical experience - both receive and structure information. The process is mediated by historical, cultural and technological factors.
Issues of definition are illustrated through a variety of sensuous geographies. Focusing on postmodern concerns with representation, the book brings insights from individual perceptions and cultural observations to an analysis of the senses, challenging us to reconsider the role of the sensuous as not merely the physical basis of understanding but as an integral part of the cultural definition of geographical knowledge.


Sensuous Geographies arises out of a long-term fascination which I have had with the role of the senses in the human experience of the environment.

It is difficult to identify the precise genesis of the book, but three interests probably contributed most. First, teaching a new course called ‘Individual Geographies’ on the geography of children, women, the disabled and the elderly, both at the level of social experience and individual perception, I became increasingly aware of the richness of these ‘hidden’ geographies in terms of the use of the senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell) and in the role of the emotions, and a general lack of a contemporary general text which could anchor the student’s studies and give them a sense of a wider whole. Sensuous Geographies does not deal with the social issues of individual geographies, but does explore some of the dimensions of individual perceptions.

Second, I have for a long time found perception studies in geography too imitative of other disciplines, especially psychology, and lacking specific attention to the immediate role of the different senses in generating senses of place and orienting us in space. Nevertheless, I found Gibson’s ‘ecological theory of perception’ most thought-provoking. Whilst formulated in visual terms, it had general applicability to all the senses. He argued that in addition to considering the sense organs and cognitive properties of the brain, we also must recognise the way in which the senses operate as a part of perceptual systems inclusive of the body, its muscles and locomotion, and that all the senses work in close inter-relationship with one another. Furthermore, and most importantly for me at the time, Gibson’s theory asserted that the environment itself, the context of perception, played a vital role in structuring stimulation received by the senses—reflected, echoed, disseminated. This was a geographical theory of perception.

Third, I have for several years taken a keen interest in the postmodern challenge. In particular, I have been drawn to the debates about the body, about representation and on the nature of reality (hyper-reality) in contemporary culture and economy. In writing the present book, I have been keen to take on board some of the ideas of postmodernism concerning the senses and the challenge of living in a world dominated by advanced technologies

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