Magazine article Geographical

The Genius Loci

Magazine article Geographical

The Genius Loci

Article excerpt

NECESSARY TO all of us is a sense of place, to recognise and be familiar with the genius loci. That is, somewhere we feel at home, with familiar faces and scenery, a culture with which we can identify and which holds for us a future.

Without this familiarity giving a sense of security, we feel at odds with our surroundings, alienated, rootless, no sense of belonging. It is a paradox that despite the enormous advances in IT there has been an increase in personal solitude. This was noted by the French anthropologist Marc Auge who wrote of the 'non-lieux de la surmodernite'.

In order to attempt to remedy these problems in society it would appear we need the assistance of three disciplines; sociology, history and geography. Sociology with its emphasis on who gets what and why, should ultimately lessen the difference in incomes by achieving a fairer distribution of the national cake. As such it is an unpopular subject with the powers that be and is much neglected in the national curriculum.

History has now become episodic. A pupil has knowledge of the Tudors and the First World War, but little continuity. History, if it can have a more social aspect rather than dynastic, and if it can show continuity rather than the present episodic approach, should help us understand our institutions and help towards a sense of belonging.

So what is the role of geography? Geography suffered a sterile period when it was devoted to the parrot learning of 'Capes and Bays'. Vidal de la Blache's Tableau de la Geographie de la France published in 1905 ushered in a new period. It argued that the landscape was fashioned by man, but man's lifestyle was influenced by the natural geological and climatic factors. The pays concept was developed, where small regions had a characteristic settlement pattern and agricultural system. This 'Vidalian' approach survived until 1965, but was abandoned as outdated.

This was due to American influence. In the States the physical aspects of geography are placed in geology. Geography consisted solely of the human response, without real discussion of environmental influences. And geography in Britain had an inferiority complex as not being scientific. This appears to be based on the theory that a science must be mathematically based But can the genius loci be expressed in mathematical terms? That is at least arguable. The publication in 1965 of Haggett and Chorley's Frontiers in Geographical Teaching gave the 'required' mathematics and statistics but also appeared to give human geography such inspiring tasks as determining the best location for a supermarket. …

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