The Sense of Place in the Far North
THIS CHAPTER FOCUSES ON the fieldworker's “sense of place” as imbued with emotional significance and value, internalised along with other social values. The ethnographer's perception of landscapes and paths is grounded in both the intersubjectivity explored in the field and the intertextuality inherent in the anthropological tradition. It will be argued that intersubjectivity itself is mediated by place, and that regionalism in the anthropological tradition is not simply a discursive issue but also a material one, in that the nature of place in itself contributes to the emotional marking of the field. On the basis of field experiences in Iceland and Greenland, I shall discuss some of the moods related to the study of the North.
In a recent article I argued that anthropology is on the verge of a topographic turn, implying a renewed consideration of the material and spatial dimensions of social life (Hastrup 2005b). Our sense of belonging to a particular “formatted” social space is closely related to our sense of topography (James 2003). The formatting of the social space concerns social organisation and differentiation, grouping and individuality, and it comprises evaluation and emotion—all of which combine into a particular space for orientation. My primary focus here is on the emotional dimension of topography, i.e., the sense of place that is spurred by particular landscapes. Stressing the notion of a sense of place is in line with the attempt to develop an ethnography of lived topographies as instigated by Steven Feld and Keith Basso (1996), in which the perceptual engagement with the surroundings is critical to the conceptual ordering of space (Feld 1996:91). The relationship is reciprocal, of course.
My background for approaching this topic is the combination of extensive