Space and Place by Tuan

Yi-Fu Tuan. Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977, 4th printing, 2005. Paperback, 235 pp.

Since the original release twenty-nine years ago, this book as become a classic. It was instrumental in establishing human geography as an academic discipline, which focuses on the study of the processes and patterns that underlie the human-environment interaction. The book’s author is the renowned Chinese-American geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, who, among other things, contributed the term topophilia (love of place) to our English technical vocabulary.

Space and Place is a sustained leisurely contemplation of the related concepts of “space” and “place,” which have more or less well-defined emotional connotations for us. They are definitely part of the way in which we experience the world. Prof. Tuan puts it this way: “Place is security, space is freedom: we are attached to the one and long for the other” (p. 3).

What makes a place a place rather than merely space? The question will have become clearer and will have been answered cogently, if not exhaustively, by the end of the book. Similarly, what is space and how does it relate to our human experience? Again it takes the full length of this intriguing book to furnish an answer that satisfies.

The author shows how space and place are shaped not only by our thoughts but, very significantly, also by our feelings and emotions. Through our experiences as infants, children, and adolescents, we gradually crystallize the world in which we live, including the fundamental concepts of geography. Our body—left/right, up/down, front/back— plays an important role in this envisioning of space and place. In his careful contemplations, Tua follows our creative imagination into the mythical dimension and from there into architectural awareness, and, inevitably, into the experience of (spatialized) time.

The creation of place is often associated with attachment, such as attachment to one’s homeland, and this seems to be one of the densest symbolizations in which we humans tend to engage. Definitely, the book succeeds in bringing to our attention the range and complexity of “geographical” experience and, as intended by Prof. Tuan à la Lao-Tzu, “to increase the burden of awareness.”

This book deserves to be rediscovered as a brilliant exercise in analysis and synthesis by each generation.

Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

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