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American Geographical Society

Author(s): Roger M. Downs
Review by: Roger M. Downs
Source: Geographical Review, Vol. 68, No. 3 (Jul., 1978), pp. 375-376
Published by: American Geographical Society
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Accessed: 30-09-2015 18:30 UTC

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SPACE AND PLACE: The Perspective of Experience. By YI-Fu TUAN. ix and 235 pp.; maps,
diagrs., ills., notes, index. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1977. $12.95. 91/4 x
6 /4 inches.
"Space and Place" bears such an overpowering familial resemblance to Yi-Fu Tuan's previous
book, "Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values" (Prentice-
Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ., 1974), that a comparison is inevitable. They share common
examples and sources. Even a cursory perusal of indexes and footnotes suggests considerable
overlap. One would expect duplication of themes, but the overlap extends to particular
anthropological and ethnographic sources that illustrate those themes. The figures reinforce
the pattern of resemblance. Of the fourteen figures in "Topophilia," five reappear in "Space
and Place." Admittedly, some are improved by redrafting. Moreover, another figure is virtually
duplicative, and there are shared elements in two additional instances.
Given this overlap, how can we assess "Space and Place"? Are we confronted with
"leftovers" or with a genuine extension of ideas? On balance, the latter is the case. "Topo-
philia" is a curious book. Interesting, even fascinating in parts, it reads like meticulously
organized lecture notes which have been gleaned from the labors of extensive reading. Even the
format, with profuse headings and subheadings, suggests a card-file index. "Topophilia" lacks
that essential coherence and perspective that we have come to expect from Yi-Fu Tuan. The
finale, "Summary and Conclusions," epitomizes what is to me the underlying weakness of the
book qua book. There is no sense of synthesis, of climax and completeness in this uninspiring
It is no exaggeration to say, as Tuan does, that "Space and Place" contains what "Topo-
philia" lacks. As befits a book about experience, "Space and Place" offers a compelling,
personal perspective, one which I am tempted to say contains much autobiographical material.
Whether the latter judgment is in error or not, "Space and Place" asks how a person, "who is
animal, fantasist, and computer combined, experiences and understands the world." A key
introductory passage establishes Tuan's purpose: "to understand the ways in which people
attach meaning to and organize space and place." Tuan goes beyond the two explanatory
factors automatically invoked and claims that the cultural approach overlooks shared traits
that transcend cultural particularities. Culture is inescapable; its importance is reflected in
every chapter. The second factor, our animal heritage, is similarly taken as axiomatic. In
stressing that the book is not a catalog of how culture affects space and place, Tuan supersedes
his work "Topophilia," which confronts us with innumerable examples of the impact of culture
on. ... And it is never clear what follows the "on."
In reaching beyond culture, "Space and Place" provides meaning to that often-used but ill-
appreciated label, man-environment relations. The bonds betweeo man and environment
emerge in the continuous search for an understanding of place and space. Place is pause, a
stable focus of personal values, a calm center of security and attachment. Space is movement,
openness, freedom, and threat. We require space and place. Our lives, thoughts, and behavior
reflect dialectical movements between these poles for organizing experience. This first theme is
supported by two others.
Tuan sees man's body as the measure, as the basis for constructing a sense of space and
place. The dimensions and asymmetries of the body provide a focal yardstick, and the
biological facts of development and learning guide its use. The third theme stresses modes of
experience. Space and place are known through the interweaving of sensation, feeling, and
concept. Experience can be direct and intimate, indirect and mediated, but our world is a
subtle and sensuous product of all experience.
Overarching and unifying these themes is Tuan's use of a humanistic philosophy to treat the
question: "What is the nature of experience and of the experiential perspective?" Tuan
systematizes humanistic insights not in a theoretical mode but by the use of "conceptual
frames." These frames form the twelve chapters, encompassing issues such as myth,
architecture, childhood, and crowding. Chapters follow a simple but effective logic: What do

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we know about... ? But to know is not restricted to the analytical knowledge of theory and the
empirical method. It unites experiences of everyday living, of anecdote and literature, and of
introspection and speculation. Tuan is a master at conveying such eclectic material, and his
mastery is best appreciated in contrast to the Tuan that we saw in "Topophilia."
"Space and Place" is the quintessential Tuan. Short, crisp sentences reflect a spartan
writing style. The flow is driven by the rhythmic cadence of simple questions and by the use of
such devices as "consider the. . . ," "take. . . ," and "here is. .. ." Tuan's sympathetic com-
mand of words generates etymological comments. Greek, Latin, German, and other languages
provide insights into common spatial expressions. The search for meaning forces us to reflect
upon our experience, to realize that we can articulate seemingly inchoate feelings. One wishes
for the opportunity to talk with Yi-Fu about his ideas. My use of the first name measures his
ability to generate a sense of what I can only describe as a "Socratic monologue" with the
reader. You are invited to think and feel and share as you read.
Overall, the style is successful, although "Space and Place" suffers from a weak ending. The
Epilogue is in direct contrast to the thoughtful material preceding it. We are offered a curiously
belated, awkward attempt to drag in environmental design via cliched questions that are
"important." This does not ring true to the tone of the book. It does little to advance Tuan's
goal, expressed in the closing words: "to increase the burden of human awareness." Reading
this book by Tuan is not a burden, and "Space and Place" most certainly enriches our
awareness of the experience of space.-ROGER M. DOWNS

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