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vision and visuality

  Geographical knowledges are very often conveyed visually, and geographers, like those in other social science disciplines, are beginning to pay some attention to the specifically visual dynamics of this process (see also film, geography of; imaginative geography; media, geography of; spectacle, geography of). The starting point for much of this work is that, like any other cultural text, an image draws on particular signifying conventions in order to make its meaning. These conventions — what Foster (1988) calls culturally specific \'visuality\' in an uneasy distinction from the \'vision\' of human corporeal optics — might be described as ensembles of visual practices which structure what is visible and invisible. These are at work in both the visual content of an image — what it shows — as well as its visual and spatial organization — how it shows it and what position that may invite an audience to take in relation to it.

Geography as a discipline has traditionally used a wide range of visual technologies and genres — maps of course (Harley, 1992), but also topographic painting, lantern slides, photography (Ryan, 1997), film, and more recently geographical information systems, among others — and has often assumed that such images show, not a geographer\'s representation of the world, but some true aspect of the object under observation. It is only recently that many geographers have begun to argue that the visuality inherent in all these sorts of images must be critically examined (cf. art, geography and).

Daniels and Cosgrove (1988), for example, advocate the use of iconography to unpack the meanings carried by visual symbols, and geographers have paid some attention to the ways in which certain conventions of visuality produce and reproduce visible signs of social difference. Thus the construction of images of classed, gendered and racialized Identity through particular visualisations of space, place, nature, landscape, the body, the nation-state and the urban has been examined. In this work, the significance of a visual image is understood as a consequence of social processes of meaning-making at work in both the production and interpretation of an image. Somewhat similar approaches adopted by other geographers include rather general claims that particular visual images are given meaning by their historically and geographically specific social, economic, cultural and political \'context\' (Schwartz, 1996; see also contextual approach), or the argument that it is an image\'s embeddedness in discourse which gives it its meanings (Harley, 1992). In the Marxist tradition of geography, meanwhile, Harvey (1989) argues that various films and photographs reflect changes in the time-space organization of contemporary capitalism, while Cosgrove (1985) offers a rather less reductionist account of landscape painting as a bourgeois way of seeing (see also Daniels, 1989).

In his work, Cosgrove (1985) utilizes Berger\'s (1972) notion of \'ways of seeing\' to suggest that a particular tradition of visualizing landscape offers a viewing position to the spectator which is also a social position: the bourgeois, white masculine owner of land. This notion of a \'way of seeing\' in which image and spectator may produce each other (although this complicity is never guaranteed; see Burgess, 1990), has been reworked and used extensively in feminist geographies. Many historians have explored the importance of apparently accurate and objective vision to dominant Western scientific modes of knowledge (Haraway, 1991), and the analytical language of the social sciences remains structured by a highly visual vocabulary which constructs perspectives, points of view and foci even when no visual images are under discussion. In geography, some work has begun to explore the effects of this visualizing of knowledge. It has been argued that the masculinism of much geography depends in part on what Haraway (1991, p. 191) calls the \'god-trick\': that is, the production of an invisible critic who nonetheless claims to see others fully. Haraway makes it clear that to (attempt to) remain invisible while claiming to see clearly is to occupy a discursive position that remains unaccountable for its own specificity and partiality. Thus feminist geographers have critiqued those geographical accounts of the urban (Deutsche, 1991) or of landscape (Nash, 1996; Rose, 1993) which claim omniscience while remaining blind to other visions.

This critique has found a response in some attempts to see geographical knowledges differently, by offering partial, multiple or fragmented views (Allen and Pryke, 1994; Seager and Olson, 1997). It also suggests that a critical geography of vision and visuality may need to pay more attention to its methodology (Rose, 1996) and to the specificities of its own ways of seeing. (GR)

References Allen, J. and Pryke, M. 1994: The production of service space. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 12: 453-7 5. Berger, J. 1972: Ways of seeing. London : BBC and Penguin. Burgess, J. 1990: The production and consumption of environmental meanings in the mass media. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 15: 139-61. Cosgrove, D. 1985: Prospect, perspective and the evolution of the landscape idea. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 10: 45-62. Daniels, S. 1989: Marxism, culture and the duplicity of landscape. In R. Peet and N. Thrift, eds, New models in geography (volume two). London: Unwin Hyman, 196-220. Daniels, S. and Cosgrove, D. 1988: Introduction : the iconography of landscape. In D. Cosgrove and S. Daniels, eds, The iconography of landscape: essays on the symbolic representation, design and use of past environments. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1-10. Deutsche, R. 1991: Boys town. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 9: 5-30. Foster, H., ed., 1988: Vision and visuality. Seattle: Bay Press. Haraway, D. 1991: Simians, cyborgs and women: the reinvention of nature. London: Free Association Books. Harley, J.B. 1992: Deconstructing the map. In T.J. Barnes and J.S. Duncan, eds, Writing worlds: discourse, text and metaphor in the representation of landscape. London: Routledge, 231-47. Harvey, D. 1989: The condition of postmodernity: an enquiry into the origins of cultural change. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Nash, C. 1996: Reclaiming vision: looking at landscape and the body. Gender, Place and Culture 3: 149-7 0. Rose, G. 1993: Feminism and geography: the limits of geographical knowledge. Cambridge: Polity Press, ch. 5. Rose, G. 1996: Teaching visualised geographies: towards a methodology for the interpretation of visual materials. Journal of Geography in Higher Education 20: 281-94. Ryan, J. 1997: Picturing Empire: photography and the visualisation of the British Empire. London: Reaktion Books. Schwartz, J. 1996: The geography lesson — photographs and the construction of imaginative geographies. Journal of Historical Geography 22: 16-45. Seager, J. and Olson, A. 1997: The state of women in the world atlas, 2nd edn. London: Penguin.

Suggested Reading Mirzoeff, N., ed., 1998: The visual culture reader. London: Routledge.



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