non-representational theory

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Non-representational theorists consider how researchers might ‘represent’ what they encounter in their fieldwork, since, they argue, ‘representational’ theory generates an unwavering, deadened picture of the world. They emphasize knowing through connection and participation; the spotlight is on the process, rather than the outcome—‘it ain't what you get but the way that you got it’. This means that academics have to move beyond mere representation. M. Doel (1999) provides a helpful parallel. The task of a painter, he says, is not to paint an object, or even to represent it—but to be that object's effects. This does not mean that descriptions are no longer admissible. ‘Close descriptions can still be offered of particular encounters, attending in the process to the situated, embodied sense-making work being (unavoidably) undertaken by the peoples involved, [the work] that makes those encounters what they are’ (Laurier and Philo (2006) Area 38, 4).

That this theory has been taken up by human geographers owes a very great deal to the work of Nigel Thrift, whose major work on the topic was published in 2007. This ‘folded mix of the witnessed and witnessing world’ (Dewsbury (2003) Env. & Plan. A 35, 11) chimes with the concept of hybrid geographies. Lorimer (2008) PHG32 waxes lyrical about non-representational theory, but geographies based on this concept are painfully few. Thrift's use of the term ‘non-representational theory’ has been seen as problematic, and Lorimer (2005) PHG29, 1 offers the term ‘more-than-representational’.

Subjects: Earth Sciences and Geography.

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