More-than Maps: The Loss of Place in Landscape Representation

Josie Jolley


That geography has long concerned itself with the ‘where of things’ (Bunge, 1962; Agnew and Livingstone, 2011), is implicit in its semantics (see Mackinder, 1887; Shaw, 2008; Cloke et al, 1991). Arguably, its attraction to the spatial has often led geographers to overlook many of the implicit assumptions concerning the nature of spatial manifestations. If, as Dorling and Fairbairn (1997) posit, for instance “the role of geography is to analyse and explain the phenomena of the landscapes that surround us,” (1997: 1), it is logical to expect an incipient clarification of what landscape is. In seeking to provide such evidence, Cosgrove’s (1984) retracing of landscape takes “the obvious point of departure [as] the human use of the earth” (Cosgrove, 1984: 2). In so doing, the ambiguity of landscape is revealed. Predating its explicit introduction into geography through Sauer’s (1925) essay The morphology of Landscape, landscape’s polysemy is instead observable in its multiplicity. Identified firstly as property, then as Landschap (Mikesell, 1968), and later, as a way of seeing, an idea, and as social morphology (Cosgrove, 1984), landscape is, as I will show, more than all of this. Nevertheless, in informing contemporary approaches to landscape through a historically informed mapping of ideas, Cosgrove’s work exposes a pervasive bias in geography. That is, in the predilection of geographers, geologists, geophysicists, and wider discourses synonymously identifying ‘earth’ with ‘globe’, we forget that ours is a planet predominantly covered in water.

To begin addressing the issues that arise from such a privileging of visual landscapes, I turn towards an embodied sense of landscape engaged in non-representational theories. After exploring the emergent places that arise in landscapes, I begin to consider the implications such theories bring to bear on maps, focusing particularly on how the limits of representational theories erase place in mapped landscapes. Lastly, having proposed the loss of place in maps, I shall close with a suggestion of how we might recover the places our landscapes contain.

Seeing Scenery

In negotiating the task of seabed mapping, the 2008-10 National Oceanography Centre’s Artist in Residence, Rona Lee, notes how, beneath the ocean surface, there is no horizon. The collapse of spatial distance there threatens the traditional cartographer’s tools with an obliteration of the visual, exposing an inherent desire among ocean surveyors to drain the seas (Lee, 2011). With the elimination of sight, oceanographers have instead sought new, alternative means of mapping, particularly through sonar. That we might hear the landscape carries with it the suggestion of something lived; of places not just seen, but experienced. Such was the reflection of commentators Paul Fussell, Kenneth Silver and Eric Leed in a discussion of trench warfare, “when all the soldier could see was the sky above and the mud below, the traditional reliance on visual evidence for survival could no longer be easily maintained” (quoted in Jay, 1991: 15). Immersed in the totality of the landscape, auditory signals became the cue for performing every-day tasks. Such landscapes may be far removed from the mundane, every-day, but they serve to exemplify the ways in which living and landscape are engaged (Crouch, 2010). Similarly, Lorimer (2014), Wylie (2016), and others, have all sought to pursue this notion of an embodied, lived experience of landscape. Indeed, Owain Jones’ (2015) autotopographical account of emotion(al) landscapes is just one in a recent series of pieces applying Derridean approaches, wreathing together landscape and absence (Derrida, 2005; Wylie, 2009). It is from this body of work on landscape as practise and dwelling (Ingold, 1996; Jones and Cloke, 2002), that I concern myself with issues of the real, of experience, and of place itself. As Lorimer (2005: 84-85) points out, the problematisation of representational forays fixing, framing and immobilising “all that ought to be most lively” has now become well-established. Yet there remains, despite this, a ubiquitous tendency for visuality and representation to collide in the creation, production, and interpretation of maps. If we are to believe in both the inertia of representation and the subjectivity of experience, however, then so too must we realise that places can never be experienced twice, our experience of them never being the same as the first encounter. Such was the paradox recognised by Heraclitus when he told of how we cannot “step in the same river twice” (McCabe, 2015: 1).

In the Introduction to this essay, I made several assertions beginning with the implicit relation of landscape and earth from Cosgrove’s (1984) book Social Formation and the Symbolic Landscape. His was not a unique affair. Peirce Lewis asserts, in his examination of the landscape lexicon, that as a verb, landscape entails “that somebody has fussed with the shrubbery on a small bit of ground, perhaps planted a few trees, and has manicured the bushe,” (1979: 11 additional emphasis). Likewise, Meinig (1979) illustrates not just the complexity of landscape but mimics the self-same implicit synonymy: “[t]ake a small but varied company to a convenient viewing place overlooking some portion of city and countryside and have each, in turn, describe the ‘landscape,’” (1979: 33). These are but a window of insight into the privileging of landscape in the visual realm, for in working their ideas to a portion of the ground, their ideas of landscape contain within them the possibility of being readily seen. Subsequently lost in the privileging of the visual, are the subjective, embodied experiences not just of the audible, but of the emotional everydayness of our lived performances, processes, and activities. A reduction of lived experiences to an order of logical positivism and rational beings is problematic not least because it misses the diversity and richness of social phenomena. Assuming human experience may be analysed in the same quantitative approaches utilised in examining spatial laws, geography forgets that it is concerned not just with the quantitative ‘where’, but the qualitative ‘where’ (Holloway and Hubbard, 2004). As Lewis (1985: 468) elucidates, “one is meant to feel . . . landscapes, not analyse them.” Ergo, the difference between space and place is emotive; “what experience does is transform a scientific notion of space into a relatively lived and meaningful notion of place” (Cresswell, 2009: 4). Such are the criticisms lodged against representational geography, with its emphasis on the textuality of the world and accentuated visuality, by the likes of Heidegger (1962), Whatmore (1999), Thrift (2000; 2004), Philo (2011), and Colls (2011).

Where’s There? Finding Place(s) in Landscape

Phenomenological, post-structuralist, and non-representational geographies (perhaps more accurately understood as more-than representational theories) have since rallied upon the need to realise the embeddedness of selves in place and landscape. In averting the ‘ocularcentrism’ that has prevailed in post-Enlightenment pursuits to render all worldly phenomena visible, a greater awareness has been brought upon the fragmentary and contingent performances entailed in self and place (Jay, 1991; Lee, 2011). John Law (2004), for example, directs our enquiries towards the ephemeral, the vague, the emotional, indistinct, and slippery (see also Wylie, 2007). In so doing, Law questions how geography can order the messiness of lived experiences. This is not to suggest that Law’s concerns are new; many geographers have sought approaches to landscape capable of reflecting and demonstrating agency, attachment, emotions, and experience. Even French philosopher and anthropologist, Marcel Hénaff, implored academics to consider both procedures and ways of thinking capable of acknowledging their origins “in procedo, the act of walking” (1997: 72). To that end, Jones and Cloke (2002) are particularly noteworthy for their work on the agency of human and the non-human in place relations. By building from the creative agency exhibited in their articulation of nature-society relations, we are rewarded not only with a way of thinking about landscape involving flows and processes, but are also exposed to the inherent dynamics of place. The dual exposure of landscape arising from such a perspective reasserts an eloquently explained conclusion given by Muir (1999). “In experiencing places, we simultaneously encounter two closely related but different landscapes. The one lying beneath our feet . . . is a real landscape . . . . The other is the perceived landscape, consisting of sensed and remembered accounts” (Muir, 1999: 115). Caution is critical here not just in the assumption of a real external world, but because memories, we would do well to remember, are as selective as history. Whilst Jones (2015) posits that our pasts survive no matter our attempts to quash them, discerning imagination from reality is not always so easy. As Anderson (2015) reflects in accounting Marco Polo’s travels, “to accuse Polo of inventing . . . is to assume that perception and memory are not partially fictional to begin with” (2015: 20).

The problem, and it is no small one, is the embeddedness of lived experience. Unable to remove ourselves from landscape, abstract locations become spaces layered with a multitude of individual and collective meanings (Cresswell, 2009). Imbued with the personal, space becomes social, meaningful; becomes felt. Any one space may contain a multitude of places, be a multitude of things, encompass multiple meanings. Aware of the interaction between people and place in this way, landscapes are readily brought into debates steered less toward a concern for landscape and more particularly surrounding culture. As complex and coy a term to define as landscape itself, the social construction of culture shares more than an aggregation of meanings insofar as it is “maintained by social actors and supple in its engagement with other ‘spheres’ of human life and activity” (Mitchell, 1995: 102). Returning to Muir (1999), then, what is meant by the ‘real’ landscape? Muir suggests this landscape is one comprised of rock, soil, vegetation, water; its history is objective, its spatiality extends to the horizon. Theoretically, it is this ‘real’ landscape which maps have sought to represent, and yet, with a ‘sociology of associations’ (Latour, 2005) performativity provides us with a processual becoming of the world. Landscapes, as places in which our embodied performances occur, are in constant motion, always relational, mediated by the actors both human and non-human. Maps, as static, culturally informed representations produced after the event of experiencing place, artificially fix places into locations. They frame a perspective of landscape without acknowledgement of its plurality, obscuring the cultural contexts that create place performances (Dewsbury, 2000). In so doing, maps erase the places of landscape.

Deep-mapping Esmeralda: Kingdoms of Lost Places

Having suggested that representational geographies fail to recognise embodied performances with their diversity of experiences and plurality of meanings, and having also suggested that these lived experiences are mediated by our cultural contexts, if Muir’s (1999) ‘real’ landscapes exist, can we ever encounter them? Kai-cheung (2012), perhaps Hong Kong’s most accomplished writer, poses serious questions over our ability to represent places and their histories in maps. Through poetic anecdotes and a ponderously Foucauldian approach echoing the work of Harley (1989), Kai-cheung suggests that the spaces of maps contain non-existent places as mirror-images of lived landscapes “visible but intangible, [which] exist but [are] not to be experienced” (2012: 15). Might such a perspective indicate maps contain at least an idea of places? Wylie’s (2009: 276) walking of the Cornish coastal path offers an illustration of the tensions at play, “for a minute I thought I could see the sea-in-itself, unhued by any perception of mine or anyone else. But I was wrong.” Wylie’s landscape is not a view opening onto a perspective, rather it is a perspective arising from his immersion in the landscape. What he experiences, feels, sees, is narrated not only by his presence there, but also by his memories and experience of ‘elsewheres’; of other landscapes. The landscape of Mullion Cove is one of canyons and coastal cliffs, strong winds, sunny days, rolling fog; it is ambiguous, multiple. Always becoming, and its visitors becoming within it. Yet any map reader absent from the landscape and armed only with the OS Explorer map of the Lizard Peninsula, would find in the varying shades of grey, green and blue, winding red contours, and symbolised amenities, no sense of its places. Instead, the map frames with corners the Celtic Sea, and summarises the “phenomenological fusion of self and world” (ibid: 275) as a coordinated grid reference.

In forgetting that places are relational, maps induce us into believing spaces have always been the same, that they are, like their representation, “forever fixed and immutable” (Kai-cheung, 2012: 6). The truth, as it has already been alluded to, is that landscapes are always places of becoming. More than merely relational and personal, landscapes are contextual, existing as “a time of year (a season), and a time of day . . . as well as a kind of weather” (Nancy, 2005: 61). Maps, in their immobility, render such passages of time obsolete and forget the inherent processual nature of its landscape.

I have worked, thus far, from a premise of maps as finished products and taken-for-granted, self-evident ‘visual trophies’ (Dodge, 2015). Earlier, however, I noted the work of Jones and Cloke (2002) on the agency of human and non-humans. Might a similar approach evoking the agency of mapping resolve the crisis of lost places in maps? The work of Briggs (2011) and Dodge (2015), suggest, at the very least, an attempt to restore place in mapped landscapes. For, rather than recognise maps as an end-product of research, their preposition of deep-mapping has sought to capture “the richness of small places and [the] different kinds of experiences and emotions they can engender” (Dodge, 2015: 91; see also Dear, 2015). Accepting that maps are social texts, as argued by Brian Harley (1989), but going beyond this to focus instead on the “numerous practises that bring mapping into being” (Dodge and Perkins, 2015: 38), deep-mapping applies embodied ethnography to enquire about the textuality of representations. Esmeralda, a non-existent place of Italio Calvino’s Invisible Cities, is a poetic abstraction – but, if we were to map Esmeralda, we would find it brings into being a swathe of places simultaneously:

“In Esmeralda, city of water, a network of canals and a network of streets span and intersect each other. To go from one place to another you have always the choice between land and boat: and since the shortest distance between two points in Esmeralda is not a straight line but a zigzag that ramifies in tortuous optional routes [following] an up-and-down course of steps, landings, cambered bridges, hanging streets . . . a map of Esmeralda should include, marked in different coloured inks, all these routes, solid and liquid, evident and hidden . . .” (Calvino, 1997: 88-89).

Whosoever might engage with a map of such a space might recognise in it New York, or Venice, or indeed any other number of cities comprised of waterways and streets. Synchronously, Esmeralda is fiction and fact, and it is only through our engagement with the map that its places come into being (Kitchin and Dodge, 2007). So, it is that any mapped representation necessarily emerges in a much wider field of action, process, and embodiment, be that of the landscape represented, or of the memories we hold of alternative landscapes and their places. What is important to recognise here is that “representations are borne of the performativity of living” (Crouch, 2010: 13). Emerging through our engagement, both map and landscape fold into one another as we negotiate an endless array of relational problems (Kitchen and Dodge, 2007: 341). Whereas Thrift (2000, 2004) attributed visuality to the deadening of geography in its reduction of the world to text, our experience of places have long been constituted by the fictional presentation of space. It is precisely because maps exist as representation and performance that landscapes contain places. As Cresswell (2009) points out, places and spaces are co-dependant. What agency do maps possess then? Like orchard trees (Jones and Cloke, 2002), a map of Esmeralda exhibits creative and transformative agency; it exists in a multiplicity of ways being always nowhere, imagined, and in the spaces of real landscapes. Its richness is sensory, its experience embodied, felt, always intimate. Our reading of the mapped landscape is, like the landscape itself, inseparable from cultural contexts. Often, our first experience of place is informed by a map or some other fictional representation, and yet our imagined geographies of these places come into being, as Muir (1999) posited, only through our memories of the perceived landscape.


I argued earlier that the processual becoming of people transforms space into a lived experience. My argument was not quite complete. Now, having uncovered the position of place in landscape and the crisis our landscapes face in maps, I should like to return to that idea. Imbued with the personal, I posed that space becomes social, meaningful, felt; but so too does it become place; become our mapping of landscapes. If we follow Ingold’s (1996) determination to conceive of landscapes as the products of activity, then might we recover our lost places in the landscapes represented by maps? Certainly, for such representations “actively render any spatially bounded notion of dwelling permeable to the cultural flows of ideas, meanings, signification and symbols operating on different scales” (Jones and Cloke, 2002: 139). These cultural contexts, inseparable in our embodied performances of place, feature in our mapping of spaces and thus, whilst maps in isolation might conceivably fix the processual landscape to a rooted, singular perspective, in our engagement of the map, any one landscape is a multitude of simultaneous places. Indeed, Cosgrove’s own ideas of landscape have since shifted from an idea of historical materialism, reflecting the powerful influenced of embodied, more-than-visual geographies (Cosgrove, 2008). Hence, it is only by recognising the value of engaging with the embodied practise of mapping, that is, in both creating and performing the map, that we might recover the lost places of spatial landscapes. Whilst we might never experience the same place twice, each embodied encounter being constituted by our ever-changing memories, emotions, relations, and external temporal influences, this is not to deny that such places exist.

By questioning whether maps can represent place, or merely portray space, I have argued that we might consider places to be lost from our represented landscapes. Indeed, maps are full of spaces that have “never been trodden and never will be” (Kai-cheung, 2012: 23), and yet, these representations are fluid, multiple and processual. Engaging with the process of mapping, we find maps contain within them the possibility of all place(s).


Agnew, J., and Livingstone, D. (2011). The SAGE Handbook of Geographical Knowledge. London: Sage.

Briggs, I. (2011). Mapping Deep Space-time. Letters, 15(4), pp. 302 – 303.

Bunge, W. (1962). Theoretical Geography, Lund Studies in Geography Series C: General and Mathematical Geography. Lund: Gleerup.

Calvino, I. (1997). Invisible Cities. London: Vintage.

Cloke, P., Philo, C., and Sadler, D (1991). Approaching Human Geography: An Introduction to Contemporary Theoretical Debates. London: Paul Chapman Publishing.

Colls, R. (2011). Feminism, Bodily Difference and Non-Representational Geographies. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 37(3), pp. 430 – 445.

Cosgrove, D. (1984). Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape. London: Croom Helm.

Cosgrove, D. (2008). Geography and Vision. London: I. B. Tauris.

Cresswell, T. (2009). Place. In: N. Thrift and R. Kitchen (eds.) International Encylopedia of Human Geography. Oxford: Elsevie, pp. 169 – 177.

Crouch, D. (2001). Spatialities and the Feeling of Doing. Social and Cultural Geography, 2(1), pp. 61 – 75.

Crouch, D. (2010). Flirting with Space: Thinking Landscape Relationally. Cultural Geographies, 17(1), pp. 5 – 18.

Dear, M. (2015). Practising Geohumanities. GeoHumanities, 1(1), pp. 25 – 35.

Derrida, J. (2005). On Touching: Jean-Luc Nancy. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Dewsbury, J. (2000). Performativity and the Event: Enacting a Philosophy of Difference. Environment and Planning D, 18, pp. 473 – 496.

Dodge, M. (2017). Cartography I: Mapping Deeply, Mapping the Past. Progress in Human Geography, 41(1), pp. 89 – 98.

Dorling, D. and Fairbairn, D. (1997). Mapping: Ways of Representing the World. Essex: Addison Wesley Longman Ltd.

Harley, J. (1989). Deconstructing the Map. Cartographica, 26(2), pp. 1 – 2.

Heidegger, M. (1962). Being and Time. London: Blackwell.

Hénaff, M. (1997). Of Stones, Angels and Humans: Michel Serres and the Global City. SubStance, 83, pp. 59 – 80.

Holloway, L., and Hubbard, P. (2001). People and Place, the Extraordinary Geographies of Everyday Life. Essex: Pearson Education Limited.

Ingold, T. (1996). Human Worlds are Culturally Constructed: Against the Motion (I). In: T. Ingold (ed) Key Debates in Anthropology. London: Routledge, pp. 112 – 118.

Jay, M. (1991). The Disenchantment of the Eye: Surrealism and the Crisis of Ocularcentrism. Visual Anthropology Review, 7(1), pp. 15 – 38.

Jones, O., and Cloke, P. (2002). Tree Cultures. Oxford: Berg.

Kai-cheung, D. (2012). Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City. New York: Columbia University Press.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Law, J. (2004). After Method: Mess in Social Science Research. London: Routledge.

Lee, R. (2011). Truthing Gap: Imagining a Relational Geography of the Uninhabitable. Architectural Research Quarterly, 15(3), pp. 216 – 230.

Lewis, P. (1979). Axioms for Reading the Landscape. In: D. Meinig (ed.) The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes: Geographical Essays. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 11 – 32.

Lewis, P. (1985). Beyond Description. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 75, pp. 465 – 477.

Lorimer, H. (2005). Cultural Geography: The Busyness of Being ‘more-than-Representational’. Progress in Human Geography, 29(1), pp. 83 – 94.

Lorimer, H. (2014). Homeland. Cultural Geographies, 21(4), pp. 583 – 604.

Mackinder, H. (1887). On the Scope and Methods of Geography. Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography, 9(3), pp. 141 – 174.

Meinig, D. (1979). The Beholding Eye: Ten Versions of the Same Scene. In: D. Meinig (ed.) The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 33 – 50.

Miksell, M. (1968). International Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, 8. New York: Crowell-Collier and Macmillan.

Mitchell, D. (1995). There’s No such Thing as Culture: Towards a Reconceptualization of the Idea of Culture in Geography. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 20(1), pp. 102 – 116.

Muir, R. (1999). Approaches to landscape. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Nancy, J. (2005). The Ground of the Image. Fordham: Fordham University.

Philo, C. (2011). Discursive Life. In: V. Del Casino, M. Thomas, P. Cloke and R. Panelli (eds.) A Companion to Social Geography. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 362 – 542.

Sauer, C. (1925) The Morphology of Landscape. California: University of California Press.

Shaw, D. (2008). Worlds in the Past: Changing Scales of Experience. In: P. Daniels, M. Bradshaw, D. Shaw and J. Sidaway (eds.) Human Geography: Issues for the 21st Century. London: Prentice Hall, pp. 11 – 35.

Thrift, N. (2000). Dead or Alive? In: I. Cook, D. Crouch, S. Naylor and J. R. Ryan (eds.) Cultural Turns/Geographical Turns: Perspectives on Cultural Geography. London: Pearson, pp. 1 – 6.

Thrift, N. (2004). Summoning Life. In: P. Cloke, M. Crang and M. Goodwin (eds.) Envisioning Human Geographies. London: Arnold, pp. 81 – 103.

Whatmore, S. (1999). Nature Culture. In: P.  Cloke, M. Crang and M. Goodwin (eds.) Introducing Human Geographies, London: Arnold, pp.4 – 11.

Wylie, J. (2007). Landscape. New York: Routledge.

Wylie, J. (2009). Landscape, Absence and the Geographies of Love. British Geographers, 34(3), pp. 275 – 289.

Wylie, J. (2016). A Landscape Cannot be a Homeland. Landscape Research, 41(4), pp. 408 – 416.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s