Self-Emplacement in the Lifeworld: The Geographic Imagination of American Middle Adolescents
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This dissertation is an investigation of the geographic imagination as the mental landscape of the lifeworlds of a group of middle adolescents. The study involved phenomenology and humanistic geography as its guiding epistemological and methodological approaches. With the goal of determining the geographic imagination (as part of spatial cognition) of the contemporary individual, constructs investigated were embodied spatiality, dwelling perspective, and the “geographies of spacings and place” that have led to contemporary placelessness of the individual. Key concepts explored were sense of place, global awareness, cosmopolitanism, and cognitive deterritorialization, particularly in contexts of the space-altering new media of electronic and digital technologies.
The mixed-methods research probed empirical data collected from middle-adolescent high school students to elicit their views of spacings and place, in the modes of a 1) Questionnaire Instrument; 2) Writing Protocol; and 3) Interview Schedule. Findings suggested that the participants generally exhibited (but with wide variations) a generalized and diffused spatial orientation, disembedded at all scalar spacings, from local to global, except for the microscale of their own embodiment. Further, it was found that much of the experience of spacings and place were centered on the body as tethered to electronic/digital media technologies. A general conclusion is that much self-emplacement is existentially ageographic--ontology of “everywhere and nowhere”--in that the personal affectivity of the existential sense of “home” is centered on the body, adolescent bedroom culture, and personal electronic/digital communication and media technologies (all as sites of spatial connectivity). These sites of spatial and space-altering connectivity promote abstract, diffuse, disembedded cognition and orientation of spacings and place. The geographic imagination substantially develops from these contemporary sites of fundamental and proximate spatial experience.
Two constructs from psychology and geography underlay the study: Place as relational experience; and place as cognitive organizational process of the self. Three geographic theorems were derived. The first dealt with the self-knowing individual: To know one’s self-emplacement in the world is to know the place of the world in oneself. Eight geographic meaning units (themes) were developed from the empirical data gathered from the participants, including these two about self-emplacement: No longer are people necessarily more connected to near space than distant space; and the lifeworld is experienced as a relational, hybridized “betweenness” of liminal spacings among electronic/digital places and place-based relational webs.
Additionally, a “Personal Poetics of Place” approach and a “Five Themes of Relational Geography”--as framework for “geography-from-below”--are advanced in the final chapter as remedies for the ontological place (and space) alienation generally found among the participants and as a pedagogical stance to teach effective high-school geography. In several places in the dissertation the revised U. S. National Geography Standards (2011) was examined for its relevance to pedagogy of geography that emphasizes the importance of including the lived geographies, embodied spatialities, and the spatial perceptions and experiences of a self-knowing subject.