READ | The field and the text

Posted on 31/01/2012


An essay by Yann Calberac (ACME: An International E-journal for Critical Geographies, 2011, 10(1)) discusses the application of Barthes’ semiology to geography. It’s a well crafted work that explores the changes that have taken place in geography over decades. The essay, Why should geographers lost in the field read Roland Barthes?, compares the geographer’s field with Barthes’ text. The author finds that the field can be conceived of as a text and fieldwork as reading. It’s a pleasure to read this text as I consider some of the implications for planning as applied geography focused on practical concerns of urban and regional life – although planning lacks the epistemological weight of geography. However, Michael Pacione (Applied geography: in pursuit of useful knowledge, Applied Geography 19) argues that “applied geography is a socially relevant approach to the study of the relationship between people and their environments”.

And also as I consider a possible project that I had begun to outline earlier titled Fielding. Not much has come of that idea yet but I find Calberac’s essay resonant.

He writes “the field is no longer where one extracts data, but almost a place where one produces meaning”. (There are typos throughout the essay and I am inclined to think that the sentence should read ‘… almost always …’) This, of course, gives rise to ideas of intertextuality and pleasure as per Barthes writing: “this intertextuality which is at work in the field appears as the main factor of the pleasure that all geographers feel while fieldworking”. It’s as if permission has been granted to the geographer to “consider themselves as epistemic subjects, which allows them to narrate their own journeys in the papers they write, but also to mention their own personal feelings … which are part of the meaning process”. In other words geographers can reveal themselves as part of their field, and that the places they study are epistemic fields.

Posted in: theory