Geographies of Everyday Life

Subtitle

Geographies of Everyday Life

 Instructor: Maria Piccioni

Course Description:

 This course examines environmental and spatial aspects of human life at various scales - primarily at the scale of the individual, the neighbourhood and the community.  Topics that will be considered in this course include sense of place, mental maps, territoriality, community dynamics, and human impacts on the landscape.

 

"We make a map of our experience patterns, an inner model of the outer world, and we use this to organise our lives"

 

This course deals with the concept of environment, but not the natural and built environment you probably think of when you hear “environment”. It deals with behaviour - yours and others - and why you do what you do. It deals with perception - how you view the world, and how these perceptions shape environments, especially urban environments. Most of all, it deals with

relativism: how we can all witness the same event, but have differing views of it depending on the many filters through which we view that event. Furthermore, it deals with how we use those perceptions, most times unknowingly, to make decisions - large and small - that comprise our lives and affect other people's lives.

 

The world is comprised of a multitude of environments that exist at different scales. These scales range from personal space to neighbourhoods, communities (both towns and cities), regions, nations and the world itself. These environments are in turn shaped by people's behaviour, and this behaviour is in turn governed by the decisions made by individuals and groups of individuals (i.e. populations). The types of decisions people make are “dictated” by their cultural, economic, political, social, and religious backgrounds and their gender and sexual orientations. These decisions are also influenced by their relative intellectual abilities to make decisions and the quantity and quality of information at their disposal. These give rise to differing perceptions of similar events, issues and environments – indeed of life itself. In turn, these differing perceptions generate different interpretations of, and actions toward, environments, that in turn impact how these environments appear (both perceptually and physically). 

 

In this course we will be examining many aspects of this complex web of relative processes. Our goal is to peel back the many layers of your (and the city’s) environment, to demonstrate that it is actually comprised of many environmental interpretations. Some of these are obvious; others not so obvious. But even though it may seem obvious how something looks, it is often not obvious how it got to look that way - as you will find out. If you could peel back the layers of the city, they would be countless, arranged and conceived of by each of us according to our perceptions, from each of us according to our cognitive processes, to each of us according to the way others view us. None are wrong interpretations and none are right; they are just different.

 

Some of the layers affect us all of the time and all of the layers affect us some of the time. Each of itself can be conceived of clearly when it is slipped from the deck and played out. But together, the stack of layers creates the game we call the city that is pregnant with permutations.

 

Carlson, E. and Coppack, P. (2010) Geographies of Everyday Life, 2nd ed.  Toronto: McGraw-Hill. Introductory Material, pp. IV.

Textbook:

Carlson, E. and Coppack, P. (2010) Geographies of Everyday Life, 2nd ed.  Toronto: McGraw-Hill.

Textbook Abstract:

We all live in subjective environments. If we (85% of Canadians) live in the city, we live in a subjective city - a city comprised of a multitude of layers, mostly of our own making, or at least of our personal interpretation. Some layers of the city, like the form buildings or streets take, or what the parking by-laws are, are fairly obvious.  Others, like social structure, mental imagery, soundscapes or quality of life, are not. And even the obvious, on closer examination, often isn't.

 

Layers within the city also exist at different spatial scales, ranging from the personal space of its individual inhabitants, to neighbourhoods, and communities. All of these manifest themselves spatially in our home, work and play spheres.

 

The notion of a subjective city comprised of progressively “softer” layers also deals with the concept of environment - not the common "natural world" interpretation of it, but the idea of environment as the sum total of conditions around you. It deals with behaviour, yours and others, and why you do what you do. It deals with perception and cognition - how you view the world, and how these perceptions shape environments. Most of all, it deals with relativism: how we can all see the same thing but have differing views of it depending on the many cognitive filters through which we view it. Furthermore, it deals with how we use those perceptions, most times unknowingly, to make decisions - large and small – that comprise our lives and affect other people's lives.

 

The environments of the “soft city” are shaped by people's behaviour, and this behaviour is in turn governed by the decisions made by individuals and groups of individuals (populations) at various scales. The types of decisions people make are dictated by their cultural, economic, political, social, religious backgrounds, and their gender and sexual orientation. As well, the quality of those decisions is influenced by their relative intellectual abilities to make decisions and the quantity and quality of information at their disposal. These differing backgrounds give rise to differing perceptions of similar events, issues, environments - indeed life itself. In turn, these differing perceptions generate different interpretations of, and actions toward, environments, that in turn impact how these environments look.

 

In this book we will be examining many aspects of this complex web of relative processes. Our goal is to peel back the many layers of the human environment, in particular the city environment, to demonstrate that there are many interpretations of it. Some of these are obvious, others not so obvious. But even though it may be obvious how something looks, it is often not obvious how it got to look that way - as you will find out.

 

Throughout the book you will be given the opportunity to experiment and explore the concepts introduced through "miniassignments" - small self contained exercises, entitled TRY THIS, designed to illustrate the material presented. Mental maps, time-space prisms, soundscapes, and social area analysis are a few of the exploratory journeys you will make.

Carlson, E. and Coppack, P. (2010) Geographies of Everyday Life, 2nd ed.  Toronto: McGraw-Hill. pp. III