Essay About Human Geographical Research – Part one: Emotion

Goal of Human Geography

Human geography is a field of social sciences that focus on how people make sense of the world—how we interact with other people in our immediate environment, across space and how we all make sense of it all. In short, human geography tries to evaluate or understand how people put meaning to aspect of space and society (Fouberg, Murphy, and de Blij, 2009: 8).

Because of the vast spectrum that concern human life and his interaction with the environment, human geography had evolved specialized fields that focus in particular areas to which it could fully devout objective studies—thus various subfields of human geography slowly emerged i.e. behavioural geography, cultural geography, health geography, and historical geography to name a few. But these subfields are still very broad that it is further divided into subcategories and came up with various approaches to research. For instance, behavioural geography, which focuses more on how people perceive, behave, and create behavioural pattern in their physical environment undertake its studies based on perception and cognitive learning in relation to environmental patterns.

With the onset of globalization and post globalization, the ‘spatial concept’ has evolved dramatically. Technological advancement in transportation and communication have created invisible networks that made people more intimate and interconnected as ever. Popular culture—i.e. architecture, engineering design, and fashion are making people and culture look more homogeneous despite diversity in religion, language, and myriad of other things that is unique to the people and place. Understanding and explaining these diversity is the goal of human geography (Fouberg, Murphy, and de Blij, 2009: 8).

Emotion Geography

Emotions are intense political subject that is often times highly-gendered. This could be the basis why emotion had been, for the longest time, excluded from most social science research, methodology, and critical commentary. The marginalization of emotion as part of gender and politics have of course given birth to researches and academic approaches that are highly detached, objectified, rationalized while down playing or devaluing desire, passion, subjectivity, and engagement.

As such, subjectivity is associated with something that is less objective to the effect that it clouds judgment. Add that to the fact that emotions are receptive to various stimuli and could often times be misleading or deceiving. But that is where emotion geography also finds its greatest strength: “at particular times and in particular places, there are moments where lives are so explicitly lived through pain, bereavement, elation, anger, love and so on that the power of emotional relations cannot be ignored.”

By taking into consideration these emotional aspects, and combining them with the more conventional and ‘objective’ approaches to social research, emotional geography is a powerful tool in understanding class relations, economic rationality, political behavior, and other areas of public life wherein emotional content is usually excluded (Anderson and Smith, 2001: 7-8).

For instance, an emphasis on emotionally heightened spaces may prove useful for illustrating how social relations are arbitrated by sensibility and feeling. It could also provide researchers and social scientists to track emotional geographies to some less conspicuous emotional domains of life. To be more specific, housing studies have been largely looked through profit and loss, aesthetic and design, and supply and demand (Anderson and Smith, 2001: 8).

Given the conventional method, one would not be able to fully explain why, at the later part of the 20th century up to the beginning of the 21st century, cities on the Arabian Peninsula have experienced accelerated growth largely due to its rapid urban development through attractive real estate. Emerging Arabian cities have gained global prominence and economy networks given a very short timeframe (Thierstein and Schein, 2008: 178).

If we look at the rapid growth of cities in the Arabian Peninsula with the conventional method of analysis, one would simply overlook the emotional aspect that could be attached to experiencing something new and different that these cities are able to offer—i.e. how emotions would interpret, perceive, and give meaning and value to the idea of living on a man-made island? What are the emotions at play of living in a dessert city that is host to a foreign culture and people opposite of one’s own? It is how people value and give meaning to these emotions that is highly overlooked by just merely analyzing the appreciation of say aesthetic value, economic soundness, or profitability of investing in a luxury apartment.

A “step beyond ‘representational geographies’ to think about emotions as ways of knowing, being and doing… ‘an awareness of how emotional relations shape society and space’ and a need to confront empathy methodologically, with an explicit return to philosophies of meaning.”

Emotional geography values more not on the abstract meaning and its representation but gives emphasis on the direct experiences and how meaning is derived based on ‘felt worlds.’ Ergo it shift the perspective from explaining and defining experiences from abstract concepts and put back the humanist concern by focusing more on the lived experiences and lived emotions, and their representations—of which is concerned for doing and performing that goes beyond merely representation or describing the non-representational (Pile, 2009: 6).

Its approach is to understand the interaction of people and his world to “the extent to which the human world is constructed and lived through the emotions…that to neglect the emotions is to exclude a key set of relations through which lives are lived and societies made” (Anderson and Smith, 2001: 7).

Beginning in 2003, mounting human geographical researchers have shifted their approach to research and have found greater lenience towards emotion geography. Pile (2009) had identified three assumptions that he believed is responsible to the shift of perspective with regards to the approach of human geography—“a specific ontology of relation, mainly involving a concern with fluidity; a valuation of proximity and intimacy; and a methodological emphasis on ethnography” (2009: 5).

Assumptions towards the Shift to Emotion Geography

Emotion as a precise, explicit ontology of relation meant that relations and how people deal and interact with other people could best be explained and approached academically if social scientists also would look at the emotional aspects. For instance, studying how concepts of generosity, reciprocity, and mutual respect among strangers after a devastating calamity could best be understood when emotion is studied. For it is through emotion that people are able to explain with some degree of rationality the reasons behind selfless actions, traumatic experience, etc.

Emotional geography could also play a role in housing studies. The emotional relations involved in purchasing and selling a house are often times undermined—i.e. frustration, anger, embarrassment, greed. Thus, housing competition and fluctuations in real estate market is still not something that could be substantially explained by conventional models of supply, demand, and profit.

The second reason behind the increasing prominence of emotion geography as a human geographic research is that it places value to proximity and intimacy—that landscape and physical space could evoke emotion and that places have emotional qualities attached to them. For instance, when people would enter say, their work area, they tend to be more timid, on their guard, and become more professional in a sense. But when they get home, they are comfortable, relaxed, happy, and content. This is because physical space has within them emotional qualities that rouse emotional reactions.

To put it in a larger perspective, emotional geography would also prove useful in business process outsourcing industries that want to have an offshore account but maintain an in-house operation of their business. Say, an American-based company would opt to offshore its customer service department to India, understanding how Indian nationals perceive spaces could create more intimacy in their workspace. By doing so, there is a greater chance that the workplace would have positive emotion to it—it is culturally sensitive, respectful of personal space, things that would directly affect the emotions of the workers and thus affect the quality of their work.

Lastly is that though emotion is empirically difficult to study, it focuses on methodological emphasis on ethnography to provide a scientific study. Ethnographic methods allow researchers to do a holistic interpretation, description, and analysis of culture through immersion and participation with the subjects under observation through rigorous and intensive field work.In terms of human geographic research, ethnographic methodologies have developed several research tools that have departed itself from the traditional concept of qualitative research to a more reflexive approach that is more dependent in terms of interpretations, analysis, and assumptions of the researcher (Barker, 2008: 32-33).

Ethnographic methods allow for researchers to present a more qualitative approach towards understanding emotion as a theme for human geography. By supplementing one ethnographic method with another; i.e. a combination of interview, diaries/ recording, virtual ethnography, participant observation, focus group discussion, and questionnaires, researchers could provide a more vivid detail and a more holistic approach to emotion as subject of geographic inquiry as compared to just using one method. This way, the weaknesses or limitations of each method are minimized. Also it will allow for the presentation of the data gathering, though tackling a very subjective topic, in a manner that is objective.


The increasing shift towards emotion as a major theme for human geographical research could be the cause for the clamour for a more intimate and personal understanding of human interaction. With post globalization and modernity making the world a more connected space, people are becoming more culturally aware of the diversity of people and are more liberal to pluralistic views of how interaction and external environment create emotions and affect. By studying emotion geography, researchers and lay people hope to gain deeper understanding on how emotions are produce and understands how these emotions affects us.

The increasing popularity and academic following of emotion geography as an approach to human geography finds, furthermore, its strength in the intimacy of the research—the human connections that transcend between the researchers and his participants; between the researcher and the readers; and between the readers and the participants.

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Reference List

Anderson, K. and Smith, S. (2001) ‘Editorial: Emotional Geographies’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, vol. 26, pp. 7-10.

Barker, C. (2008) Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice,3rdedition, London: Sage Publications.

Bondi, L. (2005). ‘Making Connections and Thinking Through Emotions: Between Geography and Psychotherapy’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, vol. 30, pp. 433-448.

Fouberg, E. H., Murphy, A. B. and de Blij, H. J. (2009) Human Geography: People, Place, and Culture, 9th edition, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Pile, S. J. (2009) ‘Emotions and Affect in Recent Human Geography’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, vol. 35, pp. 5-20.

Thierstein, A. and Schein, E. (2008). ‘Emerging Cities on the Arabian Peninsula: Urban Space in the Knowledge Economy Context’, International Journal of Architectural Research, vol. 2, issue 2, pp. 178-195.

Thrift, N. (2004). ‘Intensities of Feeling: Towards A Spatial Politics of Affect’, Geografiska Annaler Series B: Human Geography, vol. 86, issue 1, pp. 57-78.

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