Material Sensibilities

making space for play across the life course

Category Archives: Enchanting Geographies

(Re)enchanting geography, take II

HOT OFF THE PRESS! My latest collaboration with Hilary Geoghegan is now available to view online.

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Abstract    Thrift [2008. Non-representational theory: space, politics, affect, 65. Abingdon: Routledge] has identified disenchantment as “[o]ne of the most damaging ideas” within social scientific and humanities research. As we have argued elsewhere, “[m]etanarratives of disenchantment and their concomitant preoccupation with destructive power go some way toward accounting for the overwhelmingly ‘critical’ character of geographical theory over the last 40 years” [Woodyer, T. and Geoghegan, H., 2013. (Re)enchanting geography? The nature of being critical and the character of critique in human geography. Progress in Human Geography, 37 (2), 195–214]. Through its experimentation with different ways of working and writing, cultural geography plays an important role in challenging extant habits of critical thinking. In this paper, we use the concept of “enchantment” to make sense of the deep and powerful affinities exposed in our research experiences and how these might be used to pursue a critical, yet more cheerful way of engaging with the geographies of the world. 

This paper, published in the Journal of Cultural Geography, is part of a special issue that  arises from the sessions on Contemporary Research Strategies in Cultural Geography at the 2013 Meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Los Angeles, co-convened by Nick Crane (Ohio State University) and Weronika Kusek (Kent State University). This collaborative piece is a follow up to our paper in Progress in Human Geography. Amazingly, it has already attracted some attention on Twitter courtesy of GeoRichardScriven.

“Feeling a positive research vibe after reading & ‘s wonderful “Cultural geography and enchantment”

I still find it strange and humbling to hear that others take the time to read what I write, even though that’s one of the main purposes of the activity.


(Re)enchanting geography

Having been available online for some time, our Progress in Human Geography paper,  ‘(Re)enchanting geography? The nature of being critical and the character of critique in human geography’ is now in print, yay.

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Enchantment is a term frequently used by human geographers to express delight, wonder or that which cannot be simply explained. However, it is a concept that has yet to be subject to sustained critique, specifically how it can be used to progress geographic thought and praxis. This paper makes sense of, and space for, the unintelligibility of enchantment in order to encourage a less repressed, more cheerful way of engaging with the geographies of the world. We track back through our disciplinary heritage to explore how geographers have employed enchantment as a force through which the world inspires affective attachment. We review the terrain of the debate surrounding recent geographical engagements with enchantment, focusing on the nature of being critical and the character of critique in human geography, offering a new ‘enchanted’ stance to our geographical endeavours. We argue that the moment of enchantment has not passed with the current challenging climate; if anything, it is more pressing.

geogehganOur initial engagement with the theme of enchantment emerged through the organisation of two sessions – ‘Enchanting Geographies’ – at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference back in 2007. The sessions addressed the then ’emerging’ geographies of enchantment; those moments, events and encounters that reveal the power of objects and sites to enchant, delight and enrapture. Counteracting Weberian tales of the disenchantment of the modern world, the sessions elaborated upon Jane Bennett’s exposition of enchantment as ‘a mood of fullness, plenitude, or liveliness, a sense of having had one’s nerves or circulation or concentration powers turned up or recharged – a shot in the arm, a fleeting return to childlike excitement about life’ (2001:5). Enchanting Geographies drew together work on affect and materiality to address questions of wonder, awe and magic in the everyday and beyond, exploring those objects and sites “which motivate inferences, responses and interpretations”(Thomas 1998). Extending Alfred Gell’s (1992) notion of technologies of captivation, the sessions reflected upon the sites and things of enchantment as encountered through research (contemporary and historical) within and beyond geography. If we’re open and honest, the idea for these sessions was dreamed up on the back of a beer mat after we escaped early from yet another seminar that left us feeling rather depressed in response to the approach it took to academic study. We never dreamed our CFP would receive the great response that it did, or that we’d be writing about enchantment in the way presented in our recent paper some five years later.

Enchanting Geographies I

Enchanting encounters: film, tourism and the geographies of ‘Middle Earth on Earth’ 

Danielle Smith

‘The joyous things in the shop windows make me stand and gape’: the enchanting register of 1930s retail display

Bronwen Edwards

Realising enchanted geographies: suspending the known, willing the unknown

Julian Holloway

Patio poetics: the prosaic pleasures of the domestic garden

Amanda Claremont

A very modern ghost: postcolonialism and the politics of enchantment

Cheryl McEwan


Enchanting Geographies II

Enchanted moments: the pleasures of technology enthusiasm

Hilary Geoghegan

Crystals, angels and tarot cards: placing re-enchantment in the everyday

Sara MacKian

Forging connections: tracing he fragmentary lives of tourist souvenirs

Nissa Ramsay

Taxidermy as a technology of enchantment

Merle Patchett


Professor Clive Gamble

It’s interesting to read our paper alongside Chris Philo’s paper, ‘’A great space of murmurings’: madness, romance and geography’, in the same issue. Chris’s paper explores how Foucault’s Madness and Civilisation changed between versions, using this as a window onto certain ‘romantic’ currents within contemporary human geography. His paper is instructive on how meaning is lost with abridgement and translation. Indeed, he offers a different reading of Foucault to ours, tracing a phenomenology and romanticism that belies the structuralist accounts of Foucault’s work. Obscured from view is a phenomenology of dark space and engagement with the potential of addressing madness ‘in all its vivacity, before it is captured by knowledge’ (History of Madness xxxii, cited in Philo 2012). By tracing the resonances between the work of Foucault and the French poet Rene Char, one can sense how the former was inspired by a poetic sensibility. Hidden from the later versions of Foucault’s Madness and Civilisation is a wish to return to the vibrancy of unchecked human passions, the possibility of glimpsing other ways of being-in-the-world, and their potential for fuelling hopes for realising alternative realities. This earlier Foucault is one I would love to engage with. In relation to enchantment and our desire to emphasis its uncanny side, it would be great to delve into this dark space.

It is certainly encouraging that others see the benefits of returning to our disciplinary heritage for what it reveals about, and can offer our contemporary geographical endeavours.


AAG 2013: Reflecting on Cultural Geography in Los Angeles

hillsFrom the snow of New York to the sun of Los Angeles. It’s that time of year again. Geographers from around the globe converging in an unsuspecting US city for a week of presentations, posters and parties. Not one to miss out on an opportunity to add a marker to my world map, I took it upon myself to not only present a paper, but to also organise a session, gulp.

The paper was based on my recently published co-authored article with Hilary Geoghegan (UCL), titled Slowing the quick jump to explanation: making space for enchantment in cultural geography research’. It formed part of two sessions exploring Contemporary Research Strategies in Cultural Geography, co-convened by Nick Crane (Ohio State University) and Weronika Kusek (Kent State University), with Mona Domosh acting as discussant (Dartmouth).

Contemporary Research Strategies in Cultural Geography I

Scatter-shot: parsing ‘data in research in cultural geography

Kafui Ablode Attoh (Syracuse)

What maps tell and don’t tell: insights from mapping women in Tehran’s public spaces

Nazgol Bagheri (Missouri)

Approaching erased spaces: historical materialism and theorising difficult field experiences in cultural geography

Toby Applegate (East Carolina)

Consumption, affect, politics

Jacob Miller (Arizona)

Contemporary Research Strategies in Cultural Geography II

Slowing the quick jump to explanation: making space for enchantment in cultural geography research

Tara Woodyer (Portsmouth)

Scale, power and methodology: implications for doing historical political ecology in northern Canada

Kolson Schlosser (Slippery Rock)

Evoking landscape through ethnographic fiction

Matthew Jacobson (Missouri)

From journals to classrooms: walking the line between doing and teaching cultural geography

Jamie Winders (Syracuse)

The sessions provided an interesting mix of theory, practice and forms of critique, with discussion about how to take forward both research and teaching in cultural geography. In tune with our paper, the theme of experimentation ran through the sessions: a ‘field of dreams’ approach to planning using imaginary transit lines, GIS combined with ethnographic methods, following digressions, playing with scale, ethnographic fiction and using the unexpected in teaching. As I’m in the process of planning a new fieldcourse combining GIS and cultural geography, Nazgol Bagheri’s paper on Geo-ethnography was particularly interesting. I’m also looking forward to reading some of Matthew Jacobson’s ethnographic fiction and taking this idea forward in my own ethnographic research.

Meeting and getting to talk to Mona Domosh was a personal highlight, having heard so much about her work during my time at Royal Holloway’s Geography department. Having recently spent so much time delving into the work of the early humanistic geographers, meeting people who studied under them is really inspiring and instructive.

It was interesting that attention focused on teaching alongside research, specifically how to teach the more non-representational side of cultural geography. This was raised as a particular difficulty by the largely American panel and audience, with a sense that research and teaching were increasingly being pulled in different directions. It would have been interesting to see how the discussion would have developed if there had been a stronger British contingent present. Whilst I acknowledge the challenge of teaching the foundations of a sub-discipline that has dual ontological frameworks, I did find it troubling that there was a sense that theory and practice are distinct and non-representational geographies are best taught by taking students to places in which they ‘don’t belong’. There’s a danger here of slipping into a voyeuristic mode and reinforcing the force of structural constraints at the expense of addressing the more habitual, mundane aspects of everyday worlds, which are no less important despite the different senses of the political at play here. Being in Los Angeles, a city where social inequality is not merely evident, but rather jumps up and smacks you in the face, made this reflection all the more pertinent. Nonetheless, this discussion was timely as I’m in the process of planning sessions for my new Level 6 unit on cultural geographies.

Hilary and I are looking forward to writing a follow up piece to our Progress in Human Geography paper for a special issue of the Journal of Cultural Geography based on these conference sessions. Watch this space!

As an aside, I noticed Twitter style hashtags appearing in my notes for the first time. Am I behind the times here? Probably…





Telling in and of themselves. Make of them what you will.