An Agoraphobic Topophilia: Re-Assessing Spatial Interaction During COVID-19

Authors: Evan Jones*, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
Topics: Cultural Geography, Social Geography, Land Use
Keywords: COVID-19, topophilia, spatiality, placelessness, pandemic, Massey
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 35
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Spatiality has new requirements and new significance for human beings in 2020. In January, people in much of the world may not have given a second thought to riding the subway, visiting friends, going to work, or having a family dinner, yet doing so now may constitute a substantial risk to their health as well as the health and well-being of others. Following Lefebvre (1991) and Massey (1994), I argue places are complex processes. However new questions regarding the conceptualization, navigation, and the general meaning of place, space, and process in our daily lives have emerged. The virus and our responses to it have extended, redefined, and challenged human spatial interaction, impacting practices which may have otherwise gone unexamined.

This paper takes inspiration from Yi-Fu Tuan's (1990) concept of topophilia to explore how COVID-19 has affected human relationships with the places and spaces of everyday life. Using results drawn from an observational analysis of human spatial interaction at a mass transit site in a small, southern town in the U.S., I argue current public health concerns have led us to create, recognize, and deploy physical cues to traverse our surroundings while fighting off what Edward Relph referred to as placelessness. Because of COVID we are crafting signs, signals, and triggers to help ourselves move through the world, mitigate anxiety, and nullify possible threats. This analysis addresses how these acts of creation manifest in various forms and offers some initial findings concerning human spatial navigation during the pandemic.

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