PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2010, Vol. 29 ›› Issue (6): 643-648.doi: 10.11820/dlkxjz.2010.06.001

• Original Articles •     Next Articles

On the Symbolic Meanings of Space

ZHU Hong,QIAN Junxi,FENG Dan   

  1. Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou 510275, China
  • Received:2010-01-01 Revised:2010-05-01 Online:2010-06-25 Published:2010-06-25


The trend of cultural turn in western academia galvanized a transformation in European and American human geography, especially cultural geography, from a macroscopic view of space to a more microscopic one. According to the viewpoints in “new cultural geography”, space should be textualized and thus made accessible for interpretation. Space is no longer defined merely as a material entity where social, cultural and political phenomena are located and distributed, but media through which social processes take place and exert influences. Since social processes and power relationships constantly reshape the meanings and define the constructions of spaces, the interpretations of spaces can therefore reveal those processes and transformation embedded in the meanings conveyed by particular spaces. To understand spatial symbolism requires at first the clarification of the conceptions of symbolism and its application in human geography. With elaborations by Aase, Peirce etc., we get a basic understanding of symbolism in geography, which mainly focuses on the meanings engendered from the interactions between human behaviors and the environmental milieu. In the mean time, geographers should then focus their attention on intense social transformation and power relations, in order to reveal both cultural and spatial impacts of the above processes in society. Research cases in the western academia can be roughly divided into two main themes: (1) social transformation; (2) political and power relations between or among different social groups. In this paper, cases drawn from western literature are briefly introduced to present a collective view of mainstream research interest concerning the meanings and symbolism of space. The authors then propose that in order to keep up with the international academic trends, the topic of space symbolism is worth attention for the Chinese geography researchers. In light of the rapid social and economic social transformation in contemporary China, it is reasonable to assume that processes in Chinese society will then produce profound influences on spatiality, thus inserting meanings into spaces.

Key words: meanings, new cultural geography, space, symbolism