PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2019, Vol. 38 ›› Issue (5): 783-790.doi: 10.18306/dlkxjz.2019.05.014

• Book Review • Previous Articles    

Phenomenology in humanistic geography: A review of David Seamon’s book on A Geography of the Lifeworld

GAO Huihui(),ZHOU Shangyi()   

  1. Faculty of Geographical Science, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China
  • Received:2019-01-28 Online:2019-05-28 Published:2019-05-28
  • Contact: ZHOU Shangyi;
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No. 41771148; Major Research Plan of National Social Science Foundation of China, No. 14ZDB139


The introduction of the relationship between humanistic geography and phenomenology is limited among Chinese geographers who mainly focus on Yi-Fu Tuan's works and opinions. David Seamon is another key figure in humanistic geographic study. By reviewing Seamon's book on A Geography of the Lifeworld: Movement, Rest and Encounter, this article aims to enhance people's understanding of humanistic geography. This book is one of the representative works of the realm, and its publication coincided with the prevalence of western humanistic geography. Through the perspective of phenomenology, Seamon explores the interaction between the experience of human body and the daily geographical world, creatively introduces concepts of body-subject and perception. He emphasizes that the place ballet based on body-subject is the result of the interaction between human and environment in a specific time and space, that is, the dynamics of time-space rhythm. The book is divided into five parts, among which the second, third and fourth parts concentrate the author's main academic views corresponding to the "movement", "rest" and "encounter" in the subtitle of the book, respectively. Phenomenology is the philosophical foundation of humanistic geography with its obscure content. This article examines cases both from the book and from our daily experiences to introduce Seamon's main ideas. In our viewpoints, first, this book makes the abstract phenomenological concepts and methods more accessible and understandable by describing abundant environmental experiences in our everyday life. For example, fingers of a pianist freely press the piano keys without seeing musical score; a person's feet can automatically adjust his or her pace according to the road conditions. Seamon calls such movements as "body ballet", which implies the movement sequence of such pre-conscious body. This review article gives an example in hand to explain how body ballet links to place ballet. In a traditional market, it is quite usual to hear peddlers' yo-heave-ho, and to see sellers weighing and packing goods, and then making change for the customers… The series of actions are the vendor's body ballet. The body ballet of both customers and vendors constitutes the place ballet of the market. Second, the content of this book may be useful for those who engage in urban planning/design and environmental education. Seamon suggests that the street pattern, porch design, and other physical space planning could enhance or weaken the integration and coordination of the place ballet in a community. As for environmental education, Seamon stresses that our attention should be paid more to the process that might lead people to sensitize to all sorts of settings. He also attempts to make people realize that ways to encounter with environments are diverse and dynamic, and even promotes to enhance the ability to observe and experience the environment with the help of technology. In this way, any individual could increase such sensitivity of his/her own, and find meanings and beauties in seemingly ordinary places. Third, it is a pity that the comparison between humanistic geography and 'scientific' modern geography has not been aroused enough attention yet, and the advantages of phenomenological research methods should been unfolded much better. Fourth, with the phenomenological attitude, there is no doubt that this article reveals the subjectivity and intentionality of the two authors.

Key words: A Geography of the Lifeworld, humanistic geography, phenomenology

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