Amy Lavender Harris

Amy Lavender Harris teaches in the Department of Geography at York University, where her work focuses on urban identity and the cultural significance of place. She is the author of Imagining Toronto (Mansfield Press, 2010), which was shortlisted for the Gabrielle Roy Prize in Canadian literary criticism and won the Award of Merit, the highest honour given to a book at the 2011 Heritage Toronto Award.

GEOG 3300 Week 9: Wild Places

 Have you ever found a lost scarf and taken it home? Ever picked a piece of furniture discarded at curbside? Foraged fruits or nuts at the grocery store without paying for them? Picked wild berries? Bought anything at a garage sale? Adopted a shelter pet? Accepted hand-me-downs? 

Your willingness (or unwillingness) to do any of these things (or admit you have done them) reflects cultural notions about what is clean or dirty, as well as what belongs to ‘culture’ or ‘nature.’ 

So, too, do your responses to human homelessness, stray cats, raccoons, cockroaches, mice, even eyebrow mites. 

This week in the Space/Place course we’ll discuss the spatial implications of these attitudes. Our conversation will be informed, in part, by philosopher Bruno Latour’s observation in his playful ‘anthropology of science’ We Have Never Been Modern (1993) that we ‘purify’ ontological categories (such as nature and culture) by eliminating objects that call their separation into question.

Lecture slides for today’s class are available here: GEOG 3300 Week 9 lecture slides 2011-2012 Wild Places



Carts of Darkness (Murray Siple / NFB, 2008)

Cat City (Justine Pimlott / Red Queen Productions)


Nine Lives, But None to Spare (Excalibur, 7 September 2011)

The Phenomenology of Felines (Excalibur, 7 September 2011)

Toronto Cat Rescue, Annual Report 2011

Further Reading:

Harris, Amy Lavender and Peter Fruchter, 2007. Acts of Salvage. Eye Weekly, 8 November 2007.

Jerolmack, Colin, 2008. How Pigeons Became Rats : The Cultural-Spatial Logic of Problem AnimalsSocial Problems, 55(1): 72-94. 

Philo, Chris and Chris Wilbert, eds., 2000. Animal Spaces, Beastly Places: New Geographies of Human-Animal Relations. London; New York: Routledge.

Smith, Nicholas, 1999. The howl and the pussy: Feral cats and wild dogs in the Australian imagination. The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 10(3): 288-305. 

Tannent, Jaclyn K; Downs, Colleen T; Wald, Dara M; Watson, Helen K., 2010. Public Perceptions of Feral Cats within an Urban Conservancy on a Campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. South African Journal of Wildlife Research, 40(1): 16-26.

Wolch, Jennifer and Jody Emel, eds., 1998. Animal Geographies: Place, Politics, and Identity in the Nature-Culture Borderlands. London; New York: Verso.

Yufoff, Kathryn, 2011. The Valuation of Nature: The Natural Choice White PaperRadical Philosophy, 170 (Nov/Dec 2011).


GEOG 3300 Week 7: Embodied Spaces

Today in the Space/Place course we’ll explore embodied places by looking a gender, corporeality and spatial representations of dis/ability. 

Lecture slides for today’s class are available here: GEOG 3300 Week 7 Embodied Places lecture slides 2011 2012

GEOG 3300 Week 5: Geographies of Production and Consumption

This week in the Space/Place course we will begin with Geographer Vinay Gidwani and Sharad Chari’s observation that “we inhabit the space-time of capital.”

What this can possibly mean will form the core of our explorations today: space-time as conceived by spatial theorists Henri Lefebvre and David Harvey, the character of Marxian criticisms of contemporary capitalism, the nature of work and, ultimately, whether even a university should be understood as a kind of ‘factory of learning.’ We’ll also consider whether the ongoing Wall Street protests are the beginning of a revolution — or simply another spectacle of the sort derided by Debord in Society of the Spectacle

In The Production of Space, Lefebvre observes of cities, “everything here resembles everything else” and adds that “repetition has everywhere defeated uniqueness, that the artificial and contrived have driven all spontaneity and naturalness from the field, and, in short, that products have replaced works. Repetitious spaces are the outcome of repetitive gestures.” He goes on to ask, “[a]re these spaces interchangeable because they are homologous? Or are they homologous so that they can be exchanged, bought and sold …?”

Lecture slides for today’s class are accessible here: GEOG 3300 Week 5 Production and Consumption lecture slides 2011 2012


Modern Times, 1936.

The Sopranos intro (via YouTube)

“Wall Street Protest Continues” (New York Post, via YouTube)

“Wall Street protest ‘could be big deal'” (Reuters, via YouTube)


 Zukin, Sharon, 2008. David Harvey on Cities. Chapter 6 in David Harvey: A Critical Reader. Chichester, UK: Wiley. Electronically accessiblehere.

Debord, Guy, 1983. Excerpt (“The Organization of Territory”) from Society of the Spectacle. Detroit: Black and Red. Electronically accessible here.

Fleming, Peter and Andre Spicer, 2004. ‘You can checkout anytime, but you can never leave’: Spatial boundaries in a high commitment organization. Human Relations, 57(1): 75-94. Electronically accessible here.

 Additional Recommended Resources

Charles Marville’s photographs of nineteenth century Paris

Gidwani, Vinay and Sharad Chari, 2004. Geographies of Work. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 22(4): 475-484. Electronically accessible here

Lefebvre, Henri [trans/ Donald Nicholson-SMith], 1974; 1991. The Production of Space. Blackwell.



GEOG 3300 Week 4: Place and Displacement: Postcolonial Geographies

This week in the Space/Place course we’ll be talking about post-colonial geographies. We’ll focus principally on two examples: the first, relying on Dionne Brand’s book A Map to the Door of No Return (2001), will focus on the longstanding consequences of colonial displacement; the second will explore the Delgamuukw v. British Columbia case (Supreme Court of Canada, 1997), in which the country’s highest court made not only a definitive statement on Aboriginal title in Canada but also included a precedent-setting statement omn the kinds of evidence — including oral narratives — it was prepared to consider. 

Slides for today’s class are available here: GEOG 3300 Week 4 Postcolonial Geographies lecture slides 2011-2012


George Orwell’s story, “Killing an Elephant” (1936).

Video of Goree Island (YouTube)

Delgamuukw v. British Columbia (Supreme Court of Canada, 1997)


GEOG 3300 Week 3: Phenomenologies of Place

Consider phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard’s claim in The Poetics of Space (trans. 1964) that

Before he is “cast into the world,” as claimed by certain hasty metaphysicians, man is laid in the cradle of the house. And always, in our daydreams, the house is a large cradle. […] Life begins well, it begins enclosed, protected, all warm in the bosom of the house.

But long before an infant reaches the safe confines of the cradle, it makes a long and perilous journey that brings it from the farthest reaches of the cosmos: arguably, life begins like a supernova, in a burst of matter and energy transformed into pure light. 

In Life Before Birth, an award-winning documentary produced by noted British filmmaker Toby Macdonald, the meeting of egg and sperm is accompanied by a narrative that emphasises the spatial embeddedness of human existence. Life itself — the passage from “isn’t to is” — exists only insofar as it exists in space:

And so begins my journey through space: a microcosmos. Planets; asteroids; molecules; chromosomes; constellations swirling. A genetic whirlpool; worlds within worlds. A Russian doll of universes, bursting at each seam.

This description is less an observation about the biological origins of life than about their inherent spatiality. 

And this is a claim for which geographer Edward Casey makes a compelling claim in “Between Geography and Philosophy: What Does it Mean to Be in the Place-World:”

The relationship between self and place is not just one of reciprocal influence […] but also, more radically, of constitutive coingredience: each is essential to the being of the other. In effect, there is no place without self and no self without place

Casey grounds his argument, in part, in the phenomenology of German philosopher Martin Heidegger, who argued that human Being was not just being (sein) but Being-there (Dasein). Being, Heidegger argued in Being and Time, is always oriented toward place, is in fact always already situated within it. 

Casey advances Heidegger’s perspective by arguing that even in the face of contemporary conditions that attenuate (flatten) places (e.g., ‘glocalization,’ the rise of the digital realm, television and “nomadism”) we find ourselves drawn even more strongly to meaningful places.

[A question: is this a naive or romantic position? What are its limitations? Are places actually more attenuated than at any time in the past?]

 Casey goes on to argue that what ties lived places and the geographical self together is something he calls habitus, a liminal realm between self and environment, nature and culture, mind and body, self and other. Habitus calls to mind the language of dwelling: habitation and habituation, its Latin root habere (to have or hold). As Casey writes, 

When I inhabit a place — whether by moving through it or staying in it — I have it in my actional purview. I also hold it by virtue of being in its ambience: first in my body as it holds onto the place by various sensory and kinesthetic means, then in my memory as I “hold it in mind. This is how the durability of habitus is expressed: by my tenacious holding onto a place so as to prolong what I experience beyond the present moment. In this way, place and self actually collude.

In short, habitus is about far more than belonging to place: it means Being itself is a function of place (and vice versa).  

[See also Heidegger’s discussion of dwelling in his famous essay, “Building Dwelling Thinking” — which we’ll discuss in class, but please feel welcome to read the full text as well.]

Casey outlines two aspects of habitus that make it the pivot of the place-world:

Outgoing: the ways we ‘go out’ to encounter places

Incoming: the traces place leaves on our body (which he describes as analogous to sediments deposited by a moving stream). Places, he adds, become embedded in us through ‘tenacity’ and ‘subjection.’

Some examples: 

William Cronon’s “How to Read a Landscape”

 Heidegger’s claim that building a bridge over a waterway is a way of initiating dwelling 

Ingrid Stefanovic’s phenomenological description of dwelling in Mississauga.

The experience of homelessness

Encountering Vari Hall

Slides for this week’s class may be accessed here: GEOG 3300 Week 3 Phenomenologies of Place lecture slides 2011-2012

David Harvey on ‘Place as a Keyword”

This is a place-holder post for a brief summary (to come) of David Harvey’s “Place as a Keyword” essay. 

GEOG 3300 Week 2: Theories of Space and Place

Slides for today’s class are available here: GEOG 3300 Week 2 Theories of Space Place lecture slides 2011-2012

Consider the following spaces: 

The classroom where GEOG 3300 classes are held
Vari Hall (the symbolic ‘entrance’ to York University)
An airport
The World Trade Centre on 10 September 2001
The World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001
The World Trade Centre on 11 September 2011
A prison
A womb
A grave
A person’s mind
A person’s body
A city (or suburb)
The ‘wilderness’

How we experience, understand and represent these spaces depends very much on how we approach them–culturally, intellectually, historically, ideologically, politically, even economically. 

We cannot take ‘place’ (or its meanings) for granted. A place is never ‘just a place.’ Its physical dimensions (how big it is, what it is used for) are always overlain (or underdetermined) by a complex set of cultural, moral, economic and ideological assumptions. The purpose of this course is to explore some of these assumptions in order to arrive at a richer understanding of place and space.

To begin with, what is ‘place?’ How is it (or is it) different from ‘space?’ How can two short words be so complex? And what about scale?

This week I’ll provide an overview of contemporary theories of space, place and scale. The lecture will be informed, loosely, by Tim Cresswell’s ‘genealogy’ of space/place from his great book Place: A Short Introduction, and by David Harvey’s excellent essay, “Space as a Keyword” (a version of which is accessible here).

We’ll encounter three principal approaches to place and space:

(1) Descriptive

(2) Phenomenological / humanist

(3) Social Constructionism, which is an umbrella term for

(a) Marxist

(b) Feminist / embodied

(c) Postcolonial

We’ll also discuss David Harvey’s roughly parallel tripartite model of space (which is informed considerably by Henri Lefebvre’s work as well as the perspectives of German Enlightenment philosopher Gottfried Leibniz): (a) absolute space, (b) relative space and (c) relational space — the space-time that exists under contemporary capitalism. 

We’ll encounter, at least in passing, a number of additional theorists, among them Yi-Fu Tuan, David Seamon, Edward Casey, Henri Lefebvre, Judith Butler, Edward Said, Homi Bhabha and Edward Soja. 

Today’s readings are as follows (these may also be accessed via the ‘Courses’ tab above under GEOG 3300–>Syllabus:

Harvey, David, 2008. Space as a Keyword. Chapter 14 in David Harvey: A Critical Reader. Chichester, UK: Wiley. Electronically accessible here.

Cresswell, Tim, 2004. “The Genealogy of Place.” Chapter 1 in Place: A Short Introduction. Blackwell. Placed on reserve.

Additional resources you may find of intrest:

Hubbard, Phil, Rob Kitchin and Gill Valentine, eds., 2004. Key Thinkers on Space and Place. London; Thousand Okas: Sage.

Tuan, Yi-Fu, 1977. Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.


Welcome to the Space/Place Course

Welcome to the Space/Place course at York University! Please forgive the wonky website layout here — it will be fixed in the next few days.

Each week I’ll update the GEOG 3300 section to include lecture slides and handouts as well as relevant links. Check back regularly for new content.

As this is also my faculty website, you’ll see other material posted here — but you can always access GEOG 3300 information either by clicking GEOG 3300 in the ‘Categories’ menu (soon to appear on the right sidebar) or by navigating to Courses –> GEOG3300 in the tabs at the top of this website.

For now, you can click here to access the course syllabus:

GEOG 3300 syllabus 2011-2012

 You can also access information about the literary and video material we’ll explore in the first class:

Werner Herzog’s film Lessons of Darkness (1992)
Check especially the references in this well-sourced Wikipedia article.

Footage of 11 September 2001; south tower collapsing

Scene from Being John Malkovich: John enters his own portal

Mark Strand’s poem “The Next Time”

September 11, The Tower

Please also forgive the somewhat apocalyptic starting point for the course. It’s pretty much all upward from here!