Digital Orientations

Non-Media-Centric Media Studies and Non-Representational Theories of Practice

by Shaun Moores (Author)
Edited Collection XVI, 194 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface and Acknowledgements
  • Chapter 1. Non-Media-Centric Media Studies and Non-Representational Theories of Practice
  • Chapter 2. Conceptualising Place in a World of Flows
  • Chapter 3. Media Uses and Everyday Environmental Experiences: A Positive Critique of Phenomenological Geography
  • Chapter 4. That Familiarity with the World Born of Habit: On Merleau-Ponty and Everyday Media Use
  • Chapter 5. On the Environmental Experiences of Trans-European Migrants: Knowing How to Get Around (with Monika Metykova)
  • Chapter 6. We Find Our Way About: Everyday Media Use and Inhabitant Knowledge
  • Chapter 7. Non-Media-Centric Media Studies: A Cross-Generational Conversation (with Zlatan Krajina and David Morley)
  • Chapter 8. Digital Orientations: Ways of the Hand and Practical Knowing in Media Uses and Other Manual Activities
  • About the Author
  • Index
  • Series Index

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Like an earlier book of mine that was published back in 2000 (Media and Everyday Life in Modern Society), the present one is a selection of my previously published pieces, most of them appearing here in an extensively revised form, along with a newly authored introductory chapter in which I seek to advance a distinctive position. Therefore, Digital Orientations: Non-Media-Centric Media Studies and Non-Representational Theories of Practice can be viewed as a second volume of collected essays, written over a period of some 10 to 15 years. Whereas the first volume brought together research that I had carried out between the mid 1980s and the late 1990s, this book assembles a range of my academic writings produced from the beginning of the 2000s through to the middle of the current decade.

Taking a retrospective look now, across the whole 30 years and more since I started out in the field of media studies, I am able to see both continuities and shifts in my work. In some ways, then, following my initial empirical research projects, which were on the arrival of early radio and satellite television in household and neighbourhood cultures, it feels as though I have been doing much the same thing all along! This is because I find myself returning, again and again, to an interest in trying to grasp the significance of media uses, usually the uses of new media technologies, in broader circumstances of day-to-day living, and in that respect the two books of collected essays have quite ← ix | x → a lot in common. With the benefit of hindsight, I realise that I have always had a non-media-centric perspective (rather unconventional for someone in media studies), in which everyday actions and interactions are centred so that media, with their special characteristics and affordances, can be investigated in this quotidian context. In other ways, though, the present volume of collected essays is quite different from the first. This is because, over the past few years, I have become increasingly interested in and engaged with phenomenological and non-representational approaches drawn from fields or disciplines in the wider humanities and social sciences, where careful attention is paid to the bodily knowledges and environmental experiences of inhabitants and, crucially, where the primacy of practice or movement is asserted. What these approaches have increasingly led me to question are particular foundational positions in my own field, where there has been a tendency, occasionally explicit but often implicit, to make assumptions about the primacy of representation, of the cognitive and the symbolic.

If my brief opening statements here appear to be rather abstract, I want to reassure readers that I am committed to discussing the key issues in an accessible way. I want the book to be readable not only for academics but also for students in media studies and neighbouring fields, because, despite the apparent negativity of those two non- prefixes in my book’s subtitle, I am putting forward a positive case that has been developed incrementally over time, for a change of direction or at least a change of emphasis in my field. I think it would be fair to say that the existing academic literature with which I will be dealing in the pages ahead, particularly in the areas of phenomenology and non-representational theory, is not always the most immediately accessible or readable. However, given the importance of the challenges posed by this literature to traditional ways of doing media studies, my view is that these challenges deserve to be set out as straightforwardly as possible. What I hope, then, is that readers of this book will feel sufficiently engaged with my arguments and commentaries to go on and explore for themselves many of the writings that I cite, and to carry out their own non-media-centric research on the practical and experiential dimensions of day-to-day living.

In my ordering and reworking of (by cutting from and adding to) various pieces that originally appeared as separate publications, I have sought to create a coherent, unfolding narrative or storyline, and, where at all possible, a consistent style for the book as a whole.

As indicated above, Chapter 1 is newly authored for this volume, although I have been guided there in part by my notes for an opening keynote lecture, ← x | xi → ‘Arguments for a Non-Media-Centric, Non-Representational Approach to Media and Place’, which I gave at the Media and Place Conference hosted in 2014 by Leeds Metropolitan University, England. I am grateful to two of the conference organisers, Lisa Taylor and Neil Washbourne, for having invited me to deliver that keynote, providing me with an opportunity to pull together different themes in my work and to set out a statement of my current position and research trajectory. More recently, in 2016, the case that I make in my introductory chapter for non-media-centric media studies and non-representational theories of practice was aired, thanks to an invitation from Thomas Tufte, in a talk given at the New Media, Everyday Life and Social Change International Seminar at Roskilde University in Denmark.

Chapter 2 is based on a piece from which it takes its title, published in 2008 in a book that I co-edited with Andreas Hepp and others, Connectivity, Networks and Flows: Conceptualizing Contemporary Communications. I am grateful to Hampton Press for granting me permission to make use of that previously published material. Much earlier versions of the material in this chapter were research papers given in 2003 and 2004 at the London School of Economics and Political Science, England (thanks to Nick Couldry for the invitation, and also to the late Roger Silverstone for his feedback), University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’ in Italy, where I was a visiting professor in its Department of Sociology and Communication during 2003, University of Milan ‘Cattolica’, again in Italy (thanks to Chiara Giaccardi), and the University of Melbourne in Australia, where I was an associate professor in its Media and Communications Programme and Faculty of Arts during 2004 and 2005.

Chapter 3 is based on an article of the same title that was published in 2006 in Participations: Journal of Audience and Reception Studies, vol. 3, no. 2 (available at http://www.participations.org along with a lengthy response from phenomenological geographer David Seamon). I am grateful to the journal’s founding editor, Martin Barker, for confirming that I am free to draw on my article for this book. Versions of the material were used as a basis for invited talks given in 2006 and 2007 at Goldsmiths, University of London and at Newcastle University, both in England (thanks to David Morley and to Rachel Woodward). Some of the issues raised by the original article were discussed in two subsequent papers, ‘Understanding Media Uses in/as Place-Making Practices’, presented to the Centre for Research in Socio-Cultural Change Conference held in 2006 at the University of Oxford, England, and ‘Media and Senses of Place: On Situational and Phenomenological Geographies’, Media@LSE Electronic Working Paper no. 12, Department of Media ← xi | xii → and Communications, London School of Economics and Political Science, published in 2007 (available at http://www.lse.uk/collections/media@lse). The latter is the text of my inaugural professorial lecture delivered in 2007 at the University of Sunderland, England.

Chapter 4 is based on an article entitled ‘That Familiarity with the World Born of Habit: A Phenomenological Approach to the Study of Media Uses in Daily Living’, which was published in 2009 in Interactions: Studies in Communication and Culture, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 301–312. I am grateful to the publisher, Intellect, for allowing authors to make use of their own articles in later collections of their work. This piece was based, in turn, on a plenary paper given at the Transforming Audiences Conference hosted in 2009 by the University of Westminster, England, and I would also like to record my gratitude to David Gauntlett, one of the conference’s organisers, who invited me to speak at that event. In part, too, I am drawing on a subsequent paper, ‘Embodiment, Orientation and Habitation: On Merleau-Ponty and Everyday Media Use’, which, thanks to an invitation from André Jansson, was presented to the Online Territories Colloquium at Uppsala University in Sweden in 2010.

Chapter 5 is based on two articles that I co-authored with Monika Metykova, ‘“I Didn’t Realize How Attached I Am”: On the Environmental Experiences of Trans-European Migrants’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 171–189, which was published in 2010, and ‘Knowing How to Get Around: Place, Migration and Communication’, The Communication Review, vol. 12, no. 4, pp. 313–326, published in 2009. I am grateful to Monika for granting me permission to draw on our jointly produced writings, and to Sage Publications and Routledge, respectively, for allowing authors to make use of their own articles in later collections of their work. Earlier versions of the material in these articles were first used for invited research seminar papers given in 2008 and 2009 at the University of Leeds, England (thanks to David Bell), the University of Stirling, Scotland (thanks to Stephanie Marriott), and the University of Bremen, Germany, where I was a visiting professor in its Faculty of Cultural Studies during 2009, as well as for an opening plenary paper that I gave at the Media, Communication and Cultural Studies Association 2009 Annual Conference, hosted by the University of Bradford, England, and the National Media Museum. I would like to thank Mark Goodall and Ben Roberts, the main organisers of that subject association conference, for inviting me to deliver the paper.

Chapter 6 is based on an article of the same title that was published in 2015 in Mobilities, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 17–35. Again, I am grateful to Routledge ← xii | xiii → for allowing authors to make use of their own articles in later collections of their work. This piece was based, in turn, on a paper given at the Association of American Geographers 2012 Annual Meeting in New York City in the United States, where I was pleased to be able to share a platform with communication geographer Paul Adams, and a version was also presented as an invited lecture at the Dutch-language Free University of Brussels in Belgium in 2013 (thanks to Kevin Smets). The chapter draws, too, on my ‘Loose Ends: Lines, Media and Social Change’, Media Anthropology Network e-Seminar Paper no. 40, European Association of Social Anthropologists, published in 2012 (available at http://www.media-anthropology.net with a full record of the online discussion that followed, including exchanges with Nick Couldry, Sarah Pink and others on the relevance or otherwise of non-representational theories). I would like to thank media anthropologist John Postill for the invitation to contribute to that online seminar series, and also Tim Ingold, for a much appreciated private response to the piece’s critical engagement with his writings on lines, dwelling and modern living. Although I have some specific difficulties with Ingold’s work, which are detailed in the chapter, in my view he is the most eloquent current advocate of non-representational theory.

Chapter 7 was originally published in 2014 as an article of the same title, co-authored with Zlatan Krajina and David Morley, in the European Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 17, no. 6, pp. 682–700. The text is largely unchanged, apart from a few minor edits and a few inserted words such as the brief linking section which I have added at the end. I am grateful to Zlatan and Dave for granting me permission to include our jointly written piece, and, again, to Sage Publications for allowing authors to make use of their articles in later collections of their work. This article grew out of an academic panel discussion on non-media-centric media studies that was organised and chaired by Zlatan at the University of Zagreb in Croatia in 2013, in which Dave and I were the invited participants and our audience was made up predominantly of staff and students from the university’s Department of Media and Journalism and the wider Faculty of Political Science. Some of the arguments that I contributed to the discussion had been rehearsed in an invited research seminar paper given at Karlstad University in Sweden in 2012 (thanks again to André Jansson).

Chapter 8 shares its main title, ‘Digital Orientations’, with that of the book as a whole and is based on an article from which the longer chapter title is taken. The piece was published in 2014 in Mobile Media and Communication, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 196–208, and I acknowledge Sage Publications once more ← xiii | xiv → for allowing authors to make use of their own articles in later collections of their work. A first version of this material was presented as a keynote paper at the Conditions of Mediation International Communication Association Preconference held in 2013 at Birkbeck, University of London, England. I am grateful to the event’s organisers, Tim Markham and Scott Rodgers, for their invitation to what was an invigorating day of discussions about phenomenology, media and contemporary social life. For me, this was also a welcome opportunity to meet up with a former lecturer from my undergraduate days in the School of Communication at the Polytechnic of Central London, England (now the University of Westminster), a leading media phenomenologist and fellow keynote panellist, Paddy Scannell, who had been working in the United States for several years. Subsequent versions of my paper were given as invited talks in 2013 and 2014 at the Centre for Advanced Academic Studies in Dubrovnik, Croatia (thanks again to Zlatan Krajina), at the University of Antwerp, Belgium (thanks again to Kevin Smets and also to Philippe Meers), and at the University of East Anglia, England (thanks to Michael Skey). A number of the issues raised were discussed in a later paper entitled ‘The Finger’s Journey: Piano Lessons for Media Researchers’, which was an invited presentation to the Mobile Media Conference hosted by the University of Siegen in Germany in 2014. I am grateful to its principal organiser Tristan Thielmann, for inviting me to speak at that event alongside some distinguished mobilities and media researchers such as Monika Büscher, Larissa Hjorth and Christian Licoppe.

In addition, it is important for me to offer just a few further acknowledgements. One of these is addressed generally to past and present members of the University of Sunderland’s Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies (CRMCS), which was founded by my former colleague John Storey in 2000 and has been my academic home over the period in which the majority of the pieces that feed into this book were written. I feel fortunate to have been part of a strong community of academic colleagues and postgraduate students at CRMCS (particularly when the wider context was a challenging one). Indeed, following the submission that I led on behalf of CRMCS to the last national assessment of research quality in British universities (Research Excellence Framework 2014), a quarter of our work overall was judged by the subject panel to be in the top category of world-leading research and more than half of the rest was rated internationally excellent, and this was by some considerable distance the strongest result secured by any of the submissions from our university. I must give specific thanks to Julia Knight, CRMCS’s ← xiv | xv → current director, for negotiating a reduction of my teaching and marking duties during 2016 and early 2017, thereby facilitating the book’s preparation, and especially to my good colleague Barbara Sadler, who took on a number of those duties. Justin Battin and Eve Forrest also deserve a special mention as two of my successful research students at CRMCS who each worked, in their own distinctive ways, with a non-media-centric perspective and with phenomenological and non-representational approaches (Justin focusing on mobile media technologies in their everyday contexts of use, and Eve researching digital photographic practice and its associated habitual movements).

On a more personal note, I would like to express my gratitude to an old friend, Mark Hammonds. Mark and I got to know each other as long ago as 1984, when he was studying for a degree in philosophy at the London School of Economics and Political Science and I was taking my rather less prestigious course in media studies at the Polytechnic of Central London. We shared a house during our final undergraduate year, at the end of which both of us gained first-class honours. Now living back in his native North East of England, Mark has recently helped me through some difficult times and that support is much appreciated.

Last but certainly not least, I am grateful to my series editor, Steve Jones from the University of Illinois at Chicago in the United States, who has provided this book project with a good publishing home. From the outset, when I initially sent him an outline proposal, Steve has shown great interest in the project, and I can only hope that what follows will live up to his high expectations.

Hexham and Sunderland, 2017
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Why is this book called Digital Orientations?

The main title of my book is intended to be a playful (and to some extent a provocative) one, but it has a serious purpose. Let me try to explain.

Nowadays in media studies, and in broader public discourses concerning media, digital is quite a commonly used word. It is not only the first term in the title of this book but also in the name of the series, ‘Digital Formations’, in which my book follows a large number of earlier volumes, many of them featuring the word in their titles. Media studies academics and students, along with other groups ranging from lay media practitioners to professionals in the media industry, can be heard talking about digital media, by which they tend to mean those new media technologies that are associated with the development of the internet and contemporary mobile communication systems. Of course, in addition, it is important to note how, in a period of rapid technological change and media convergence, the older, more established media such as newspapers, radio and television are often available in digital forms too. Indeed, some readers of the text that I am currently writing will no doubt be accessing it via an e-book format, rather than having a printed and bound copy of the more traditional sort. ← 1 | 2 →

In part here, I am using the word digital in that now generally accepted way, and in my role as a media studies academic I obviously take an interest in the capacities and applications of various media technologies, both new and old.1 At the same time, however, I point in this book to what I call the doubly digital quality of most media today (see especially Chapter 8), partly employing that term digital in a different, less commonly articulated sense which readers will perhaps find a bit odd to begin with. This second sense of the word, for me, has to do with the seemingly mundane and insignificant observation that media technologies, including those electronic and digital media which offer virtually instantaneous communications at a distance, still tend to be operated by hand. Their uses typically involve deft, skilful movements of the human fingers or digits, hence my other, overlapping definition of digital media as manual media. Think of the hands that move at speed across a computer keyboard or the sliding and tapping of fingers on the touch-screens of contemporary smart-phones and tablets. Think also of how television viewers manipulate remote-control devices to change the channel or alter the volume, and of how readers have traditionally leafed through the pages of a book, newspaper or magazine (interestingly, the designers of some touch-screen technologies have sought to simulate this page-turning manual activity).

Why, though, am I choosing to highlight, and thereby claim significance for, such ordinary, everyday practices? Surely the field of media studies, or even the subfield of new media research, has far weightier, more important matters to consider? My answers to those questions will emerge indirectly, bit by bit, in the course of the book as a whole, but at this stage I am going to have just an initial, quick go at tackling them head on, with a view to opening up the discussion of non-media-centric media studies and non-representational theories of practice that follows in this introductory chapter.

The first thing I want to say here about the notion of the doubly digital is that it helps to resist any temptation to make new media technologies themselves, interesting as they might be, the sole or even the main focus of attention (this is the provocative or mischievous element of my case concerning the digital). My aim is for that notion to shift attention, instead, onto routine practices of media use and, further still, onto a wider range of everyday actions and interactions within which these media uses are embedded. In addition, it serves to emphasise the necessarily embodied character of media use and, more generally, of routine social activity. Contrary to the kind of claims that were frequently made, in the early days of internet use, about the disembodiment of self-presentations and social relations in cyberspace, ← 2 | 3 → my notion of the doubly digital points to bodily practices or movements as crucial for what happens online, and, broadening the argument a little, it points to the necessary interconnections between online and offline environments.2 Moving through so-called virtual worlds is typically dependent on the skilful movement of digits, as they press on keys, screens, touch-pads or mouse devices, and such movements have to be understood, too, in the context of the larger time-space rhythms of day-to-day living. Very much following on from this, the brief examples that I have given of hand and finger movement at least begin to suggest the relevance for media studies of researching forms of tacit, practical know-how in quotidian cultures (abilities that are often difficult to put into words), and of investigating the paths along which media users and others knowledgeably feel their ways, habitually yet responsively, through everyday environments of different sorts.3 Such knowing is especially interesting, in my view, because it is so intimately bound up with doing. It is a bodily knowledge in movement.

Continuing with my initial answers to those questions that I have posed myself, this feeling-a-way-along-and-through brings me to the next term which appears in my book’s main title, orientations. In the pages ahead (particularly from Chapter 4 onwards), I will be proposing that matters of orientation ought to become far more central to the concerns of media studies in the future.4 A fundamental feature of everyday environmental experience is, as social anthropologist Tim Ingold (2000, p. 219) puts it, the ability ‘to know where one is’ and ‘the way to go’, or what he calls ‘skills of orientation and wayfinding’. Of course, there may be occasional, temporary experiences of disorientation, when, say, someone feels completely lost in strange surroundings, but for the most part humans (and many other animals) move through worlds which they find to be familiar and which they know how to get around with ease. According to Ingold (2000, p. 219): ‘Ordinary life would be well-nigh impossible if we did not.’ Again, as with my observation that media technologies tend to be manually operated, readers might regard Ingold’s statements here to be rather mundane and therefore insignificant. His response to that accusation, I think, and mine too, would be that it is often the most ordinary features of everyday lives, the things that are rarely a focus of attention as people perform their routine activities, which actually turn out to be of great importance for the basic ordering and reproduction of the social. Knowing the way to go when negotiating familiar environments, or being able to apply established skills of orientation in adapting to new environmental conditions, might be understood as a key element of what sociologist Anthony Giddens ← 3 | 4 → (1984, p. xxiii) refers to as ‘practical consciousness’, which he distinguishes from ‘discursive consciousness’ and which ensures that people do not have to relearn, over and over, day after day, ‘how to “go on”’ in the daily round.5 Try to imagine how well-nigh impossible, and how utterly draining, it would be to have to do that.

To illustrate further the significance of finding ways about, I should say something briefly here concerning the link between orientation and habitation (and it is a link that I will return to at several stages later in the book). By habitation, I mean the process and experience of inhabiting a world, which certain philosophers and geographers (for example, Heidegger, 1993 [1971]; Seamon, 2015 [1979]), as well as Ingold (2000, 2011) in anthropology, have also termed ‘dwelling’.6 My argument is that skilfully moving around and negotiating environments, at different geographical scales ranging from that of a computer keyboard or smart-phone screen to that of, for instance, a complex contemporary transport system, is crucial for habitation or for constituting place by making oneself at home in everyday worlds. This is a theme that I will be exploring not just conceptually but empirically and descriptively too (see, in particular, Chapters 5 and 8).

Non-media-centric media studies: A contradiction in terms?

In my attempt, above, to explain the playfully serious main title of my book, I wrote about the importance of the notion of the doubly digital firstly in terms of its potential to shift the focus away from media themselves, so as to pay more attention to everyday social activities (including, but not limited to, routine practices of media use). My reason for wanting to re-imagine the objects of study for media studies, in this specific way, is a conviction I have that media and their uses must not be considered in isolation from a range of other quotidian technologies and activities, since their embedding in the day-to-day contributes significantly to their meaningfulness. What might this type of investigation be called, then? Following David Morley (2007, 2009; see also Moores, 2012, pp. 103–110), I want to call it a form of non-media-centric media studies (and see Chapter 7, in which Morley and I are involved in a fuller discussion of that label and its associated perspective).

I do accept that such a cumbersome name may appear to many readers, on the face of it, to be a contradiction in terms. After all, the idea of media ← 4 | 5 → studies certainly seems to suggest an academic field in which media are the central object of study, so how can media studies possibly be non-media-centric? For me, though, one of the fundamental problems with this field that I was a student in, and have subsequently taught and researched in for over 30 years now, is precisely that its emphasis has tended to be too much on media. I have been arguing openly for quite a while that it is necessary to challenge any idea ‘that media studies are simply about “studying media”’ (Moores, 2005, p. 3), insisting ‘they should not be’, and I therefore agree with Morley (2007, p. 200) when he states that ‘we need to “de-centre” the media in our analytical framework, so as to understand better the ways in which media processes and everyday life are interwoven with each other’.7

Looking back, I am able to see that my own work, from the initial, historical research that I did on broadcasting’s entry into the domestic sphere (Moores, 1988) right through to my recent writings on media uses as matters of orientation and as manual activities (see Chapters 6 and 8), has been centrally concerned with everyday lives and habits. In that work, I have always sought to de-centre media by situating media and their uses in relation to many other things and practices, from household furnishings through to the playing of musical instruments, performing handicraft tasks or going for a walk. Retrospectively, I realise that what I have been up to all along is a kind of non-media-centric media studies, even if I had not always realised that this is what I was up to whilst I was doing it and whilst I did not, at least until the last few years, have a name to give to it.

Of course, I am not claiming to be the only one in my field who has been employing a non-media-centric perspective. There are other academics in media and cultural studies whose work could also, I feel, be put into this category retrospectively. A few of them are referred to later in the book (see especially Chapter 7), and the recent work of Zlatan Krajina (2014), one of my co-authors here, can be regarded as part of a new generation of non- media-centric media studies. Still, it is Morley’s research that provides the most sustained illustration of the tradition which he goes on to name. For example, his classic study of television viewing in family contexts (Morley, 1986; see also Morley, 1992, pp. 138–158), in which he spoke at length with members of selected households in London, turned out to be far less about television than it was about social relationships in families and different meanings of home, dealing with wider issues that had to do with the gendered organisation of domestic labour and leisure, and connecting with certain feminist critical approaches (see, for instance, Hobson, 1980; Radway, 1984). In a commentary ← 5 | 6 → on this study that I offered many years ago, I asked, in a sympathetic manner, whether television viewing was in fact ‘just one of several possible ways in’ (Moores, 1993, p. 54) to the analysis of domestic power and interaction. There, I drew a number of parallels between Morley’s investigation and that carried out in the same period by sociologists Nickie Charles and Marion Kerr (1988), whose alternative way in was via food and eating habits in families but whose research findings were remarkably similar (although they appear to have been unaware of Morley’s work in media studies). I went on to argue ‘that we should welcome a blurring, or overlapping, of research on audiences with wider studies of…consumption, technology and everyday life’ (Moores, 1993, p. 54).8

Having encouraged that blurring of research interests back in the 1990s, I would now go further and propose that where it is productive to do so, and not only with regard to the domestic sphere or to acts of consumption, it is important to blur academic boundaries between media studies and a wide spread of fields or disciplines across the humanities and social sciences which have a concern with everyday things and practices. For me, this involves making connections with, in particular, elements of phenomenological philosophy and human geography as well as work from anthropology and sociology, but I fully accept that others in media studies might prefer to forge their links elsewhere. Turning again to Morley (2011), this time to his more recent writing, there is a good indication of one potential inter-field or interdisciplinary way forward for the non-media-centric perspective, because he is committed to rethinking the concept of communications by recovering an old Marxist definition of that term as the interrelated movements of information, people and commodities, by seeking an overlap with the emerging ‘new mobilities paradigm’ (Sheller & Urry, 2006) in social theory and research, and by calling for the restoration of what he refers to (see Chapter 7) as a ‘broken link’ between media studies and transport studies.

De-centring media (and reconceptualising communications), in the manner that Morley recommends, must not result in a failure to appreciate that media have their distinctive characteristics and affordances, which mark them out as different from other technologies or instruments. The activities afforded by televisions and computers are not quite the same as those facilitated by, for instance, pianos, handsaws, shoes, ovens, fridges, cars and trains. Still, if, in Morley’s words, media studies academics and students ought to be paying ‘sufficient attention to the particularities of the media…without reifying their status and thus isolating them from the…contexts in which they operate’ (Morley, 2007, p. 1), it is even more important for them to appreciate the intricate ← 6 | 7 → ways in which media use is stitched into the fabric of people’s daily routines and thoroughly entangled there. To understand the everyday meaningfulness of media, it is necessary to explore the weave of the wider quotidian fabric rather than focusing too tightly on the study of media technologies and texts.

I should add here that I am not the first academic in media studies to employ this notion of a quotidian fabric. Roger Silverstone (1994, p. 2), writing about the position of television in everyday worlds, asks: ‘How is it that such a…medium has found its way so profoundly and intimately into the fabric of our daily lives?’ Non-media-centric media studies are concerned with just such questions, also posing them in relation to many other media. Crucially, as Silverstone’s work, both individual and collaborative, implied (see, for example, Morley & Silverstone, 1990; Silverstone, 1990; Silverstone et al., 1992), providing answers involves the development of an outward-looking form of media studies, so as to link up with broader views of the day-to-day from beyond the field’s usual limits.

I can see the case that media technologies and texts have often been overlooked in the past by academics based elsewhere in the humanities and social sciences, and that media-centred media studies have evidently played a vital role in drawing attention to these things, but the general way forward for media studies that I am recommending in this book would require joining forces with others, whichever neighbouring field or discipline they may come from, who are committed to the analysis of everyday practices or movements of various types. In the context of media studies as a field, it makes sense to conceive of such a venture as non-media-centric. However, as I argue in the course of a new cross-boundary dialogue between geographers and media studies scholars, Communications/Media/Geographies (Adams et al., 2017), this might eventually lead to the formation of an interdisciplinary area with a name like ‘everyday-life studies’ (Moores, 2017).9

Non-representational theories of practice:
To de-centre representation?

Back in the opening section of this chapter, when I was addressing the main title of my book, I also argued that the idea of the doubly digital is important for me because it points to issues of bodily activity and knowledge, and I went on to relate these to matters of orientation (of habitation too). The non-representational theories of practice that I introduce in this current, lengthy ← 7 | 8 → section, some of which will be discussed at still greater length in later chapters, deal with precisely that range of concerns to do with embodiment, skilful movement through environments and dwelling or place-making. Nowadays, my own distinctive take on doing non-media-centric media studies is closely bound up with such non-representational theories or approaches.10

What is the significance, then, of this term non-representational? Given the centrality of the concept of representation in critical media studies since the 1970s, and given the influence of a broader linguistic turn across the humanities and social sciences dating from roughly the same period, how could media studies, or even everyday-life studies, possibly be carried out in such a way as to de-centre representation? My commitment to a non-representational theory of media use in day-to-day living might well appear to readers, at first sight, to be just as implausible and contradictory as the notion of non-media-centric media studies. After all, for many years it was common for undergraduate students in my academic field, somewhere near to the start of their degree courses, to be told that a central concern of media studies is with how cognitive perceptions of a world are shaped in particular ways by systems of representation (perhaps predominantly the ideological symbolic representations produced by media institutions), and with how meaning gets made in the interpretative, inter-discursive encounters between media texts and audiences.11 To be sure, and to anticipate immediate objections, I am not proposing that the field should cease to deal with language, the cognitive and the symbolic. What I am insisting, though, is that this is not the most appropriate starting point for doing media studies. Again, let me try to explain.

In the humanities and social sciences today, the notion of the non-representational is typically associated with the work of geographer Nigel Thrift (1996, 2007), who has long advocated what he calls non-representational theory, or, sometimes in the plural, non-representational theories, and also with the writings of a wider group of contemporary geographers, several of whom are former colleagues or postgraduate students of Thrift’s (see, for example, Anderson & Harrison, 2010). It is worth noting, however, that the term non-representational has been used in the discipline of philosophy too, without any reference to Thrift and his fellow non-representational theorists from geography. For instance, Warren Frisina (2002) looks to develop what he names a non-representational theory of knowledge, which draws on, among many other influences, the pragmatism of John Dewey and the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (the latter is also of considerable interest to Thrift). Charles Taylor (2006, p. 212), meanwhile, employs the ← 8 | 9 → term in discussing the phenomenological philosophy of Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, writing of the importance in everyday practice or movement of a non-representational ‘background’, and arguing that ‘what it is to act, to get around in the world…is not a matter of representations’ (see also Taylor, 2005). Rather, in his words: ‘To know one’s way about is to be…moving around, handling things…is inseparable from our actual dealings with things…is a kind of “knowing how”’ (Taylor, 2006, p. 212).

Indeed, Thrift (1999, p. 303) retrospectively claims both Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty as non-representational theorists, and one of the two related ways in which he uses that term non-representational seems to come out of the tradition of phenomenological philosophy. In this context, the word is employed by a philosopher like Taylor in explaining phenomenology’s critique of rationalism.12 For Taylor (2006, p. 204), a highly problematic element of ‘the dominant rationalist view…an outlook that has to some extent colonized the common sense of our civilization’ is its conceptualisation of ‘an agent who in perceiving the world takes in “bits” of information from his or her surroundings…in order to emerge with the “picture” of the world he or she has’, before acting ‘on the basis of this picture’. As he goes on to note, such a view of cognitive or mental representation as a basis for human action fits all too neatly with modern ideas about the mind as a sort of computer, which have entered into the popular imagination over recent years. In response to the dominant rationalist view, and in opposition to ‘computer models of the mind’ (Taylor, 2006, p. 204), phenomenology offers an alternative, non-representational theory of perception and action, which focuses on the engaged, embodied agency of moving around and handling things, in a practically knowledgeable fashion, in everyday worlds.13

From my perspective, it is Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of perception (see especially Merleau-Ponty, 2002 [1962]) that provides a particularly strong basis for critiquing rationalism, or what he preferred to call, back in the mid-20th Century, intellectualism, and I will be returning to his work on several occasions in the pages ahead (see, in particular, Chapter 4). Alongside Taylor, another contemporary philosopher who writes clearly and helpfully about Merleau-Ponty’s approach, confirming the key features of engaged agency in day-to-day living, is Taylor Carman (2008, p. 19):

Perception is not mental representation, according to Merleau-Ponty, but skilful bodily orientation and negotiation in given circumstances. To perceive is not to have inner mental states, but to know and find your way around an environment. More simply, to perceive is to have a body and to have a body is to inhabit a world. ← 9 | 10 →

In the short passage reproduced here, Carman highlights precisely those non-representational theoretical concerns which are of special interest to me in many of the chapters to follow, emphasising Merleau-Ponty’s reflections on embodiment, orientation and habitation.

In the footsteps of Merleau-Ponty (2004 [1964], p. 37), who wrote of the always ‘incarnate subject’, Thrift (2004, p. 90) contends that ‘only the smallest part of thinking is explicitly cognitive…the other thinking…lies in the body’. He adds that he is not seeking to deny the importance of cognition, which clearly is important, but rather to extend radically conceptions of what thinking might be, just as Merleau-Ponty (2002 [1962], pp. 165–167) sought to extend radically established notions of knowledge, comprehension or understanding, by writing of a ‘knowledge in the hands’ that is caught up with ‘bodily effort’ and by claiming more generally that ‘it is the body which…“comprehends” movement…the body which “understands” in the acquisition of habit’. This apparently absurd phrase of Merleau-Ponty’s, knowledge in the hands, which emerges from his reflections on the practice of typing, fits closely with that definition I offered earlier of doubly digital media as, in part, skilfully operated manual media, and it is to be a recurring theme of my book.

A second, overlapping way in which Thrift initially used the term non-representational came out of his critique of, or frustration with, a certain kind of then-new cultural geography that was flourishing by the 1980s and 1990s, broadly in parallel with the sort of media studies that I now have my doubts about. The frustration he felt was as a result of that geographical work focusing too much, at least in his view, on issues of language, signification and textuality, and this was seen by Thrift (1996, p. 1) to be at the expense of attending adequately to what he refers to as the sensuousness of practice.14

Ben Anderson (2009, p. 503), who is part of a younger generation of non-representational theorists in the discipline of geography, explains fairly straightforwardly in the following passage just what was at stake in the move beyond the ‘“new” cultural geography’ of that time, and in doing so he manages to highlight the overlap between Thrift’s two working definitions of the non-representational:

Non-representational theory affirms an imperative to expand the foci of ‘new’ cultural geography beyond either…a sphere of representation or a human subject who relates to the world by representing aspects of the world through…interpretation…. Each mirrors the other in that they both assume that the primary relation between…subject and…world is at the level of signification. In contrast, non-representational ← 10 | 11 → theories are theories of practice in that their focus is on what humans and/or non-humans do, and how the reproduction and revision of practices underpin…meaning.

In the context of this particular debate within geography, Hayden Lorimer (2005, p. 84), who also shares Thrift’s interests in ‘everyday routines…embodied movements…practical skills…sensuous dispositions’ and so on, proposes adopting the term ‘more-than-representational’ rather than non-representational, fearing that the non- prefix may have ‘proven an unfortunate hindrance’, as a source of misunderstandings in discussions with less sympathetic fellow geographers. I imagine that the non- prefix might be a source of confusion, too, for academics and students in media studies, at least some of whom are likely to worry that a form of non- or even more-than-representational media studies would mark a departure from concerns with media texts and narratives (I will be seeking to address such worries shortly).

Overall, to sum up the contents of this section so far, the intervention that Thrift makes with his notion of the non-representational is to call into question the centrality of representations to life, whether that is the assumed centrality of mental picturing or, as claimed by many of those academics who took the linguistic turn, of sign-systems and texts. The approach that he is advocating, then, might best be thought of as both anti-rationalist and anti-structuralist.15 On each of these counts, I am fully in agreement with Thrift that such a de- centring of representation is necessary in the humanities and social sciences (although I do sometimes feel that he could argue the case more accessibly). This is why I am committed to the development of media studies that are, in the ways suggested above, non-representational as well as non-media-centric in their theoretical or methodological orientations, especially since so much work in my academic field, even that which has paid serious attention to audience interpretations (see the opening pages of Chapter 4), has typically begun with the problematic assumption that it is only through language or systems of representation that worlds can be made to mean.16

Whilst Ingold (2015a), whose remarks on skills of orientation and on dwelling or habitation were mentioned earlier in the chapter (and whose name will reappear in Chapters 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8), has only very recently identified himself explicitly with the project of non-representational theory, he had previously made arguments about representation that are strikingly similar to those advanced by Thrift in geography.17 Ingold’s anthropology has its sights trained on much the same type of targets, and when writing of representation he approaches that word, as Thrift does, in different but interrelated ways. ← 11 | 12 →

On the one hand, Ingold (2011, p. 77), again in the footsteps of Merleau-Ponty, contests the dominant rationalist or intellectualist view that action has to be ‘preceded by’ mental representation, or that there can be ‘no action without forethought’. Equally, on the other hand, he is critical of the many social and cultural anthropologists who have assumed that humans must necessarily relate to their environments via ‘systems of significant symbols’ (Ingold, 2011, p. 76), a phrase lifted quite deliberately from the work of Clifford Geertz (1973, p. 46), or that ‘the raw material of experience’ (Ingold, 2000, p. 160) has to be given shape by these representational systems before it becomes meaningful. Ingold is clearly taking issue here with any assumption of the primacy of language or the symbolic. Of course, as I have already suggested, the anthropological view that Ingold criticises is rather similar to the one offered by those cultural geographers whose work frustrated Thrift, or by those in media studies who have assumed that worlds only come to mean once they have been refracted through the prism of representation (and who have therefore tended to be suspicious of the category of lived experience).18

So, if I am in agreement with Thrift and Ingold that a de-centring of representation is required, to go alongside the de-centring of media which was proposed earlier, what do these non-representational theorists from the disciplines of geography and anthropology suggest should be centred instead? In keeping with the emphasis on everyday lives that I have favoured throughout my academic career, Thrift (1999, p. 308) points to ‘the primacy of practice’ and Ingold (2011, p. 12) to ‘the primacy of movement’.19 Both are still interested in meaning, but regard it as emerging out of habitual practices or movements, or out of what Taylor (2006, p. 212) chooses to call ‘our actual dealings with things’ while ‘moving around’ environments, rather than simply being imposed upon action and experience via sign-systems. Crucially, Ingold (2011, p. 77) writes of a potential for meanings to be made ‘in the absence of symbolic representation’, which reminds me of Merleau-Ponty’s claim, many years before, to have ‘discovered through the study of motility…a new meaning of the word “meaning”’ (Merleau-Ponty, 2002 [1962], p. 170). Motility is a term that this phenomenological philosopher employs when referring to skilful bodily movement, and he regards body-world relations, which are incorporations, as meaningful in themselves prior to reflection and symbolisation. An example of this sort of meaningfulness would be what some phenomenological geographers, writing back in the 1970s (see, for discussion, Chapter 3), have called senses of place and ‘at-homeness’ (Seamon, 2015 [1979], p. 70). ← 12 | 13 → These are constituted precisely through routine practices of the body and through everyday ‘environmental experience’ (Tuan, 1977, p. v; and see especially Seamon, 2015 [1979]).20

Attending to meanings made in the absence of symbolic representation, as Ingold puts it, does involve a departure from ‘textualist’ (Thrift, 1999, p. 302) perspectives in cultural analysis, but it need not prevent the study of media texts and their uses as threads in what I described above as the weave of a wider quotidian fabric. Non- or more-than-representational theories are certainly not designed to rule out the study of, for instance, utterances, sounds, images and writings, or listening, viewing and reading. Far from it. What they do insist on, however, is an approach which understands these things ‘to be in and of the world of embodied practice and performance’ (Wylie, 2007, p. 164), so as to challenge any lingering ideas (inherited from structuralism and semiotics) about linguistic or representational systems that are somehow ‘anterior to, and determinative of, that world’.

Although there are probably very few media studies scholars who would still identify themselves directly with the structuralist tradition, I argue (see Chapter 7) that ‘one of the main difficulties facing media studies today is the field’s inability to leave behind entirely some of its early structuralist influences’. In my view, then, it is principally because of this inheritance that the field of media studies has hung on for so long to its own, now largely implicit, assumption of the primacy of representation. I favour those alternative approaches to language and text in media and communication studies, and in the humanities and social sciences more generally, which involve putting an emphasis on talk as a practice or a doing, on talk-in-interaction and genres of speech performance, in relation to other kinds of everyday action and interaction.21

One possible and potentially promising way forward for non-representational approaches to studying media texts and narratives, as they are embedded in or stitched into the day-to-day, is suggested by Ingold’s ‘idea that life is lived along lines’ (Ingold, 2011, p. 4). In his writings on lines (see, most obviously, Ingold, 2007, 2015b), one of the many interesting things that he does is to draw a comparison between what he thinks of as lines of movement on foot and the lines of moving through stories (of walking and of storytelling or reading). This is a little bit like the link that I was making earlier in the chapter, when discussing my notion of the doubly digital, between the movements of hands and fingers or digits on keyboards, touch-screens and so on, and movements through media environments or worlds. Ingold (2007, p. 91) proposes, ← 13 | 14 → then, that reading can be understood as treading ‘a trail through the text’, a path or line along which readers might know as they go, and he therefore conceptualises narratives as inhabited landscapes of a sort (I should add here that his is not a view of landscape-as-text, as in textualist cultural geography, but rather of text-as-landscape). Readers may acquire an inhabitant knowledge (see Chapter 6, for a fuller account of that key concept of Ingold’s). Such knowing-while-going, like that of the walker, ‘grows along the paths they tread’ (Ingold, 2015b, p. 47).22 Of course, in the spirit of non-media-centric media studies or everyday-life studies, it is also crucial for such a take on narrative and reading practices to be set in the broader context of what Ingold (2007, p. xi) calls a ‘comparative anthropology of the line’, precisely so that life’s multiple threads of knowledge-in-movement and of place-making might be seen to form a meshwork of entanglements (see also Hodder, 2012; Pink, 2012).23

Finally in this section, to bring my preliminary discussion of phenomenological and non-representational approaches to a close, I want to pose myself a couple of further questions, and, as before, to have a go at answering them directly here. If an admirable feature of what Thrift refers to as textualist perspectives in cultural analysis is that they are typically committed to the politics of representation and identity (and this would certainly apply to much work done within the critical paradigm of media studies since the 1970s), what are the political implications of a turn to concerns with embodiment, orientation and habitation, and of asserting the primacy of practice or movement? In short, what about the politics of all this?

I suspect that some of my peers in the field of media studies, if they have got this far into the introductory chapter, are likely to have answered these questions for themselves by now, regarding my interest in media uses as manual activities to be a retreat from any critical, political commitment. After all, a consideration of hand and finger movement (or even my wider interest in the embodied nature of routine social activity, in finding ways about and in making oneself at home) is at something of a distance from asking about, say, matters of signification, ideology and hegemony, or from the ‘political economy’ of communication (see, for example, Mosco, 2009). Nevertheless, I want to insist that engaging with non-representational theories of practice does not, and should not, necessarily lead to a rejection of concerns with difference, inequality and power.

It has to be admitted (indeed, I do admit this, notably in Chapter 3) that one of the limitations of phenomenology, despite its admirable commitment to dealing with the detail of daily routines and skilful, improvised conduct, is ← 14 | 15 → a tendency towards universalism and a corresponding difficulty in accounting adequately for social differences. For instance, in phenomenological philosophy, Merleau-Ponty tends to talk of the body in the singular, rather than of a plurality of habituated bodies (see Grosz, 1994), for which he has been interrogated by feminist and queer theorists such as Iris Marion Young (2005 [1980]) and Sara Ahmed (2006), who emphasise the gendered aspects of embodiment and motility or seek to develop a phenomenology of sexual orientations. Similarly, in phenomenological geography, habitation processes and place-making practices are sometimes conceptualised in the broadest possible terms, as when David Seamon (1980, p. 148) writes of the ‘essential nature of…dwelling on earth’. Even in contemporary non-representational theory, assertions of the primacy of practice or movement tend not to be related closely enough to an investigation of practices or movements in their social and historical specificity. It is for this reason that I am persuaded by Pierre Bourdieu’s call for the need ‘to sociologize…phenomenological analysis’ (see Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992, p. 73).

There are several features of Bourdieu’s social theory of practice (see especially Bourdieu, 1977, 1990, 2000) that have a phenomenological or non- representational ring to them. Like Merleau-Ponty, his compatriot from an earlier academic generation, Bourdieu was deeply suspicious of intellectualism and, without neglecting the cognitive and symbolic dimensions of life (see, for example, Bourdieu, 1991), was concerned with people’s bodily orientations in their everyday environments. Writing of bodily or corporeal knowledge, he declares his interest in forms of ‘practical understanding…a practical comprehension of the world quite different from the…decoding that is normally designated by the idea of comprehension’ (Bourdieu, 2000, pp. 135–136).24 The concept of habitus, to which he returns again and again in his work, names a set of acquired, embodied dispositions that are both durable and adaptable or generative. This ‘habitus’ (Bourdieu, 2000, pp. 143–144) is a ‘practical…intentionality…a way of bearing the body’ in given circumstances. Where Bourdieu’s social theory goes beyond Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy, though, is in conceptualising these dispositions as ‘marks of social position’ (Bourdieu, 1977, p. 82), so that the strong feelings of familiarity and attachment which a human geographer like Seamon calls at-homeness can be seen as a tight fit between the habitus and a socially and historically specific habitat.25

It is crucial to add here that Bourdieu is not simply offering a theory of the determination of action and subjectivity by an objective social structure. He rejects such a ‘social physics’ (see Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992, pp. 7–9), just as he also rejects what he refers to as an ‘unreconstructed phenomenology’. ← 15 | 16 → However, he does still want to be able to talk, quite rightly, about the formation and reproduction of particular types of class habitus or about gendered habits of bodily comportment. A sociological term like class is very rarely used by contemporary non-representational theorists such as Thrift and Ingold, presumably because that term would be regarded as a problematic objective category, and yet Bourdieu’s theory of practice helps to explain how the divisions and relations of social class are of course inseparable from bodily movements, incarnate subjects and inter-corporeal or human-thing interactions (in a manner that is similar in certain respects to Giddens’ view of social structure and action as a duality). In the spirit of Bourdieu’s writings, or of Elizabeth Grosz’s notion of ‘corporeal feminism’ (Grosz, 1994), I am suggesting that something to be considered for the future, as ways of conducting non- media-centric, non-representational media studies are developed further, is what the politics of orientation (and habitation) might look like.26

Let me give just one indication of how what I am calling the politics of orientation and habitation could be relevant for a non-representational approach to the study of media uses. I referred above to Ingold’s linking of lines of movement on foot with the lines of moving through stories, and his proposal that reading can be understood as treading a trail through the text, along which readers might know as they go and thereby inhabit a narrative. Whilst I find this proposal very interesting, work still remains to be done on precisely who knows what as they go where, and on who feels at ease or uneasy when moving through which particular media worlds. Ingold’s view that skills of orientation and wayfinding are a fundamental feature of everyday lives is surely right, but it is necessary to try to extend his arguments about life lived along lines and about habitation as ‘lineal’ (Ingold, 2011, p. 149) by investigating the socially differentiated experiences of travelling and dwelling.

A brief link to the next chapter

In what I have written in the three sections above, there are already several pointers forward to what follows in the later chapters of my book, and for that reason it would not be productive at this stage for me to provide a preview of each of the pieces still to come, as often happens in the introduction to a volume of this kind. However, one of those pieces ahead (Chapter 2) has yet to be mentioned in this introductory chapter. As a brief link to the next chapter, then, I want to offer a few words about it here (and, to aid continuity ← 16 | 17 → throughout the book, I will also offer brief links onwards at the end of subsequent chapters).

It is fitting that the first of the essays included in this collection, in an extensively revised form, is ‘Conceptualising Place in a World of Flows’, because, in retrospect, it marks the start of some important shifts in my work. When I originally drafted that material, I was just beginning to develop my interdisciplinary interests in movement and dwelling, and also beginning to discover phenomenological analysis as a potentially valuable and distinctive take on doing non-media-centric media studies. The move towards phenomenology is made mainly near to the end of the essay, via my engagement with a pioneering book by media theorist and historian Paddy Scannell (1996), whose account of broadcasting in modern living draws on elements of Heidegger’s philosophy (and see Scannell, 2014). A key interest of Scannell’s is in how the uses of radio and television have contributed to what he regards as ‘new possibilities of being’ (Scannell, 1996, p. 91) or ‘ways of being in the world’ (Scannell, 1996, p. 173) for listeners and viewers.

So Chapter 2 involves an exploration of Scannell’s idea that broadcasting facilitates an instantaneous ‘doubling of place’ (Scannell, 1996, p. 172; and see Moores, 2004), but I will consider the work of a number of other academic authors too (most notably, Manuel Castells, John Urry, Doreen Massey and Joshua Meyrowitz), all of whom have things to say about the conceptualisation of place in relation to the flows or mobilities that characterise globalising processes. Indeed, my discussion in the next chapter connects with something I was saying earlier in the current one, about Morley’s reconceptualising of communications (Morley, 2011) and his call to repair the break between media and transport studies, since the mix of electronically mediated information flows with the movements of people and commodities is a crucial theme for me there.


1. It is always helpful to remember that, as Carolyn Marvin (1988, p. 3) puts it: ‘New technologies is a historically relative term.’ In the words of the title of her classic study, there was a time when old technologies were new. Indeed, the first empirical research that I did was concerned with the significance of early radio as a new media technology in everyday lives during the 1920s and 1930s (Moores, 1988).

2. For me, a key turning point in internet research was the ethnographic study presented by Daniel Miller and Don Slater (2000). In the opening chapter of their book, they distance their work from what they call an ‘earlier generation of internet writing that was ← 17 | 18 → concerned with the internet primarily through such notions as “cyberspace” or “virtuality”’ (Miller & Slater, 2000, p. 4). Their preference, then, is to approach online spaces ‘as continuous with and embedded in other social spaces…as part of everyday life, not apart from it’ (Miller & Slater, 2000, pp. 5–7; and see Wellman & Haythornthwaite, 2002). For example, in their study of internet use in Trinidad, they show how the same style of informal talk can be found across online and offline environments, with some discussions moving between the internet and, say, school or street settings. Christine Hine (2015) offers a recent retrospective commentary on that ground-breaking ethnography done by Miller and Slater, in the context of her important account of the internet as ‘embedded’ and ‘everyday’ but also as ‘embodied’.

3. The concept of tacit knowledge is most closely associated with the work of philosopher Michael Polanyi (2009 [1966], 2015 [1958]). He sought to ‘reconsider human knowledge by starting from the fact that we know more than we can tell’ (Polanyi, 2009 [1966], p. 4). As will become evident later in my discussion, his concerns with tacit knowing in ‘skilful performance’ (Polanyi, 2015 [1958], p. 49) are in some ways similar to those of phenomenological philosophers such as Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and, although Polanyi’s philosophy is not in the phenomenological tradition, it is worth noting that he did share with Merleau-Ponty certain interests in psychological theory. Sociologist of science Harry Collins (2010) provides a contemporary engagement with and extension of Polanyi’s work that includes comparisons with phenomenology. There, Collins (2010, p. 11) refers to embodied, practical know-how as ‘somatic tacit knowledge’.

4. I realise that with the development of the internet it became common, for new media researchers and ordinary users alike, to speak of navigation (of navigating cyberspace). However, there are key differences between the concepts of orientation and navigation, and the notion of navigating spaces is too closely caught up with traditional modes of cartographic representation and with the problematic idea of cognitive maps (see Ingold, 2000, pp. 219–242). One of the few academic authors in media studies for whom matters of bodily orientation have been important is Vivian Sobchack (2004), although much of her writing is on cinema and film experience. I should add that I have been reading with interest a recently published book in this ‘Digital Formations’ series, written by communication researcher John McArthur (2016), which is on the subject of digital ‘proxemics’ and has some highly promising chapter titles such as ‘Bodies in Motion’ and ‘Finding Our Way’. He and I are clearly working on similar themes, then, and I welcome this overlap. Still, McArthur’s theoretical starting points are rather different to those of my own book (for instance, he makes no reference to phenomenological approaches) and he is operating with what seems at times to be quite a limited conception of orientation. For example, at one point he defines orientation simply as the ‘direction a person is facing’ (McArthur, 2016, p. 96).

5. Geographer Nigel Thrift (2004, p. 81), in one of his several attempts at outlining non-representational theory, refers to such knowing-how-to-go-on as ‘the everyday skills that get us by’, and, interestingly, among the influences on Thrift’s geographical work has been Anthony Giddens’ social theory of ‘structuration’ (Giddens, 1979, 1981, 1984; and see, on structuration, Moores, 2005).

6. One of the things that Tim Ingold is known for in the discipline of anthropology is his development of a phenomenologically inspired dwelling perspective, which I will be ← 18 | 19 → discussing in Chapter 6, yet over the past few years he has voiced his doubts about that concept of dwelling. For example, he writes of the term that it can have an unfortunate ‘aura of snug, well-wrapped localism’ (Ingold, 2011, p. 12), and goes on to say that: ‘I rather regret having placed so much weight on it, and now prefer the less loaded concept of habitation.’ Whilst I certainly welcome Ingold’s notion of processes of habitation, it is not necessary, in my view, to ditch the concept of dwelling, as long as it is always understood in relation to orientation and movement.

7. Indeed, David Morley (2007, p. 228) refers specifically there to my book Media/Theory: Thinking about Media and Communications (Moores, 2005), which was published in the ‘Comedia’ series that he edits, as ‘an interesting attempt to develop a non-media-centric theory’ for media studies.

8. See the book that I co-edited at around this time with feminist sociologist Stevi Jackson, The Politics of Domestic Consumption: Critical Readings (Jackson & Moores, 1995), for a collection that brings together research on household social relations done by Morley, Nickie Charles and Marion Kerr, Christine Delphy, Ann Gray, Dorothy Hobson, Janice Radway and many more academic authors from media and cultural studies, sociology and other fields or disciplines.

9. Although the specific field name of everyday-life studies does not yet exist, at least as an established institutional category in the university system, there is now a considerable amount of literature across the humanities and social sciences on the subject of the everyday, from classic publications (for example, de Certeau, 1984; Goffman, 1990 [1959]; Lefebvre, 1984 [1971]) through to the many more recent, book-length discussions in this area, which could potentially form the basis for a whole interdisciplinary teaching and research programme. Rather than making a long list of those references here, I will simply point at this stage to two of my favourite books on the everyday and the ordinary over recent years (which are Ehn & Löfgren, 2010; Highmore, 2011). One of the things I particularly like about these studies is the shared commitment they have to an exploration of, as Ben Highmore (2011, p. 3) poses it: ‘What’s going on when nothing much is happening?’ (or, more precisely, when it appears that nothing much is happening, because actually the answer is quite a lot).

10. I think it becomes clear, towards the end of the discussion in Chapter 7, that my turn to non-representational theories of practice is what now distinguishes my non-media-centric media studies from Morley’s. He undoubtedly has a serious interest in several of the issues that are dealt with by these approaches, but I sense his reluctance to travel quite so far down a phenomenological or non-representational route as I have gone over recent years.

11. For many years, of course, I told students something along these lines myself, and by far the most eloquent exponent of that concern was Stuart Hall. Although I have great respect and admiration for him as a teacher and theorist in critical media and cultural studies, and whilst I was proud to be invited to work as a consultant author for the UK’s Open University (OU) on a course that he chaired (see Moores, 1997), it is now my view that Hall’s take on media tended to put too much emphasis on the cognitive and the symbolic, dating back to his seminal paper on the ‘encoding’ and ‘decoding’ of television discourse (Hall, 1973). A good illustration of this emphasis is an introductory, video-recorded lecture of his on representation and the media, which is available from the Media Education ← 19 | 20 → Foundation (see www.mediaed.org). There, he says, for instance, that ‘to become a cultured subject rather than a biological individual, rather than just a blob of genetic material, is…to internalise…the grid of one’s culture…a system of representation’, and he proceeds to speak of such an internalisation as constitutive of ‘the conceptual maps in our heads which allow us to come to a sense of what is going on in the world’, claiming confidently that ‘nothing meaningful exists outside of discourse’. What Hall offers, then, is effectively an assertion of the primacy of language or representation, in which there is a clear divide between culture (understood in representational terms) and biology or materiality, in which the body is, in his words, just a blob (to be invested with meanings or constructed as meaningful through discourse), and in which subjectivity and meaning only become possible via symbolic representations. It is true that elsewhere (Hall, 1997, pp. 2–3) he does seek to qualify this view to some extent, by admitting that subjectivities must be more than representational systems internalised ‘in the head’ because they involve ‘feelings, attachments and emotions’, and by acknowledging, too, that an ‘emphasis on cultural practices is important’, and yet he still conceptualises feeling and bodily ‘expression’ as things to be ‘read’, and what he thinks of as ‘cultural practices’ are the signifying practices of representation and interpretation. I get no sense in his writing of bodies-moving-responsively-through-environments as the potential generators of a meaningfulness that exceeds representation. Let me add one further observation here to what is already an exceptionally, but necessarily, long footnote. Thrift (1997) was another of the consultant authors who wrote for the OU course that I mentioned, on culture, media and identities, which Hall chaired and I contributed to, and for which Morley was the external assessor. Indeed, Thrift’s is the chapter that precedes mine in the course volume on consumption and everyday life, and Hall (1997, pp. 5–7) clearly realised the main differences between his own take and Thrift’s, since he compares the ‘social constructionist approach’ of critical media and cultural studies with what he refers to as a more ‘performative approach to meaning’ found in that volume (see also Finnegan, 1997).

12. Alongside Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, Charles Taylor (2006, p. 202) includes Ludwig Wittgenstein on ‘that small list of 20th-century philosophers who have helped us emerge…from the grip of modern rationalism’, and Wittgenstein’s later philosophical investigations (together with phenomenology and other approaches such as ethnomethodology and science and technology studies) have had a significant influence on practice theory (see especially Schatzki, 1996; Schatzki et al., 2001). In an interview, Thrift (see Thrift et al., 2010, p. 184) refers to much of his own early work on the notion of the non-representational as ‘what would now be regarded as “practice theory”’, and in media anthropology (Bräuchler & Postill, 2010) practice theory has helpfully been applied in reflections on media use in day-to-day living. Interestingly, given my remarks above on media and food in domestic contexts, the application of practice theory is evident, too, in the sociological analysis of eating (Warde, 2016).

13. Like Taylor, Heideggerian scholar Hubert Dreyfus (1991, 2014) has long been opposed to computer models of the mind and has discussed this engaged, embodied agency in terms of what he calls skilful ‘coping’ (see also Dreyfus & Taylor, 2015).

14. See geographer John Wylie’s book on landscape (Wylie, 2007) for a valuable comparison between, say, cultural analyses of landscape-as-text and the landscape phenomenologies ← 20 | 21 → that are associated with a non-representational approach. Summarising the circumstances of Thrift’s critique of then-new cultural geography, Wylie (2007, p. 163) writes of Thrift being confronted by ‘a situation in which everyday life, embodied experience and practice…were considered as the secondary effects or outworkings of a more primary realm of cultural discourse’.

15. A number of the contributors to the collection on non-representational theories and geography edited by Ben Anderson and Paul Harrison (2010) identify themselves as post-structuralists, and yet my preference is for this term anti-structuralist, because it helps to indicate more directly a break from structuralism. By structuralism, I mean, of course, that tradition of analysis which emerged out of Ferdinand de Saussure’s structural linguistics and his call for a science of signs to be named semiology, more often referred to subsequently as semiotics. To be anti-structuralist, then, is to reject Saussurean perspectives on language and culture, from which there is a problematic tendency to downplay the importance of historical process, of utterance or of social action and interaction in context, and from which semioticians have tended to focus on the notion of representational systems. To avoid any possible confusion, I also need to point out that in labelling myself an anti-structuralist I am not wanting to rule out talk of social structures, including the micro-social structures of talk-in-interaction (see, for example, Sacks, 1995), although, in the spirit of Giddens’ theory of structuration, I would have to insist that all structural, institutional qualities to the social must be understood in relation to practices and their recursive ordering. As Giddens (see Giddens & Pierson, 1998, p. 77) puts it, ‘society only has form and that form only has effects on people in so far as structure is produced and reproduced in what people do’ (and it is worth noting that his concern with ‘what people do’ is broadly shared by Thrift and other non-representational theorists today).

16. Dreyfus and Taylor (2015, pp. 2–3; see also Taylor, 2013) point out that such ‘only through’ claims have a very long history in philosophy. In response to these claims, they propose what they term ‘contact theory’ (see Dreyfus & Taylor, 2015, pp. 71–90), or what Taylor (2013, p. 74) has also referred to as ‘immersion’ theory, which draws principally on Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty in acknowledging the meaningfulness of ‘preconceptual engagement’ with inhabited environments (or of what those phenomenological philosophers called ‘being-in-the-world’).

17. Indeed, in an essay that advances a non-representational approach to the ‘ecology of place’, Thrift (1999, pp. 308–309) quotes at some length passages from one of Ingold’s discussions of dwelling (Ingold, 1995). In the intervening years, too, Ingold (2004, 2014) has accepted invitations to contribute to books which Thrift co-edited, and so, from their respective disciplinary bases, the two of them have clearly been aware of each other’s developing work.

18. It should be remembered, though, that in addition to structuralism and semiotics there was another strand of work that became known as culturalism (Hall, 1986, 2016), which influenced, while not strongly enough in my view, the formation of critical media and cultural studies. This left-culturalist tradition, which developed partly into a ‘cultural materialism’ (see, for example, Milner, 1993; Williams, 1977, 1980), is associated in particular with the work of writers such as literary and cultural theorist Raymond Williams and social historian Edward Thompson, who certainly took seriously matters of feeling or experience ← 21 | 22 → (see Pickering, 1997). Thrift (see Thrift et al., 2010, pp. 184–185) refers specifically, and perhaps surprisingly for some, to writings by Thompson (1978, 1993 [1967]) as being especially important for him near to the start of his academic career. Thompson’s historical analysis of the organisation of time in industrial capitalism has continued to be a source of critical engagement for Thrift (Glennie & Thrift, 2009), but it was seemingly Thompson’s fierce, uncompromising attack on Louis Althusser’s structuralist-inflected Marxism that helped to put Thrift on the road to a non-representational approach.

19. Thrift and Ingold are not the only theorists to have pointed to these particular primacies. Margaret Archer (2000, pp. 121–153), whose realist social theory draws on Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of perception, also asserts the primacy of practice. Interestingly, she includes a discussion there of Merleau-Ponty’s approach to language and speech, and especially his ‘insistence upon speech as a practical activity’ (Archer, 2000, p. 135), so that language acquisition is seen not as ‘intellectual mastery of linguistic principles’ but rather as ‘of a piece with acquiring other kinds of practical conduct through habit’. In addition, philosopher (and former dancer and choreographer) Maxine Sheets-Johnstone (2011) writes at length on the primacy of movement (see also Sheets-Johnstone, 2009).

20. I get a bit irritated with contemporary non-representational theorists in geography for their failure to acknowledge, as fully as they might, this earlier strand of geographical work. Within that discipline, what is usually known as humanistic geography now tends to be treated as little more than a chapter in the discipline’s history. For example, Thrift, in his main outlines of non-representational theory, does not cite David Seamon’s geography of ‘the lifeworld’ (Seamon, 2015 [1979]), with its insights into embodiment, movement and dwelling. Indeed, later geographical work on body, sense and place (Rodaway, 1994), which was influenced by phenomenological geography, is not given the credit that I believe it deserves in the writings of the non-representational geographers. They would presumably respond by arguing that their approach can be differentiated in significant ways from the earlier perspective, claiming that, say, a concern with affect, and more specifically with ‘affective spaces’ (McCormack, 2013) or affective atmospheres (Anderson, 2014), is not equivalent to previous interests in emotions, feelings or moods. In my view, however, the gap between phenomenological geography and today’s non-representational theories is actually not so great, and there does seem to be a case here of intra-disciplinary boundary marking.

21. In media studies, Paddy Scannell’s edited collection on broadcast talk (Scannell, 1991a), including his important introduction to that book, which focuses on what he calls the relevance of talk (Scannell, 1991b), was an early pointer in this direction. Very much in keeping with what I have described as the anti-structuralist tendency of non-representational theories, he reflects on his academic field at that time and complains of how ‘the encoding-decoding model of communication and a model of language based on Saussure…make it well-nigh impossible to discover talk as an object of study in relation to broadcasting’ (Scannell, 1991b, p. 10). One of the several alternatives suggested by his introductory essay, precisely with a view to discovering talk as an object of study for media studies, is Erving Goffman’s sociology of interaction and, in particular, this sociologist’s conceptualisation of face and ‘face-work’ (Goffman, 1967; see also Brown & Levinson, 1987, on politeness). Taking up Scannell’s suggestion, Karen Atkinson and I (Atkinson & Moores, 2003) have ← 22 | 23 → explored participants’ attention to ‘face’ in the ‘troubles-talk’ on a radio phone-in programme, as one element of what I have called elsewhere (referring to Goffman, 1983) a technologically mediated ‘interaction order’ (Moores, 1999). Also among those who came to sympathise with Scannell’s critique of structuralist influences and his interest in the analysis of broadcast talk is a former doctoral student of mine and Andrew Tolson’s, Helen Wood (2007a, 2007b, 2009; see also Tolson, 1991, 2001, 2006), in her detailed empirical research on women’s relationships with talk shows on daytime television. I should add that in the discipline of sociology Archer (2003, 2007), whose phenomenological (Merleau-Pontyan) take on speech as practical activity or conduct was mentioned above, has written of a kind of ongoing ‘conversation’ or dialogue with oneself, which plays some part in finding a ‘way through the world’. This provides a link back to Giddens’ social theory, too, as his writings on ‘modernity’ (Giddens, 1990, 1991; see also Moores, 1995, 2005) have much to say about reflexivity in relation to the routine practices of day-to-day living.

22. Ingold’s observation that readers, like walkers, know as they go along reminds me of a particular aspect of literary critic Wolfgang Iser’s phenomenology of reading (see Iser, 1978). Iser (1978, p. 16) refers to the reader of fiction as a traveller ‘who has to…journey through the novel’, who has a ‘moving viewpoint’ and never ‘a total view of that journey’. Indeed, in her subsequent commentary on Iser’s theory of literary reception, Elizabeth Freund (1987, pp. 134–151) writes helpfully of a ‘peripatetic reader’, emphasising that link between reading and travelling.

23. Sarah Pink (2012; see also Pink & Leder Mackley, 2013) is a social researcher whose writings on the everyday are of considerable interest to me because they touch on matters of media use and draw to an extent on Ingold’s ideas about lines and meshwork. I will be referring to some of her notes on digital media use at the end of my book (at the close of Chapter 8). For now, though, I want to say a little about archaeologist Ian Hodder’s work because, alongside Ingold, Hodder (2012) has established himself as a contemporary thinker on entanglement with his recent book on ‘the relationships between humans and things’. As I understand the arguments put there, he contends that while social theories of materiality and material culture, including those which have been influenced by phenomenological philosophy, seek to take things seriously (in terms of their meaningfulness in the context of human activities), such theories have remained too human-centred and have therefore paid insufficient attention to the force and ‘object nature’ (Hodder, 2012, p. 39) of things themselves. In this regard, his approach overlaps with Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory in sociology (see Hodder, 2012, pp. 91–94) and perhaps even with the object-oriented philosophy developed by Graham Harman. Harman’s work (see, for example, Harman, 2002), which takes an unconventional route out of Heidegger, is for me a particularly hard-going read, but I would recommend Ingold’s critical engagement with object-oriented ontology (Ingold, 2015b, p. 16), and also his entertaining discussion of actor-network theory (Ingold, 2011, pp. 89–94).

24. Pierre Bourdieu’s use of the word decoding is telling in this context because, of course, as I noted earlier it was a key term in Hall’s conceptual vocabulary and, more generally, in critical media studies. Bourdieu clearly regards that practical understanding or comprehension as something more than interpretation. In the final chapter of my first book, Interpreting Audiences: The Ethnography of Media Consumption (Moores, 1993), I discussed ← 23 | 24 → Bourdieu’s sociology of taste and cultural distinctions (Bourdieu, 1984), but, like others in media and cultural studies during that period, I was still struggling to integrate it into areas of study that had been shaped largely by the influences of structuralism and semiotics, and I was therefore unable to appreciate fully his concern with bodily orientations and corporeal knowledge. For instance, I wrote there of how Bourdieu’s notion of distinction has to do with meaningful differentiations, ‘just as the signs in Saussure’s language system have their values determined negatively within structured relations of difference’ (Moores, 1993, p. 120). However, the differentiations or distastes that interest Bourdieu are much more than sign-values determined negatively in a linguistic or representational system, and they go well beyond any cognitive or intellectual classifications. As he makes clear, they are profoundly embodied responses and might even be experienced, on occasion, as a sense of ‘disgust…horror or visceral intolerance (“sick-making”) of the tastes of others’ (Bourdieu, 1984, p. 56). This is about gut feelings in specific environmental conditions.

25. Ethnographic accounts of this type of fit between habitus and habitat are provided by Simon Charlesworth (2000) and Loic Wacquant (2004), both of whom draw heavily on Bourdieu’s social theory. Charlesworth’s focus is on working-class experience in the northern English town where he grew up, while Wacquant’s is on bodily practices at a boxing gym in a black American neighbourhood. In the case of Wacquant’s remarkable study, this white French sociologist actually participates as a boxer in ‘a culture that is thoroughly kinetic’ (Wacquant, 2004, p. xi), immersing himself in the gym setting and learning its skilful ways ‘by body…with my fists and my guts’. More recently, social theorist and researcher Will Atkinson (2016, pp. 19–24) has proposed that Bourdieu’s notion of habitat can usefully be recast as a concern with lifeworld. Atkinson’s fascinating discussion brings Bourdieu’s sociology briefly into contact with Seamon’s phenomenological geography, and also with Torsten Hägerstrand’s time-geography (see Chapter 3).

26. A number of non-representational and associated theorists have sought to develop an explicitly political dimension to their work. For example, Ash Amin and Nigel Thrift (2013) reflect on the ‘arts’ of the political and are interested in, amongst other things, what they term affective politics. Along similar lines, philosopher and social theorist Brian Massumi (2015) has recently published a collection of his dialogues with others on the politics of affect (although I am not afraid to admit that I find this book to be a difficult one). My own preference, when searching out sources of inspiration for what I am calling the politics of orientation, would be to turn elsewhere. One crucial way would be towards Tim Cresswell’s identification of differentiating factors in the significance of mobility or travel (Cresswell, 2010). This human geographer labels himself, and has been labelled by others, as an ‘interested sceptic’ (Cresswell, 2012; Lorimer, 2005, p. 85) when it comes to contemporary non- or more-than-representational theories of practice, but from my perspective the attention that he pays to social difference, inequality and power is particularly welcome. In addition, for some clues as to what the politics of habitation might look like, see Morley (2000, 2001) and also the work of sociologist Jan Willem Duyvendak (2011) on issues of home and belonging today. ← 24 | 25 →


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In the context of arguments about the rise of ‘the network society’ (Castells, 1996) and about the social ‘as mobility’ (Urry, 2000, p. 2; see also Elliott & Urry, 2010; Urry, 2007), in which contemporary social change is accounted for primarily in terms of intensified transnational flows or mobilities, I want to focus in this chapter on understandings of place. How is it best, then, to conceptualise place in a world of flows (including, but also exceeding, those information flows that are enabled by modern media of communication)? I will be attempting to answer that question through a critical discussion of ideas put forward by several social, spatial and communication theorists. It is appropriate for me to begin by considering aspects of the work done by Manuel Castells and John Urry, social theorists cited above in the opening sentence of my chapter, because, in the humanities and social sciences, they have been perhaps the most widely referenced thinkers on global networks and flows, and because they have each raised, in their overlapping yet different ways, important issues to do with the constitution of places in relation to various sorts of movement. I will then go on to look at some of Doreen Massey’s work in geography, concentrating on her interrelated notions of ‘global sense of place’ (Massey, 1991, 1994), ‘the openness of places’ (Massey, 1995, p. 59) and ‘the throwntogetherness of place’ (Massey, 2005, p. 141), before turning to consider Joshua ← 31 | 32 → Meyrowitz’s no-sense-of-place thesis (Meyrowitz, 1985) and ‘second-generation medium theory’ (Meyrowitz, 1994, p. 58), and, finally, Paddy Scannell’s phenomenological analysis of broadcasting (see especially Scannell, 1996, 2014). As I explain towards the end of the chapter, Meyrowitz and Scannell have written, respectively and contrastingly, of place as marginalised or as pluralised in electronic media use.

The space of flows and the space of places

In the first volume in a trilogy on matters of the information age, Castells (1996) offers an impressively wide-ranging assessment of what he names the network society.1 For the specific purposes of this chapter, though, my main concern is with the social theory of space that he advances there (in particular, Castells’ distinction between the space of flows and the space of places). I want to argue that this theorisation of space, whilst it has some interesting and admirable features, has a significant problem or contradiction at its heart.

Space is defined by Castells (1996, p. 411), in general terms, as ‘the material support of time-sharing social practices’, but he is keen to stress that ‘simultaneous practices’ today do not necessarily rely on the ‘contiguity’ of participants in social interaction. Indeed, in his view, ‘it is fundamental that we separate the basic concept of material support of simultaneous practices from the notion of contiguity’ (Castells, 1996, p. 411).2 This is because there is, according to Castells, a new spatial form that is characteristic of the network society, which he calls the space of flows. His contention is that ‘our society is constructed around flows…flows of capital, flows of information…flows of organizational interaction, flows of images…and…sounds’ (Castells, 1996, pp. 411–412). He sees those flows as having been afforded by the development of certain technologies or technological systems, ‘microelectronics, telecommunications, computer processing, broadcasting systems…and high-speed transportation’ (Castells, 1996, p. 412). In a later, co-authored book (Castells et al., 2007, p. 171), it is also noted that use of ‘mobile communication technology greatly contributes to the spread of the space of flows’.3

It is at this stage, when Castells is introducing his concept of the space of flows, that he first reflects on the consequences of such flows for the constitution of places in the network society. He proposes that although its overall logic may be placeless, in fact: ← 32 | 33 →

The space of flows is not placeless…places do not disappear, but their logic and meaning become absorbed in the network…no place exists by itself…places are the nodes of the network…the location of strategically important functions. (Castells, 1996, pp. 412–413)

The example with which he proceeds to illustrate his argument is that of ‘the global…financial system’ (Castells, 1996, p, 413). So in ‘the network of global financial flows’ (Castells, 1996, p. 470), the ‘nodes of the network’ are locations such as ‘stock exchange markets, and their ancillary advanced services centres’ around the world.

What is absolutely crucial to appreciate here, however, is that Castells’ references in the passage above to places as nodes (absorbed in networks) are not references made to all places but rather to particular types of location only, which have, as he puts it, strategically important functions in relation to the space of flows. Castells does not even consider these node-locations to be part of what he calls the space of places. This is, I realise, a potentially confusing point that he is making, which requires further explanation. Let me try to show, then, how he distinguishes the space of flows from the space of places, and how he therefore distinguishes places as nodes from other kinds of location that are regarded as being outside the global space of flows.

To his credit, Castells seems to draw the distinction between those two types of space, and, correspondingly, two types of place, principally in an effort to deal with social differences and relations of power. He associates the space of flows with ‘dominant processes and functions’ (Castells, 1996, p. 412) in the network society, whilst associating the space of places with ‘subordinate functions…and people’. In his view, the subordinated live in locations that are not only disconnected from the space of flows but also ‘increasingly segregated and disconnected from each other’ (Castells, 1996, p. 476). As he puts the case succinctly at one moment in his writing, ‘people are local’ (Castells, 1996, p. 415) whereas: ‘The space of power and wealth is projected throughout the world.’ Indeed, Castells (1996, p. 428) warns that ‘we may be heading toward life in parallel universes’ as a result of an increasing divergence between the space of flows and the space of places, with the latter being characterised by locations in which, in his words, ‘function and meaning are self-contained within the boundaries of physical contiguity’ (Castells, 1996, p. 423).

Undoubtedly, there are important issues to do with power and inequality or with stasis in relation to movement, and I will be returning to these later in discussing Massey’s work. However, the basic problem or contradiction that I see in Castells’ theory of space becomes evident, I feel, when he provides a ← 33 | 34 → specific example (and it is an interesting one) of life in what he is calling the space of places. The example that he chooses, of a district of Paris known as Belleville, has a particular personal relevance for him, as he indicates at the start of the following description:

Belleville was, as for so many immigrants throughout its history, my entry point to Paris…. As a 20-year-old political exile…I was given shelter by a Spanish construction worker…who introduced me to…the place…. 30 years after our first encounter…new immigrants (Asians, Yugoslavs) have joined a long-established stream of Tunisian Jews, Maghrebian Muslims…and Southern Europeans, themselves the successors of the intra-urban exiles pushed into Belleville in the nineteenth century…. New middle-class households, generally young, have joined the neighbourhood because of its urban vitality…. Cultures and histories, in a truly plural urbanity, interact in the space. (Castells, 1996, pp. 423–424)

On the evidence presented there by Castells, this district of Paris is far from being segregated, disconnected or self-contained within boundaries. All of the things that he mentions in his description, including the circumstances of his own arrival in Paris years ago, involve movements and links across the city or the globe. He appears to be quite right in his assertion that Belleville’s distinctive plural urbanity has been formed through a mixing or confluence of streams (although he is oddly reluctant to classify these population migrations as flows) or through an interaction of cultures and histories. Furthermore, I find it difficult to imagine that most of the district’s contemporary residents, as they engage in their routine local activities, would not be accessing various flows, including rapid transnational flows, of information, images and sounds in their everyday lives, and in that sense it is surely misleading to characterise such lives simply as static and localised.4 So Castells’ theoretical definition of the space of places and his illustrative example of that sort of space seem to me to be, in certain crucial respects, at odds with each other.

I should add, in fairness to him, that Castells (2000, 2005; see also Castells & Ince, 2003, pp. 55–58) does go on to revise his social theory of space at a later stage in his work on what he terms the information age, and he does so in a way that appears to acknowledge, at least to some extent, the problem or contradiction to which I have been pointing. As geographer David Bell (2007, p. 74) observes, Castells comes ‘to see the space of flows and the space of places as more…folded together’ and ‘also sees an error in his own prior articulation of the space of flows only to the techno-elites’. For instance, rather than regarding the space of flows and the space of places as diametrically opposed spatial forms leading towards life in parallel universes, Castells (2000, p. 27) subsequently ← 34 | 35 → concedes that ‘the geography of the new history will not be made, after all, of the separation…but out of the interface between place and flows’. My preference, of course, is for this revised theorisation of space or conceptualisation of place in a world of flows, which stresses the interdependence or, as he chooses to express it, the interface between place and flows, and which is rather closer to the understandings of place that are offered by Urry and Massey.

The social as mobility and places understood as multiplex

As I suggested at the beginning of this chapter, there are similarities between the approaches to global networks and flows taken by Castells and Urry, but one of the key differences between them arises from Urry’s wish to ‘interrogate the concept of the social as society’ (Urry, 2000, p. 1). So whereas Castells (1996) writes of the network society, retaining a term that has traditionally been central for the academic discipline of sociology, Urry (2000, p. 1) feels the need to challenge this largely taken-for-granted idea in setting out his ‘manifesto for a sociology that examines the…mobilities of peoples, objects, images…information’. He preferred to think of the social as mobility, arguing that the concept of the social as society is too closely caught up with ‘notions of nation-state’ (Urry, 2000, pp. 5–7), ‘national society’ and ‘the system of nations’. Personally, whilst I understand and sympathise with his desire to develop a transnational sociology that would involve studying long-distance, cross-border flows in conjunction with the ‘little mobilities’ (Adey, 2010, p. 6) of day-to-day living, I struggle to see why Urry was unwilling for the idea of society to be rearticulated to fit contemporary social circumstances.5

For me, a more valuable contribution made by Urry’s theory of the social as mobility is his identification and discussion of ‘five interdependent “mobilities” that produce social life organized across distance’ (Urry, 2007, p. 47; see also Elliott & Urry, 2010, pp. 15–16). The first of these is what he calls the ‘corporeal travel of people’ (Urry, 2007, p. 47), which he regards as ranging ‘from daily commuting to once-in-a-lifetime exile’. Urry’s reference there to exile is interesting in relation to Castells’ account of Belleville, which I touched on in the previous section, because, although Castells was reluctant to classify migration (including his own political exile in Paris many years before) as part of a space of flows, Urry is quite clear in his view that it does constitute a significant flow.6 Indeed, he describes the scale of transnational corporeal travel, including short-term journeys for work or leisure purposes as ← 35 | 36 → well as migrations for a longer period of residence, as ‘awesome’ (Urry, 2000, p. 50). Also remarkable is the current scale of an overlapping ‘physical movement of objects’ (Urry, 2007, p. 47), which is the second of the five kinds of mobility that he seeks to draw attention to. I say overlapping because corporeal travellers of various sorts evidently transport things with them, like, say, the souvenirs or duty-free goods that are brought back from foreign holidays by tourists, to be displayed or consumed later in the domestic sphere (on ‘tripper- objects’, see Urry, 2000, p. 65).7 Of course, in addition, the day-to-day typically involves dealings with many other commodities that have travelled vast distances without being accompanied on those journeys by their eventual users. Perhaps the best example of this would be the foods from across the world that are purchased at a local supermarket (a site at which the long-distance flow of things meets up with the smaller movements of everyday shopping and eating practices).

The remaining mobilities in Urry’s list are all associated with media use, and the third, fourth and fifth categories are what he named imaginative, virtual and communicative travel. He associates imaginative travelling primarily with television viewing, conceptualising the medium of television as a means of transport (and see Larsen, 1999; Moores, 1993; Morley, 2010), although he acknowledges, too, that ‘people “travel” elsewhere through…guidebooks and brochures…photos, postcards, radio and film’ (Urry, 2007, p. 169), and, for Urry, the mobilities afforded by these media are also classed as imaginative. Next, he regards virtual travel as that which is afforded by networked computers. In one of his early discussions of this phenomenon, virtual travel is considered in interesting ways alongside what he calls a ‘virtual proximity’ (see Urry, 2002, pp. 265–267), in which internet users ‘can feel proximate while still distant’. Finally, Urry (2007, p. 47; see also Elliott & Urry, 2010, p. 16) thinks of communicative travelling as having been facilitated by, for instance, ‘letters, telegraph, telephone, fax and mobile’, yet his focus there is on what he goes on to name, more specifically, the ‘mobile communicative travel’ (Urry, 2007, p. 171) that is associated with media such as ‘the iPod, the laptop…and the…mobile phone’. A characteristic feature of those contemporary digital technologies is that all have been designed for use by people on the move, following earlier, portable print media such as books and newspapers. Urry’s discussion of mobile communicative travel highlights a further overlap, then, between his categories of mobility. There is a significant crossover not only between the first and second (corporeal travel and the physical movement of objects) but also between these types of mobility and the last of the five on the list. ← 36 | 37 →

I should note here, too, that it does become increasingly difficult, in circumstances of media convergence today, to sustain the distinctions that Urry drew between imaginative, virtual and communicative travelling. For example, since broadcast programmes have been available via the internet, including via digital mobile media, or since it has been possible to interact with others online via a television screen, his media-related categories become rather less clear. However, the most important point to take from Urry’s identification of the whole range of interdependent mobilities is that technologically mediated flows of information need to be considered in relation to, rather than viewed as somehow surpassing, the physical transportation of humans and things. Indeed, I want to pursue that point now with reference to his thoughts on mobility and proximity (see especially Urry, 2002), which were touched on just briefly in the preceding paragraph.

Urry’s coupling of virtual travel with a virtual proximity and, more broadly, his remarks on how media uses can bring ‘within range…persons and happenings’ (Urry, 2000, p. 68) from far away, are certainly important, but this is only part of a much bigger story about mobilities and proximities. When I get to the work of Meyrowitz and Scannell in later sections of this chapter, I will return to matters of electronically mediated proximity, which are relevant, of course, to matters of place too. At this stage, though, it is necessary to consider what Urry (2002, p. 256) calls ‘a very simple question: why do people physically travel?’ So, when it is possible to move around and be close to people and events imaginatively or virtually or communicatively, why still bother with the often time-consuming corporeal travel that is required in order to be ‘face-to-face’ (Urry, 2002, p. 262) or ‘face-the-moment’? After all, it has to be explained why there is a continuing ‘compulsion of proximity’ (Boden & Molotch, 1994) in contemporary living (that is, of physical proximity), despite the arrival of various new media technologies that promise to transcend large distances virtually instantaneously. Urry’s own answer is that those mobilities or travellings which he associated directly with media use ‘will not simply substitute for corporeal travel since intermittent co-presence appears obligatory for sustaining much social life’ (Urry, 2002, p. 258). He outlines a series of obligations to, and also desires for, this intermittent bodily co-presence, including, for instance, the feelings of having ‘to go to work…to see specific people “face-to-face”…to spend moments of quality time with family…or friends…to experience a particular “live” and not a “mediated” event’ (Urry, 2002, p. 262). At the same time, however, he does wonder whether electronically mediated communications could, in future, ‘make the ← 37 | 38 → compulsion to co-presence based upon social obligations less frequent’ (Urry, 2002, p. 269).

Having provided an account of certain key aspects of Urry’s theory of the social as mobility, let me turn to the ways in which his framework deals with the constitution of places in relation to these flows of humans, things and information. In a discussion of dwelling, he offers the following helpful definition of places understood as multiplex or of place as nexus:

Places can be…understood…as multiplex, as…where networks and flows coalesce…. Any such place can be viewed as the particular nexus between…propinquity characterised by intensely thick co-present interaction and…networks stretched…across distances. These propinquities and extensive networks come together to enable performances in, and of, particular places. (Urry, 2000, p. 140)

What I particularly like about his definition is its emphasis on place as a coming together and entangling or enmeshing of little mobilities with long-distance movements of different sorts, and on place not simply as a location but also as an ongoing performance. Such an understanding of place is in keeping with, and yet goes beyond, the notion of an interface between place and flows that is found in Castells’ revised social theory of space. Furthermore, in Urry’s wider reflections on dwellings in the context of travellings, which included a fascinating discussion of ‘inhabiting-the-car’ (Urry, 2007, pp. 124–128; see also Bull, 2001; Thrift, 2004) in practices of driving, he makes some promising references to phenomenological philosophy (most notably, Heidegger, 1993 [1971]), starting to open up issues of habit and embodiment that I will be addressing in detail in later chapters.8

The notion of place in this age of globalisation

When he set out his understanding of place as multiplex or as nexus, Urry acknowledged a debt to Massey’s thinking in the discipline of geography, and it is her work on places that I concentrate on in the current section. Like Urry, who asked why people still engage in corporeal travel today, Massey (1995, p. 46) also poses a simple question, which is similar to the one with which I framed this chapter at the outset: ‘What happens to the notion of place now, in this age of globalization?’ As I indicated in my introductory remarks near to the beginning of the chapter, her answers have involved the development of a ← 38 | 39 → series of interrelated concepts such as global sense of place, the openness of places and, more recently, the throwntogetherness of place.

Looking back at the emergence of her distinctive perspective on place, Massey (2005, p. 196) writes of how she wanted to ‘retain an appreciation of specificity, of…the “local”…while at the same time insisting on internationalism’, and she notes how: ‘It was in this context that I worked towards what I would come to call “a global sense of place”.’ Indeed, for Massey (1994, p. 5), the ‘particularity of any place’ has to do, at least in part, with its mix of ‘links and interconnections to…“beyond”’, so that ‘the global’ is seen ‘as part of what constitutes the local, the outside as part of the inside’. From this perspective, an appreciation of the specificity of the local is not to do with an ‘internalized history’ (Massey, 1994, p. 154) but rather with ‘the fact that it is constructed out of a particular constellation of social relations, meeting and weaving together at a particular locus…a meeting place’ (and note the similarity here between Massey’s notion of place as locus or meeting place and Urry’s subsequent conceptualisation of place).

Massey’s global sense of place, then, involves a questioning of any idea of boundaries as ‘divisions which frame simple enclosures’ (Massey, 1994, p. 155) and, instead, incorporates an understanding of the openness of places or of place as ‘extroverted’.9 In later work, with her account of place’s ‘throwntogetherness’ (Massey, 2005, pp. 140–141), she returned to the same theme, challenging a ‘view of place as settled and pre-given…only to be disturbed by “external” forces’ and insisting that ‘the uniqueness of place’ is precisely to do with the ongoing negotiation (Urry might say a performance) of a ‘here-and-now’, which is necessarily bound up with a multiplicity of ‘theres’ and ‘thens’. Interestingly, in that more recent discussion, Massey (2005) also sought to extend her earlier approach to take in various non-human movements, ranging from those of other animals through to those of rocks. Things, even the seemingly most fixed of things such as hills, are never wholly stable but always shifting and in process, she asserts.

Focusing, for the purposes of this chapter, on Massey’s writings about place in ‘current global-local times’ (Massey, 1994, p. 152), and leaving aside her interesting thoughts on slower-paced changes over many thousands of years, it would be useful for me to refer to some of the examples that she provides to illustrate her theoretical arguments. The first of these relates to London, the city that she lived in, and the second more specifically to Kilburn, which was her local district there. ← 39 | 40 →

Near to the start of a book-length case study of London as a world city, Massey (2007, p. 13) points out that a standard geographical question asked about this city is ‘where does London end?’ However, rather than trying to answer such a question, she proceeds to voice her doubts about its validity:

Maybe places do not lend themselves to having lines drawn around them. London is an extreme example…but this is a general point…. There is a vast geography of dependencies, relations and effects that spreads out from here around the globe. This is…to argue that, in considering the politics and the practices, and the very character, of this place, it is necessary to follow…the lines of its engagement with elsewhere. Such lines of engagement are…part of what makes it what it is. (Massey, 2007, p. 13)

Here, she clearly has problems with any attempt to investigate places as entities with enclosing boundaries, and her reference to lines of engagement with elsewhere that help to constitute the character of a place (in this case, a vast geography spreading out from London around the globe) can be traced back to her earlier conceptualisation of places as open or porous. The lines that she was concerned to draw are not those of a city’s outer edges but rather of what she had previously called a mix of links and interconnections to beyond.10

The second London-related example that I take from her work, which is an account of her local shopping street, Kilburn High Road, is concerned with just such a mix of links, or with the negotiation of a here-and-now that is caught up with a multiplicity of theres and thens. As she puts it: ‘It is (or ought to be) impossible even to begin thinking about Kilburn High Road without bringing into play half the world and a considerable amount of British imperialist history’ (Massey, 1994, p. 154). So her description mentions, for instance, a newspaper stand that ‘sells papers from every county of what my neighbours, many of whom come from there, still often call the Irish Free State’ (Massey, 1994, pp. 152–153), whilst across the road ‘there’s a shop which as long as I can remember has displayed saris in the window…life-sized models of Indian women…and reams of cloth’. Kilburn’s throwntogetherness, for Massey, is unique. It has ‘a character of its own’ (Massey, 1994, p. 153) that has to do with the particular circumstances of its geographical and historical connectedness, and yet she also makes the important argument that Kilburn’s distinctive character ‘is absolutely not a seamless, coherent identity, a single sense of place which everyone shares’. Rather, she thinks of this area as having ‘multiple identities’ (Massey, 1994, p. 153), which are a consequence of people’s different ‘routes through the place, their favourite haunts within it…the connections they make (physically, or by phone or post, or in memory and imagination) between here and the rest of the world’. ← 40 | 41 →

A third helpful example moves the discussion out of London and the urban mix of Kilburn, and a few miles northwards into some small villages in rural Cambridgeshire. However, Massey (1995, pp. 59–60), in reporting the findings of empirical research that she was involved in there, retains a strong interest in the multiple identities of meeting places and in matters of social difference, identifying four groups in these country villages with varied ‘activity spaces’:

There are high-tech scientists, mainly men, whose work is based in Cambridge, though they…have computers with modem links at home as well. The companies they work for operate in a highly internationalized part of the economy, and these employees spend their time in constant contact with, and physically travelling between, colleagues and customers all around the world…. At the other extreme are people who have never been to London and only rarely…made it as far as Cambridge…. These are people who…work locally…on the farms…in the village shops and services…. There are other groups, too, in a sense in-between these two in terms of…spatiality. There are people who work more or less locally…nearby or in Cambridge…maybe as cleaners or caterers…for firms which are multinational…. There are women who are the partners of the high-tech men, some of them presently at home with small children…often being the heart and soul of local meetings and charities. For shopping, they are more likely to drive into Cambridge…and they may have family in other parts of the country, whom they visit regularly and who visit them.

She is interested in the divisions of class and gender which become evident when investigating what she calls the spatiality of these different groups (that is, the uneven reach of their social activities). Indeed, Massey’s discussion of those Cambridgeshire villages and her general commitment to a politics of place and space (see Featherstone & Painter, 2013) do invite comparisons with elements of Castells’ work on the network society. So, for Castells, the high-tech scientists in this account would presumably be regarded as part of a larger grouping of techno-elites, moving extensively within the space of flows, while the group of villagers at the other extreme, as Massey puts it, would be seen as living a disconnected existence in a space of places. Still, her conceptualisation of place in a world of flows manages to take on board issues of inequality and power in a way that is rather more nuanced and complex than his.

For instance, Massey (1995, p. 60) observes that: ‘Even the most “local” of the local people here have their lives touched by wider events…are linked into a broader geographical field…farms where they work may be affected by European legislation passed in Brussels.’ Also for the cleaners and caterers who, in her words, work more or less locally, decisions taken thousands of miles away on another continent, in the head offices of a multinational firm, could significantly touch their lives, and of course there is the more routine ← 41 | 42 → ‘intrusion’ (Giddens, 1991, p. 27) of information flowing into their everyday worlds, which is brought by broadcasting, the press and, these days most likely, the internet too. A further nuanced point made by Massey (1995, p. 60) is that the people in these four groups, ‘with their contrasting activity spaces’, have lives which nevertheless ‘touch each other…intersect’: ‘They…sometimes interact.’ This intersecting and interacting is partly friendly and co-operative but can involve major frictions, for example over the rising property prices that are associated with an influx of relatively well-off newcomers. Those lives may be very different, then, but they are not quite operating in what Castells once referred to as parallel universes.11


XVI, 194
ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2017 (December)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XVI, 194 pp.

Biographical notes

Shaun Moores (Author)

Shaun Moores is Professor of Media and Communications at the Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies, University of Sunderland, England. He is author or co-author of several previous books including Media and Everyday Life in Modern Society (2000).


Title: Digital Orientations