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Incorporation of the World and the Construction of Geographical Realities

From a world view, a geographical imagination that puts the cognizing, knowing, and acting subject at the center results in a dynamization of the geographical perspective on and understanding of the world. The focus shifts from the question of where objects and people are located in space to the question of scholarly examination of forms of everyday geography-making. In short, attention turns to the interpretation of meaningful constructions of geographical realities, including the meaningful appropriation of objects, places, and spaces.

For this purpose a quite substantial part of geographical terminology needs to be redefined. One, if not the, key word is regionalization. From traditional to spatial scientific geography as well as in Giddens’s (1984) theory of structuration, regionalization referred to the subdivision of given spaces (in whatever way it was determined). From the subject-centered new perspective, however, “regionalization” is understood to denote an everyday practice of establishing ties to the world in a specific manner. By emphasizing the spatial and temporal aspects of these specific relations, one can call them “world relationship” (Weltbeziehung, Werlen, 1996, p. 112) or “world-binding” (Weltbindung, Werlen, 1997, p. 215), the act of defining, shaping, or establishing one’s own ties to the world. I would now like to call that act of geography-making “world incorporation.” World incorporation refers to the social mastering of spatial and temporal relations in order to monitor and control one’s own actions and those of others. It refers to the way subjects relate to the world; it constitutes one’s relations to the world.

In the context of everyday regionalizations, space is a conceptual tool and a medium for action with which the various forms of world incorporation are implemented. The constraining and enabling component of power is particularly important in this respect. Its various manifestations are reflected in the varying degrees of capability and spatial range of world incorporation. Hence, in the subject-centered reconceptualization of geography, the space-centered question of power over space is replaced by the question of the efficacy of the available spatioconceptual media that are used to exercise power over and surveillance of practices.

The capability of shaping—which is inherent in social practices and does not exist outside them—is characterized, on the one hand, by the spatial and temporal range of one’s actions. In this sense power is reflected in the transformative capacity of human action. On the other hand, this capability also depends on the ability to integrate absent subjects and objects into the realization of one’s own aims and objectives. In the sense used by Giddens (1984), capability can be understood as consisting of resources and rules of action. According to him, the capability of monitoring and controlling the access to and the appropriation and use of natural resources and the world of material objects can be conceptualized as meaning that one has allocative resources at one’s disposal. This capability exists in all forms of societal organization and relates to control over material resources, material artifacts used in the transformation of these resources, and material goods produced in this transformation.

Within the frame of world incorporation, the terminological means with which access to allocative resources is granted is the notion of measured extension as metric space divested of all other symbolic attributions. This notion of space is the one implicit in cost calculations having to do with the distance and scale of transport at the beginning of the production line (e.g., shipping raw materials to the factory) and at its end (e.g., distributing to various retailers the goods produced from those raw materials). In combination with the notion of standardized metric time, it is possible to calculate the parameters for acting over distance. Such calculations facilitate planning of economic activities in both production (including work processes and commodity flows) and capital accumulation (Harvey, 1982) via world incorporation processes in global contexts.

The capability of acquiring and maintaining control and governance over actors—even in one’s physical absence—is called authoritative resource. Such a capability of controlling and governing is based on direct or indirect access to the bodies of those being monitored, controlled, or governed, or on direct or indirect access to body-related ways of authorizing or preventing actions and of maintaining those actions over time.

World incorporation via authoritative resources is represented in the term territory, which prescriptively connects normative tenets to spatial expanse. These normative tenets (and their legal enforcement strategies) can be called upon in cases where human bodies enter or use the territory. The property rights connected to these normative prescriptions authorize or prevent access by others and facilitate maximum control over people and over the use of areas and material artifacts (means of production). Therefore, the resource-related aspects of incorporating the world refer to economic, social, political, juridical, and other dimensions. Authoritative resources are usually superimposed onto allocative resources, but the mobilization of authoritative resources always requires allocative resources (e.g., to ensure that one’s own actions prevail).

However, the structuration of human action and, hence, of all forms of world incorporation does not rely on resources alone. According to Giddens (1984), rules are the second important aspect. They include specific semantic and moral rules that can form powerful interpretive schemes and can regulate courses of action in a value-specific manner. Actors use these interpretive schemes to interpret (in line with the rules) and symbolically organize practice-specific realms of reality. Interpretive schemes are the most comprehensive form of the structuration of human action and, consequently, of the constitution of society or sociocultural realities.

Rule-specific aspects are key for types of action oriented to intersubjective understanding. These aspects underlie all types of symbolic relations to the world. The vocabulary used for such emotionally charged, significative classifications of relations to places and objects includes sacred site and homeland.

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