Non-representational theory

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Non-representational theory is a theory developed in human geography, largely through the work of Nigel Thrift (Warwick University),[1][2] and his colleagues such as J.D. Dewsbury (University of Bristol) and Derek McCormack (University of Oxford); and indeed, later, by their respective graduate students who have pushed non-representational thinking in various empirical registers. It challenges those using social theory and conducting geographical research to go beyond representation.[3] and focus on 'embodied' experience. Thus, Dewsbury describes practices of "witnessing" that produce "knowledge without contemplation".[4]

Instead of studying and representing social relationships, non-representational theory focuses upon practices – how human and nonhuman formations are enacted or performed – not simply on what is produced.[5] "First, it valorises those processes that operate before … conscious, reflective thought … [and] second, it insists on the necessity of not prioritizing representations as the primary epistemological vehicles through which knowledge is extracted from the world’ (McCormack 2005).[6] Recent studies have examined a wide range of activities including dance,[5][7] musical performance,[8] walking,[9] gardening,[10] rave,[11] listening to music [12] and children's play.[13]

This is a post-structuralist theory drawing in part from the works of Michel Foucault and phenomenonologists such as Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty,[14] but also weaving in the perspectives of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Bruno Latour and Michel Serres, and more recently from political science (including ideas developed in radical democracy) and anthropological discussions of the material dimensions of human life. At base non-representational theory signals a renewed interest in materialist, corporeal and performative ontologies. Non-representational theory's focus upon hybrid formations parallels the conception of "hybrid geographies" developed by Sarah Whatmore.[15]

Others have suggested that Thrift's use of the term "non-representational theory" is problematic, and that other non-representational theories could be developed. Richard G Smith suggests that Baudrillard's work could be considered a "non-representational theory", for example [14] which has fostered some debate. In 2005, Hayden Lorimer (Glasgow University) suggested the term "more-than-representational" as preferable.[16]


  1. ^ Thrift, N. 2000. “Non-representational theory” in RJ Johnston, D Gregory, G Pratt and M Watts (eds) The Dictionary of Human Geography (Blackwell, Oxford)
  2. ^ Thrift, N. 2007. Non-representational theory: Space, Politics, Affect (Routledge, London)
  3. ^ Thrift, Nigel; 1996; Spatial Formations; Sage
  4. ^ Dewsbury, J.D., 2003; "Witnessing space: 'knowledge without contemplation'" Environment and Planning A", volume 35, pp. 1907–1932
  5. ^ a b Thrift, Nigel; 1997; 'The still point: expressive embodiment and dance', in Pile, S and Keith, M (eds.), Geographies of Resistance; (Routledge) pp 124–151
  6. ^ McCormack, Derek. "Diagramming Practice and Performance". Society and Planning. Retrieved Jan 2015.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  7. ^ Derek, McCormack; 2003; 'Geographies for Moving Bodies: Thinking, Dancing, Spaces'; (Sage)
  8. ^ Morton, Frances; 2005; 'Performing ethnography: Irish traditional music sessions and new methodological spaces' (Taylor and Frances)
  9. ^ Wylie, John; 2005' A single day's walking: narrating self and landscape on the South West Coast Path' (Transaction of the British Geographers)
  10. ^ Crouch, David; 2003; 'Performances and constitutions of natures: a consideration of the performance of lay geographies'
  11. ^ Saldanha; 2005; 'Trance and visibility at dawn: racial dynamics in Goa’s rave scene' 2005
  12. ^ Anderson; 2004; 'A Principle of Hope: Recorded Music, Listening Practices and the Immanence of Utopia'
  13. ^ Harker; 'Playing and affective time-spaces'
  14. ^ a b Smith, Richard G., 2003; "Baudrillard's nonrepresentational theory: burn the signs and journey without maps" in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 21; pp 67–84
  15. ^ Whatmore, S. 2002. Hybrid Geographies (Sage)
  16. ^ Lorimer, H., 2005; "Cultural geography: the busyness of being 'more-than-representational'", Progress in Human Geography 29, 1 (2005) pp. 83–94