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Non-representational theory is the study of a specific theory focused on human geography. It is the work of Nigel Thrift (Warwick University).[1][2] The theory is based on using social theory, conducting geographical research, and the 'embodied experience.'[3]


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.[4] "First, it valorizes 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".[5] Recent studies have examined a wide range of activities including dance,[4][6] musical performance,[7] walking,[8] gardening,[9] rave,[10] listening to music[11] and children's play.[12]

Post-structuralist origins

This is a post-structuralist theory inspired in part by the ideas of the physicist-philosopher Niels Bohr,[13][14][15] and thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Bruno Latour, Michel Serres and Karen Barad, and by phenomenonologists such as Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty.[16] More recently it considers views from political science (including ideas about radical democracy) and anthropological discussions of the material dimensions of human life.[citation needed] It parallels the conception of "hybrid geographies" developed by Sarah Whatmore.[17]


Critics 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 said that Baudrillard's work could be considered a "non-representational theory", for example,[16] which has fostered some debate.[citation needed] In 2005, Hayden Lorimer (Glasgow University) said that the term "more-than-representational" was preferable.[18]


  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. ^ McCormack, D.P., 2017. The circumstances of post‐phenomenological life worlds. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 42(1), pp.2-13.
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ McCormack, Derek (2005). "Diagramming Practice and Performance". Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. 23 (1): 119–147. Bibcode:2005EnPlD..23..119M. doi:10.1068/d51j. S2CID 14878136. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  6. ^ Derek, McCormack; 2003; 'Geographies for Moving Bodies: Thinking, Dancing, Spaces'; (Sage)
  7. ^ Morton, Frances; 2005; 'Performing ethnography: Irish traditional music sessions and new methodological spaces' (Taylor and Frances)
  8. ^ Wylie, John; 2005' A single day's walking: narrating self and landscape on the South West Coast Path' (Transactions of the British Geographers)
  9. ^ Crouch, David; 2003; 'Performances and constitutions of natures: a consideration of the performance of lay geographies'
  10. ^ Saldanha; 2005; 'Trance and visibility at dawn: racial dynamics in Goa's rave scene' 2005
  11. ^ Anderson; 2004; 'A Principle of Hope: Recorded Music, Listening Practices and the Immanence of Utopia'
  12. ^ Harker; 'Playing and affective time-spaces'
  13. ^ Bohr, Niels (1963). The Philosophical Writings of Niels Bohr, Vol II, Essays 1932 – 1957, On Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge. Woodbridge, Conn.: Ox Bow Press. p. 101. ISBN 0918024528.
  14. ^ Barad, Karen (2007). Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. ISBN 9780822339175.
  15. ^ Barad, Karen (2003). "Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter". Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 28 (3). University of Chicago Press: 801–831. doi:10.1086/345321. S2CID 16424758. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
  16. ^ 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
  17. ^ Whatmore, S. 2002. Hybrid Geographies (Sage)
  18. ^ Lorimer, H., 2005; "Cultural geography: the busyness of being 'more-than-representational'", Progress in Human Geography 29, 1 (2005) pp. 83–94

Further reading