Action, Knowledge, and Social Relations of Space

Benno Werlen

Contrary to still well-established understanding, geographical conditions of human actions are to be seen from a sociogeographical point of view, that is, primarily as a social product and only secondarily as a biophysical condition. This ontological status of the age of anthropocene means that geographical social transformations are highly important for all forms of geography-making, which, in turn, are fundamental to social change and transformations. In other words, the constitutive processes of geographical realities are fundamental to a wide range of formative processes of social and cultural realities.

To grasp geographical realities as understandable realities, it is necessary to let go of most received geographical notions, from traditional regionalistic ones and colonial interpretations to present geographical concepts formulated in the aftermath of the spatial turn of the social sciences, cultural studies, and the humanities. But this change in perspective is not only scientifically crucial. It is even more so with respect to everyday practices, especially political actions. With the steady weakening of all-encompassing forms of national territorialization through the Digital Revolution and with the formation of supranational communities, the dominance of the nation-state in nearly all domains of social life is at stake. Just as the territorial organization of social life replaced feudal logic, the territorial principle itself is now at risk in many senses.

It is little different when it comes to the interrelation of knowledge and spatial conditions. The Digital Revolution—the end of distance for a wide range of human activities, and accelerated social change—is establishing what I call “new social relations of space.” By that I mean, as elaborated on in this chapter, a new way of relating to preset and spatially distant circumstances that are relevant to one’s action. And social relations of space have a strong impact on the production, dissemination, and incorporation of knowledge and information. Of course, I do not mean that

B. Werlen (*)

Department of Geography, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Jena, Germany e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© The Author(s) 2017

P. Meusburger et al. (eds.), Knowledge and Action, Knowledge and Space 9, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-44588-5_2

supranational trends and globalizations are effacing the local and regional. Globalization also accentuates places and regions as distinctive forums of human action. In one way or another all human actions remain regionally and locally contextualized. But to grasp the social significance of spatial constellations, scientific research has to proceed from social actions and practices to the regional and spatial realm and not vice versa.

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