Conference paper Open Access

Terrain, Topography, Landscape, and Place: The Interplay of Environment, Culture, and Conceptualization

Palmer, Bill

The theory of sociotopography has attempted to model the complex relationship between the topographic environment in which humans live, sociocultural factors, and language. This paper takes some first steps towards extending this to landscape and place. It argues that the human environment comprises terrain (raw landforms) and topography (terrain plus human modification), and that humans construct conceptual representations of this environment in the form of landscape (a mental representation of topography, its chunking into features, and the categorization of those features); place (regions or features of landscape assigned an individual identity); and geocentric relations (the representation of spatial relationships anchored in landscape). The paper presents five case studies exemplifying the role of sociocultural factors in mediating between topography and conceptualization: where affordances and characteristics of the topography motivate landscape categorization and notions of place; where social beliefs and practices are mapped on to motivating aspects of topography, underpinning categorization of landscape and place; where sociocultural structure is mapped onto topography without apparent motivation from within the topography; and where conceptual representations appear to respond to the environment directly via perception without sociocultural mediation. The paper presents a tentative expanded sociotopographic model including conceptual representations of landscape, place and geocentric relations, and a more fine-grained model of environment as terrain and topography.

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