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David Seamon



[originally published 1979

© David Seamon 1979, 2001]






Part I: Seeing Anew


 1. A Geography of Everyday Life


 2. Phenomenology and Environmental Experience Groups


Part II: Movement in the Geographical World


 3. Cognitive and Behaviorist Theories of Movement


 4. Habit and the Notion of Body-Subject


 5. Merleau-Ponty and Learning for Body-Subject


 6. Body and Place Choreographies


 7. Implications for Environmental Theory and Design


Part III: Rest in the Geographical World


 8. At-Homeness and Territoriality


 9. Centers, Places for Things and the Notion of Feeling-Subject


10. The Home and At-Homeness


11. Implications for Environmental Theory, Education and Design


Part IV: Encounter with the Geographical World


12. Perception and a Continuum of Awareness


13. Fluctuation, Obliviousness and Watching


14. Noticing and Heightened Contact


15. Basic Contact, Encounter and At-Homeness


16. Implications for Environmental Theory and Education


Part V: Searching out a Whole


17. Movement and Rest


18. The Triad of Habituality


19. Place Ballet as a Whole


20. An Education of Understanding: Evaluating the Environmental Experience Groups   


21.       Behavioral Geography, Phenomenology and Environmental Experience 


Appendix A:

Selected Observations from Clark Environmental Experience Groups (September 1974 - May 1975)


Appendix B:

Commentaries on the Clark Environmental Experience Groups


Appendix C:

Organizing an Environmental Experience Group


References [not yet prepared for this Web edition]


Index [not included in this Web version]





This book is an exercise in looking and seeing. It hopes to help the reader become more sensitive to his or her experiences with places and environments. Stopping to talk on the way to the corner store with a neighbor repairing his pavement, feeling sad that a local bakery has closed, adjusting to the fact that the street on which one lives has just been made one-way, getting lost in a new place, driving long into the night in order to reach home and sleep in one's own bed - situations like these are the groundstones of this book. I ask if such experiences point to wider patterns of meaning in regard to people's relationship with place and environment. Do such experiences, for example, say something about feeling responsible for caring for a place? About the essential nature of spatial behavior? About the relationship between community and place? About improving places so that they might become more livable environ­ments, both humanly and ecologically?


The central message of this book is that a satisfying human existence involves links with the locality in which one chooses to live. A sense of personal satisfaction a well as a sense of community are both inescapably grounded in place. Much social science in the last several decades seems to suppose that people are now easily able to transcend physical space and environment because of advances in technology and science. Indeed, the predominant Western life-style today involves a patchwork of isolated points - home, office, places of entertainment, recreation, etc. - all linked by a mechanical net of transportation and communication devices. At the same time, however, great thinkers as well as people on the street speak with varying degrees of articulateness about a growing sense of homelessness and alienation. they speak of people's increased disrespect for places and the natural environment.


A phenomenological perspective indicates that this deepening malaise may have partial roots in the growing rupture between people and place. The so-called 'conquest' of terrestrial space may have been successful technologically and economically, but not humanly. At least experientially, it seems that people become bound to locality. The quality of their life becomes reduced when these bonds are broken in various ways.


Understanding the person-place bond has threefold value. First, it fosters in the reader a growing interest in the essential nature of his or her own day-to-day dealings with environments and places in which he or she lives and moves. Second, such understanding provides a tool whereby environmental designers and policy makers might discover a new perspective and approach for tackling projects and plans for specific places and environments. Third, this understan­ding might serve as a framework around which concerned people living in a specific place can ask questions in regard to how they themselves might make that place a more satisfying human and ecological environment.


The ideas in this book are only part mine. I have been helped by the thoughts of many, including Yi-Fu Tuan, Anne Buttimer, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, J.G. Bennett, and the excellent phenomenological work done by researchers in the Department of Psychology at Duquesne University. I am especially indebted to Edward Relph and his perceptive phenomenological study Place and Placelessness (1976b), which the interested reader should study as a complement to the present book.


I am also grateful for the dedication, interest and insights of participants in the environmental experience groups, which are the crux of this book. These people are: Andra Nieburgs, Melissa Schwartz, Patricia Dandonoli, Peggy Chase, David Jacobson, Joel Fish, Nancy Alcabes, Lisa Gardner, Steve Schwartz, Judy Levin, Nancy Goody, Allan Long, Peter Glick, Bill Parker, Evelyn Prager, Tom Wyatt, Rob Weinstein, Johathan Robbins, Marion Mostovy, Howie Libov, Eily Sekler, Phyllis Rubin, Peter Barach, Linda Jaffe, Linda D'Angelo Logan, Jere Fore, Kathy Howard and Wendy Hussey Addison.


Other people, past and present, have touched this book in various ways: my parents, Katherine Bloomfield, Nancy and Cliff Buell, Stanley Blount, Saul Cohen, Martyn Bowden, Walter Schatzberg, Gary Overvold, Jo De Rivera, Connie Fischer, Gary Moore, Roger Hart, Mary O'Malley, Jeffrey Albert, Debra Berley, Tony Hodgeson, Edward Edelstein, Henri Bortoft, Peter Rothstein, Vincent Cipolla, Andy Levine, Graham Rowles, Mick Godkin, Curt Rose, Paul Kariya, Kirsten Johnson, Mark Eichen, John Hunter and Nigel Thrift.


Of all these people, I must thank four especially: Anne Buttimer, my graduate adviser and close friend, who let me do what I was interested in and had faith I could reach completion; Windy Hussey Addison, who believed that the environmental experience groups would work and helped make sure they did; Valerie de'Andrea, who typed much of the final manuscript and gave support and invaluable criticism; my novelist-friend John Maguire, who patiently studied the original dissertation out of which this book arose and pointed to ways in which it might become more alive and readable. My sincerest thanks to all these people, as well as the many others whom I have not mentioned but who have helped on the way.


—David Seamon


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To Part I of A Geography of the Lifeworld