- Peta MitchellPeta MitchellDigital Media Research Centre and School of Communication, Queensland University of Technology
Since around 1970, and across a broad spectrum of humanities and social sciences disciplines, there has been an ongoing and critical reassessment of the role played by space, place, and geography in the formation and unfolding of human knowledge, subjectivity, and social relations. Starting with the identification of a distinctive “spatial turn” within critical and social theory in the second half of the 20th century, it has become a commonplace to recognize space as being political and as having a particular affective and effective power.
A distinctive constellation of socio-technological changes at the start of the 20th century brought the question of space to the critical foreground, and, by the end of the 20th century, a loosely defined and interdisciplinary “spatial theory” had emerged, while a number of fields across the humanities and social sciences had avowedly undergone their own “spatial turns.” More recently, new critical approaches have emerged that foreground the geo- as both a starting point and method for critical analysis as well as new inter-disciplines—namely the geohumanities and spatial humanities—that provide a focus for the range of work being done at the interstices of geography and the humanities.
With the rise to ubiquity of geospatial and geolocative technologies since around 2005—and their almost wholesale penetration into everyday life in the global North in the form of the GPS-enabled smartphone—the question of the geo- and its role in locating and mediating human experience, knowledge, and social relations has become ever more salient. In an era where the geo- becomes geolocation, and is increasingly defined by networked relations among humans, digital media, and their locational data traces, new approaches and schools of thought that transect geography, digital media, and critical and cultural theory have once more emerged, constituting what may be thought of as a new, digital spatial turn. Charting the trajectory of the geo- as a key site and mode of critique across and through these often overlapping “spatial turns”—across time, space, and disciplinary boundaries—is itself a work of geolocation.