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  • 0:01 Cultural Geography
  • 1:02 Space & Place
  • 3:43 Scale
  • 5:32 Lesson Summary
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Geographical Similarities: Scale, Space & Place

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

You've probably heard, and even used, the words 'space' and 'place.' But do you know what they mean in the field of cultural geography? In this lesson, we'll look at how geographers define areas, including space, place, and scale.

Cultural Geography

Dustin is in college, and has decided that he wants to major in geography. He's interested in studying the world and how the earth shapes human behavior. For example, he thinks it's really interesting that people in Europe, where there are many small countries with a lot of different languages, often speak more languages than people from America, which is a large country where most people speak English.

Cultural geography is the study of how the environment affects humans and vice versa. The language phenomenon that Dustin has studied is a good example of this. Because it is more common in America to be surrounded by hundreds of miles in which the majority of people speak English, it is less necessary to learn more languages. In this way, the geography affects how people in America behave.

But in order to understand the way that a place can affect culture, Dustin first has to understand the way that geographers look at the earth. Let's look closer at some common geographical terms: space, place, and scale.

Space & Place

You might think you already know what the words 'space' and 'place' mean. Dustin does. He thinks, 'I've used those words my entire life! Why should I have to study them now? I'm much more interested in studying something else.'

But in geography, space and place have specific definitions and it's important for Dustin and other students to know what they mean. To geographers, a space is a general, objective location or area. For example, when Dustin is studying the languages humans speak, he might look at America or he might compare residents of Texas to residents of Nevada or Massachusetts. The U.S., as well as the states of Texas, Nevada, and Massachusetts, are all spaces. That is, they are areas that are objectively defined.

A space can be a country or state, as we've seen, or it could be something else, like a national park or a mountain range. The point is that when you are talking about a space, people know what it is because there is a specific way of defining that location.

On the other hand, a place includes both subjective and objective aspects of a location. For example, let's say that Dustin wants to look at the language abilities of people along the American-Mexican border and compare those with the people who live in the Midwest and those who live along the border with French-speaking Canada. That seems pretty straightforward, right?

But wait! We have to figure out what areas are encompassed by all of those places. For example, which states are part of the Midwest? Is Missouri part of the Midwest, or is it part of the South? What about Kentucky? Is Colorado too far west to be part of that place?

The borders between America and Mexico or between America and French Canada seem a little easier to define, right? But remember that Dustin wants to study people who live along those borders. So how far into America does he go? Is it just people whose backyards touch the actual border between the countries? People who live within ten miles of the border? People who live within a hundred miles of the border?

As you can see, defining a place can get complicated. And many geographers have to make subjective decisions about how they will define a specific area for the study they are conducting. But with a place, they will have objective material, like the border, to help them and add in some subjective information, like how far away from the border people can live and still be considered 'on the border', to come up with a definition.

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