Some change could make a change

I’ve been writing long essays on Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. It has been quite the effort in thinking and even more so putting it all into words in a way that would help me and others understand what landscape is and what it does. I could just rely on what others have put forward in landscape research and linguistic landscape research, but somehow I felt and still feel that I should understand things myself rather than just take it for granted that more established people know what they are dealing with. It is not that they don’t know what they are dealing with. I believe that is apparent from the essays I’ve written so far. It is rather, as I’ve come to realize by reaching far and wide, that taking things for granted is at the heart of the issue. To most people it’s probably a waste of time, but I find taking the time to do so is not, rather the opposite.

It’s about time I write something more specifically related to landscapes. I will not be covering anything as eccentric as Deleuze and Guattari, but there’s no escaping Foucault in this essay. Anyway, this essay focuses on an article titled ‘The Place of Landscape: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting an American Scene’ by Richard Schein. The title already suggests that this essay is more hands on than my previous essays. I chose it because I find myself going back to the article.

Getting to point already in the opening line, Schein (660) defines “cultural landscape as a tangible, visible entity, one that is both reflective and constitutive of society, culture and identity.” I don’t see the necessity to use the word cultural when discussing landscape because I find the cultural/natural or human/natural divide unnecessary, as well as problematic. I addressed this when examining the article titled ‘La forêt loisir, un équipement de pouvoir: L’exemple de la forêt de Fontainebleau’ by Bernard Kalaora and Valentin Pelosse. I don’t want to get tangled into this, but those interested in this can go back and read more into that. Anyway, I find Schein’s definition is still very fitting. One word doesn’t change the rest of the sentence. It builds on the definition of landscape as the “tangible, visible scene” as presented in ‘Axioms for Reading the Landscape: Some Guides to the American Scene’ by Peirce Lewis. Schein (661) makes note of this himself, as well as the empiricist bent in Lewis’ work.

For those unfamiliar with landscape research, Schein’s article is particularly helpful as it offers a broad overview of previous scholarship that broadly speaking follows the definition of landscape as the tangible, visible scene. He (661) includes Carl Sauer’s in what he refers to as his selective genealogy of landscape, yet reminds the reader of the pitfalls of the Sauerian claims:

“While the Sauerian claim that the cultural landscape stands as the impress of human activity is relatively undisputed, the fundamental question of landscape authorship within that claim is problematic.”

He (661) explains that the issue has to do with “a superorganic, or reified conception of culture”, one that, according to James Duncan in his article titled ‘The Superorganic in American Cultural Geography’, assigns “it ontological status and causative power.” As Schein (661) points out, it’s not that Sauer is wrong in attributing landscape to human activity, but rather that it’s a wholesale approach that effectively denies individual human agency. In other words, there is good in Sauer, attributing landscapes to humanity and, I would add, making note of it’s changing nature. That said, both agency and change appear external to the individual, as if just occurring. Schein (661-662) argues that Lewis improves upon this and I think he does, quite considerably actually, but the question of authorship remains rather murky. It is a tricky question alright. On one hand, the role of agency should not be overlooked, that’s for sure, as advocated by Marwyn Samuels in ‘The Biography of Landscape’. On the other hand, emphasizing the role of individual agency may lead to overemphasis of the autonomy of the individual and the capacity to change things.

It’s been established that landscape not only is, but also does, as I’ve discussed in previous essays. This can be grasped in Henri Lefebvre’s work on space, Foucault’s work on diagram and Deleuze’s and Guattari’s work on abstract machines. Schein (662) points this out explicitly in his article in reference to his own previous work, as well as Denis Cosgrove’s work, the article that I already covered:

“We must also interrogate our embeddedness in and interaction with the cultural landscape. Corollary to this interrogation is the requirement to see the cultural landscape as not only a “thing” built by human hands – a material palimpsest – but also as a theoretical construct, with certain ontological and epistemological assumptions and ramifications[.]”

Schein (662) then addresses how landscape functions both as a material entity and as a theoretical construct:

“The cultural landscape, as both a material presence and conceptual framing, serves to discipline interpreting subjects alongside their objectification of landscape’s form and meaning. This can be illustrated through the spatial and visual components of the cultural landscape. Like ‘space’, the cultural landscape is produced and is ultimately implicated in the ongoing reproduction of social and cultural life[.] As part of that production, spatial relationships – distributions, partitioning, enclosures, circulation, division – serve as part of the dispersed disciplinary mechanisms of modernity, what Foucault … calls ‘capillaries of power.’”

While the third sentence explicitly refers to Foucault, namely to ‘Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews & Other Writings 1972–1977’, his influence is clearly present already in the first sentence. The second sentence is influenced by Henri Lefebvre, whose ‘The Production of Space’ he explicitly refers to among others. Schein (662) adds that:

“As a material object, the cultural landscape is seen. As an epistemology, vision also has a set of hidden rules, such as reliance upon linear perspective, pretension to mimesis, and the claim to the objective view. Landscape observers are disciplined by time-honored rules about what constitutes valid evidence and the legitimate object of inquiry[.]”

The influence of Cosgrove’s work is clear here, as he clearly indicates in the article. Here it should be emphasized that it is the visual observation that already disciplines the observer. Just as Cosgrove (46) argues in the referenced article that I’ve already covered, ‘Prospect, Perspective and the Evolution of the Landscape Idea’, the reliance on geometry, especially the linear perspective disciplines people to honor landscape as an objective view, as Schein (662) puts it. However, that’s not all for Schein. He (663) makes note of Meinig’s essay titled ‘The Beholding Eye: Ten Versions of the Same Scene’, in which, as already hinted by the title, Meinig suggests that landscape can be seen as different scenes based on the varied backgrounds of observers. Meinig (47) lists ten possible views, including but not limited to, nature, habitat, artifact, system, problem, wealth, ideology, history, place and aesthetic. For linguistic and semiotic landscape researchers, one could add language and semiotics here. So, as Meinig (43) argues, if you are, say, historian, you likely can and will perceive various historical aspects in the landscape. Of course that doesn’t mean that only the ones well versed in, for example, history can achieve that. It’s rather that one’s background influences what one can see in the landscape, just as Schein (663) points out. It’s worth noting that in the notes Schein (677) questions the autonomy of the observer as presented by Meinig in his essay, which I think is rather important to point out. In other words, it is problematic to assert that people see landscape as different versions of the same if we take into account that to most people landscape just is, at best something beautiful or ugly, as argued by Lewis in his essay, as well as by Maurice Ronai in his landscape articles.

Regardless of the taken for granted nature of landscape, the insight provided by Meinig is still valuable and works as a springboard for Schein. He (663) remarks that:

“But the essay also presents the possibility that the cultural landscape can itself capture different, even competing, sets of meaning, or independent, thematic networks of knowledge – networks presenting the landscape as nature, habitat, or history – and that these really are inherent in each cultural landscape. We can position a particular landscape as a node at the intersection of any number of these knowledge networks.”

In other words, Schein (663) advances Meinig’s argument, but by turning it on its head. If there is something that can be seen in the landscape, then there must be something in the landscape that the different observers can see. What’s novel here is that Schein (663) points out that there has to be something in the landscape in order to see it there. So you need those buildings from a certain era to be able to perceive them as such, pending you happen to have the aptitude for it. In short, you need what it is that is manifested in the landscape, as well as the prior knowledge required to perceive what’s there.

Schein (663) rephrases his argument:

“To use a language linked to more contemporary interpretation and analysis, a particular landscape may articulate a series of relatively independent discourses.”

He (663) continues by providing definitions for discourses. He relies on the definitions presented by James Duncan in ‘The City as Text: The Politics of Landscape Interpretation in the Kandyan Kingdom’. I could reiterate them, but I prefer Foucault’s concise definition instead. As presented in ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’, he (49) defines discourses “as practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak.”

Schein (663) advances the argument further in the North American context:

“Each seemingly individual decision behind any particular U.S. landscape is embedded within a discourse. When the action results in a tangible landscape element, or total ensemble, the cultural landscape becomes the discourse materialized. Examples of such discourses might include zoning theory and practice, architectural design trends, economic consumption patterns, and others. As a material component of a particular discourse or set of intersecting discourses, ‘the cultural landscape’ at once captures the intent and ideology of the discourse as a whole and is a constitutive part of its ongoing development and reinforcement.”

Now, to unpack this, Schein first points out that the decisions behind any landscape are tied to discourses. More importantly, when the actions result in changes in the landscape, the discourses are materialized. To use an example in linguistic landscape literature instead, Jan Blommaert’s discussion of pedestrian crossings is very fitting here. In ‘Ethnography, Superdiversity and Linguistic Landscapes: Chronicles of Complexity’, he (34) states:

“We see someone on a zebra crossing in what looks like a relatively busy shopping street. The person (incidentally: this author) moves forward on the zebra crossing: he looks to the left and his left hand is raised in a gesture signalling ‘stop’, ‘careful’ or ‘thanks’. We notice also that a bus has just passed the zebra crossing, and from Blommaert’s gesture we can infer that another vehicle is approaching the zebra crossing.”

Here Blommaert illustrates how people position themselves in relation to the pedestrian crossing. There is nothing particularly surprising in this example, but that’s exactly why I think it’s very relevant. In other words, he (34) summarizes how what one could, in the terminology of Ron Scollon and Suzanne Wong Scollon, call a ‘municipal regulatory discourse’ makes a difference in everyday life. As indicated, one typically looks to the left before crossing a street. If the traffic flows the other way like in the UK, then this is reversed. I remember being taught to look to the left, then to the right, then left again, to be aware of the traffic before crossing with emphasis on the left for rather obvious reasons. Anyway, looking to the left is something that I assume people do habitually to be sure of what might be coming your way. I don’t really signal the cars with my hand unless the cars yield their right of way, for example, if I’m on a bike and should be the one yielding. The pedestrian crossing of course affects the people in vehicles as well, as they are obliged to stop if someone is crossing or about to cross the street in the marked area, as noted by Blommaert (34-35):

“The zebra crossing flags a particular set of rights and obligations in that particular place; it creates, so to speak, a historical micro-space with a particular order. A pedestrian on a zebra crossing has right of way, and it is mandatory for cars and other vehicles to halt in front of the zebra crossing.”

Now, obviously, the white blocky stripes on the street would have no function if there was not a relevant discourse to back them up. As Foucault (49) would have it, there needs to be “practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak” in order for the markings to have some effect on people. In Duncan’s (16) words, there needs to be a “social framework of intelligibility, within which all practices are communicated, negotiated, or challenged.” Crossing a street is serious business, a matter of life and death at times, as noted by Blommaert (34). That’s why people needed to agree on how to make it safe, coming up with what is now known as a zebra crossing, as typically materialized on dark road surfaces in white paint. So there is a shared understanding of road safety, but it is enacted in the landscape as discourse materialized. Blommaert (35) further elaborates how the crossing functions:

“The zebra crossing is thus a semiotic space, a ‘ discourse in place’ that imposes, within the small confines of that space, a particular interaction order – one into which all possible participants have been effectively enskilled. Car drivers know immediately that they should halt in front of a zebra crossing, they will scan the road ahead for such signs and will react almost instinctively when they see a pedestrian on a zebra crossing. Pedestrians, in turn, will walk towards the zebra crossing if they intend to cross the street. They know how to recognize it and they know that they should cross the street there if they intend to do it safely. The actual crossing, then, is another instance of enskillment, in which the pedestrian first looks left and right, ensuring that no danger is ahead, then moves across while keeping eye contact with approaching cars and, if necessary, communicating with them by means of gestures.”

What is important to emphasize here is that the discourse in place or the discourse materialized imposes itself upon people and clearly affects their behavior. More importantly, as Blommaert aptly notes, this is essentially instinctive both to the drivers and the pedestrians. Similarly to Blommaert, Schein (663) states that:

“Through its material form as a cultural landscape, each discourse presents competing social and visual disciplines or strategies that combine to constrict or limit human action within and interpretation of any particular landscape.”

The wording is different but the message is more or less the same. Once materialized in the landscape, discourses discipline people human action in certain ways. The zebra crossing is a good, albeit rather simplistic example of how it all works. What I think is missing in Blommaert’s account is the connection to landscape, how people come to take the discourses in place for granted, how people come to react to them instinctively. Schein (663) asserts this clearly:

“Although we may ‘unpack’ or trace any individual discourse, it is the combined effect that creates the cultural landscape as Bo[u]rdieu’s (1977:82,79) habitus: history turned into nature through an amnesia of genesis. In our day-to-day lives, lived in ordinary vernacular landscapes, we take the tangible, visible scene for granted, especially as an ensemble. ‘For most Americans, cultural landscape just is’ (Lewis 1979:11). This naturalization makes the (seemingly unproblematic) vernacular landscape (of our suburb, our drive to work, our college campus) perhaps even more powerful in its disciplinary capabilities.”

The first sentence explains how it is indeed possible to unpack individual discourse, such as the ‘municipal regulatory discourse’ commonly referred to as the zebra crossing, as thoroughly elaborated by Blommaert. That said, what is important is the way landscape is understood as a totality, as pointed out by Schein (662) in reference to Cosgrove (46). When landscape just is, as Lewis puts it, people take it and everything in it for granted. While I appreciate Pierre Bourdieu’s work and think that he actually manages to get the message across often better than his contemporaries, I think it’s helpful to rephrase this a bit, to align it with Foucault’s parlance, considering that discipline is Foucault’s concept. Unless I’m mistaken, in ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’ Foucault (25) refers to what Schein elaborates as the ‘already-said’, yet ‘never-said’ and in ‘The History of Sexuality’ (95) as the ‘almost unspoken’. In other words, as I discussed in an earlier essay in further detail, discourses tend to become taken for granted. To use Bourdieu here, I would rather define landscape as doxic, as discussed by Tim Cresswell (277) in ‘Landscape and the Obliteration of Practice’. In the ‘Outline of a Theory of Practice’, Bourdieu (164) characterizes an experience he calls doxa:

“Every established order tends to produce (to very different degrees and with very different means) the naturalization of its own arbitrariness. Of all the mechanisms tending to produce this effect, the most important and the best concealed is undoubtedly the dialectic of the objective chances and the agents’ aspirations, out of which arises the sense of limits, commonly called the sense of reality, i.e. the correspondence between the objective classes and the internalized classes, social structures and mental structures, which is the basis of the most ineradicable adherence to the established order. Systems of classification which reproduce, in their own specific logic, the objective classes, i.e. the divisions by sex, age, or position in the relations of production, make their specific contribution to the reproduction of the power relations of which they are the product, by securing the misrecognition, and hence the recognition, of the arbitrariness on which they are based: in the extreme case, that is to say, when there is a quasi-perfect correspondence between the objective order and the subjective principles of organization (as in ancient societies) the natural and social world appears as self-evident.”

So, to summarize this, doxa is an arbitrary established order of things which appears natural. It has its own logic that functions to explain itself. Bourdieu (164) adds that orthodoxy and heterodoxy implies “awareness and recognition of the possibility of different or antagonistic beliefs” whereas this is not the case with doxa. In other words, it’s possible to recognize and resist something held as the right, true or correct order of things or alternative orders of things. Their arbitrariness is apparent. To be more specific Bourdieu (164) elaborates how doxa works:

“Schemes of thought and perception can produce the objectivity that they do produce only by producing misrecognition of the limits of the cognition that they make possible, thereby founding immediate adherence, in the doxic mode, to the world of tradition experienced as a ‘natural world’ and taken for granted. The instruments of knowledge of the social world are in this case (objectively) political instruments which contribute to the reproduction of the social world by producing immediate adherence to the world, seen as self-evident and undisputed, of which they are the product and of which they reproduce the structures in a transformed form.”

In other words, relevant to landscapes, the world is taken for granted or self-evident, as natural and objective, despite its arbitrary nature. It’s hard to go against doxa because it would be like going against nature. How does one question the unquestionable?

Nevertheless, at least the way I see it, Foucault would object here, probably pointing out that there is no mismatch between the natural and the social, the objective and the subjective, truth and belief, considering that there are only regimes of truth, or at least what is held as truth is not the same as what people consider to be the objective truth. That said, what counts is that people take landscapes for granted. As already covered in some of the previous essays, there is nothing natural or objective in landscapes, yet people would beg to differ. Schein (663) does not forget to mention this:

“Described thus far, any discourse materialized in the cultural landscape would seem to have superorganic qualities – it ‘appears’ out of nowhere, to be captured in the local scene.”

He makes use of the superorganic here, but not in the way that implies that landscape is actually superorganic. Therefore landscape only appears as a fact. Schein (664) then wonders if there is something that can be done about it. In summary, not unlike Henri Lefebvre in ‘The Production of Space’, he (664) argues that not only can things be changed, but in fact change is inevitable. What I mean is that the world is not stuck in time. While that change may be imperceptible, it does not mean that it isn’t happening, as Doreen Massey explains in an article titled ‘Landscape as a Provocation: Reflections on Moving Mountains’. I don’t think I have to further explain this here. The title says it all. So what is needed then is a broader awareness of how landscape functions, as pointed out by Schein (664, 676). I think this applies in particular to landscape scholars, including linguistic landscape scholars, yet I would emphasize the awareness of the general public more. It doesn’t do much good in this regard if knowledge doesn’t circulate beyond academic conferences and university break rooms.

How does it work then, on an everyday level that is? Bearing similarity Lefebvre’s spatial triad, Schein (664-674) examines Ashland Park, a suburban residential neighborhood located in the urban area of Lexington, Kentucky. He states that the landscape in question is the result of human actions, ranging from countless small changes made to properties by individuals to large scale changes made by planners and property developers. The everyday human actions are influenced by discourses, in this case zoning and historic (heritage) regulations, in addition to consumption patterns. The large scale actions are also influenced by discourses, such as architecture, design and planning. The discourses then may be affected (changed) by human action that results in or alters the materialized discourses. He uses the example of fire insurance maps that need to be updated accordingly if changes are made to properties pending they have an effect on insurances. The materialized discourses (in place) may also influence discourses over time, which then influence human action and/or materialized discourses. He (672-673) uses the example of historic preservation, which arbitrarily designates certain landscapes as worth preserving (673):

“The discourse of historicity, especially as promoted by the historic preservation movement, is especially evident as it plays out through the Ashland Park landscape. … The Ashland Park ‘historic’ landscape is truly one node in a far-ranging network that includes ideas, ideals, institutions, regulation, and preservation: a disciplining discourse encompassing the local landscape and its residents. … Among the first on the National Register, Ashland is now a museum that stands as the sociospatial focus of the neighborhood, a rallying point of invented tradition for the city and, especially, nearby resident.”

To further exemplify this, Schein (674) points out that the preservation discourse, or historicity, may lead to rather curious situations:

“[A] homeowner was thrust into the preservation network when he failed to replace his front porch pillars with similar, historically relevant support posts. His response was to paint the porch columns on his highly visible Main Street house as if draped in the American flag, symbolically challenging one set of ideals with another.”

While I’m not familiar with the specifics of the case, attention should be paid to the fact that a homeowner was not simply prevented from making changes to the property, but forced to make changes to his property in order to match the relevant discourse. In other words, it was not a question of preserving the landscape, but retroactively harmonizing it by removing the offending elements. The homeowner who was forced to comply then subverted the preservation discourse in order to point out that he is forced to live in a(n invented) museum.

To wrap this up, I’ll let Schein (664) summarize the way he defines landscape:

“The cultural landscape, as discourse materialized, is simultaneously disciplinary in its spatial and visual strategies and empowering in the possibilities inherent for individual human action upon the landscape. The cultural landscape thus is continually implicated in the ongoing reconstitution of a discourse, or set of discourses, about social life, and it is in this sense that it serves as both a disciplinary mechanism and a potentially liberating medium for social change.”

On the final page he (676) further clarifies:

“Understood as a material moment in a recurring flow of information/ideals/actions/power, the cultural landscape exists as a crucial point in and of power, as a place where action can contribute to, as well as be constricted by, the ideals that cohere the discursive network. Through the landscape, the human agent is both object and subject.”

Here, with these definitions, I can’t help but keep thinking of Lefebvre in ‘The Production of Space’.

I chose to address this article because I think it offers a nuanced understanding of landscape, one in which landscape isn’t considered a fact or explained operating as external to people (i.e. superorganic, transcendent or ideological etc.), yet acknowledging that people tend to take it on an as is basis. While the adopted and adapted Foucauldian conceptions of power and discipline may come across as painting a bleak picture to those not familiar with Foucault’s work, Schein is actually rather positive about the possibilities of individual human agency, perhaps more than I am. Similar to Lefebvre, the Foucauldian understanding of power is actually positive, not negative, as clearly emphasized by Foucault (194) in ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison’:

“We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it ‘excludes’, it ‘represses’, it ‘censors’, it ‘abstracts’, it ‘masks’, it ‘conceals’. In fact, power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth.”

Simply put, the way landscape works is productive. It is of course produced, but also productive and thus subject to change. It is, it does and it becomes. I also like Schein’s article because it illustrates how landscape works. It’s well worth reading and as there is no substitute to reading it yourself, you should do yourself a favor and read it yourself.


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