Sg G(T/Ta)

I think I’ve been busy covering rather complex issues lately and this time is no different. However, this time I hope to be short, only looking at one article, like I did early on. From the French circle of geographers relevant to space and landscape, I’ll turning to Claude Raffestin, focusing on his article ‘Space, territory, and territoriality’. Why? Well, I haven’t covered anything by Raffestin so far, so why not. Okay, he is actually rather insightful, so there is that.

In the article, as pointed clearly in the abstract (121), Raffestin is examining his own approach to the concepts included in the title. Starting from space, he (122) characterizes what some call nature and others call space “the given ‘original prison'” and what follows, “the ‘derived prison’, the transformation of the original. He (122) then calls this space ‘layered’ in the sense that a pastry is layered or leafy. I guess this works better in French, as he is referring to ‘feuilleté’, which, apparently, is some flaky pastry. Anyway, I get the point. I immediately thought of ‘joulutorttu’, a traditional Christmas tart, which is made from puff pastry. As a side note, I mean I can’t resist, some(one) in Sweden saw a swastika in it, because the way it is often folded. Anyway, the stuff is flaky alright, as well as tasty if you ask me. Back to Raffestin, he (122) clarifies that he considers space layered or leafy because it can be easily browsed, like a book. Maybe this is a language thing, something that gets lost in translation, or I’m just not aware of this use, but he (122) adds that:

“To leaf is at the same time to model and to browse: to model images and browse through representations of this reality.”

Right, okay. I still don’t see it, but I’ll let him continue. He (122) clarifies this by borrowing an extract from ‘The Book of Sand’ by Jorge Luis Borges. I’m not going to do that here, but the point is that ‘The Book of Sand’ is an oxymoron, because it has no beginning nor an end just like sand. None of the pages are the first, nor the last. I guess the point is that sand is just bunch of granules in some order, but none of them are the first, nor the last. In his (122) own words then:

“Borges’s fiction is a splendid metaphor for illustrating the problem that space poses, particularly socially produced space, whose origins retreat constantly from view. Space is the book, and vice versa.”

I can’t help but to think of Deleuze and Guattari here. Rhizome and multiplicity comes to my mind, but let’s not get tangled on that one. I’ll let him (122) complete his argument instead:

“Neither beginning nor end, as with Sisyphus’s punishment. There are things that must be repeated ceaselessly, that must always be begun anew.”

Now I’m thinking of Richard Schein’s view on landscapes, never really set and done, to be constantly (re)interpretated. Questioning whether his peers will find his use of Borges sufficient, Raffestin (122) turns to Albert Einstein, who (xv) apparently once wrote in a preface (actually a foreword) to ‘Concepts of Space: The History of Theories of Space in Physics’ by Max Jammer:

“Both space concepts [ie, relational and absolute] are free creations of the human imagination, means devised for easier comprehension of our sense experience[.]”

The point here is, as Raffestin (123) elaborates, that space itself, as we understand it anyway, is an invention, a handy one at that, so a scaffolding. In other words, it doesn’t escape representation. He (123) explains:

“It is sufficient to recall a banality here, that the creation of representations is permanent and will never cease so long as there are humans in the position of seeking to satisfy their needs.”

Once again, I can’t help but to think of Deleuze and Guattari again, this time the n – 1 reduction, but let’s not get tangled up on that either. As a result, Raffestin (123) declares that:

“Space is a concept that cannot be defined absolutely or permanently.”

Instead, he (123) elaborates that “it is constantly questioned anew[.]” So, then, for Raffestin (123):

“The object of geography, in the scientific sense of the term, is thus a relation – or, if you prefer, an ensemble of relations – formed between actors and a material and/or immaterial reality, as is the case with all symbols attached to the Earth, for instance.”

That means, as he (123) adds, that functioning in relation to this reality will reveal different “potentialities of this reality[.]” In other words, one cannot attain reality as it is, only types of realities. Why am I thinking of abstract machines and diagrams here? Anyway, if that wasn’t clear enough, Raffestin (124) emphasis this:

“When geographers address the issue of space, they give the impression of undertaking investigation of an absolute space, a grail of some sort that obviously does not exist.”

Now, I take it that he means that space is often understood as absolute space, something accessible just out there. This makes me think of Carl Sauer and J.G. Granö, but let’s not get bogged down on that. I don’t think Raffestin is going as far as saying there is no exterior, nothing outside representation. I might be wrong, but that’d be a daring, if not pointless thing to assert, like John Searle’s interpretation of what Jacques Derrida once stated. It’s rather just … mediated.

Moving on to territory and territoriality, after elaborating how other understand the concepts, Raffestin (126) explains what he means by territory:

“I would claim that the relational system is just as important as the material realm, if not more so, because territory, in my conception, is the result of the production of actors.”

He (126) adds that they way he employs the concept of territory is that of the social space as expressed by Henri Lefebvre in ‘The Production of Space’. To clarify things here, I take it that he actually actually read the French original instead of the English translation. That means, as I’ve pointed out in the essays on articles by other French geographers, that he was familiar with Lefebvre’s work, as well as the work of other notable French thinkers at that time, so a decade or two, give or take, ahead of the Anglophone circles. Not that it’s a competition though. Just saying. For sure makes them worth reading. Getting back on track here, Raffestin (127) contrasts territoriality with landscape:

“The opposition between landscape and territoriality bears witness to the opposition between the ‘seen’ and the ‘lived’.

Now, if you are familiar Lefebvre, in ‘The Production of Space’, he (39) speaks of representational spaces, coupled with the lived space. I’m not going to into further detail, but just so, in case you, the reader, happen to be wondering what’s the connection. Go read my essay on the topic, or even better, just do yourself a massive favor: grab the book and have a go at it. You won’t be disappointed. Anyway, Raffestin (127) sees landscape as the counterpart to territoriality. If you ask me, that actually makes a lot of sense. As my interest is primarily on landscapes, I’ll move on to the next segment where Raffestin (129) addresses it:

“Situating inquiry at the level of relations that are not immediately visible (but nevertheless observable thanks to different human sciences) is a way of under standing that the landscape we have in front of our eyes is not contemporaneous to the observation. For the observer the landscape has every appearance of fixity, even though it is only the image of a moment in evolution, the crystallization of past moments that must be deciphered like a palimpsest. The landscape is perhaps the most complex image to decipher, as it incorporates the ‘before’ and ‘after’ that prepare a future which is itself difficult to describe. In other words, it is an evolution whose construction does not cease.”

How can I rephrase that, put it better in other words? Well, I’m not sure I need to. That is, honestly, well put. I can appreciate how, for once, almost like in passing, someone manages to explain what’s at stake when one seeks to decipher landscapes. To be fair to the reader, I’ll let him (129) also explain territoriality:

“Territoriality as a system of relations is also a system of exchanges and, consequently, a system of flux of all sorts between exteriority (the physical environment) and alterity (the social environment). Territorial morphology is not explicable outside of the activities that created it.”

He (129) then clarifies this in relation to Lefebvre:

“Territoriality is in some sense – as I have said – the hidden, dissimulated structure of the everyday.”

It’s worth emphasizing that Lefebvre is big on the everyday, that is to say all things mundane. Raffestin (129) makes note of this, stating that Lefebvre once said that “everyday life is what goes without saying, but is not thereby any easier to know.” I can’t confirm this, at least not at this very moment, but that does sound about right. Related to that, I think the same thing applies to seeing, as George Perkins Marsh (10) puts it in ‘Man and Nature: Or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action’:

“[T]he power most important to cultivate, and, at the same time, hardest to acquire, is that of seeing what is before him.”

I have referred to this passage in the past. I can only agree with this. Anyway, be it territoriality or landscape, there is just something very mundane about them. Things just are and, as pointed out already, that goes without saying. That said, or rather not said I guess in this context, it doesn’t make any easier to grasp, probably on the contrary.

What is interesting is how Raffestin (132) explains the contemporary relation between the two:

“In the past we made territory first and landscape came afterwards. Today, landscape is drawn first and transformed into territory afterwards. The situation is inverted. For a long period we lived the sequence going from territory to landscape, or from production to representation, but now we pass from landscape to territory, or from representation to production. This inversion bears weighty consequences, because it means that we invent ‘nature’.”

Here I think of Stephen Daniels and Denis Cosgrove (1), who, I think, discuss this in the introduction to ‘The Iconography of Landscape: Essays on the symbolic representation, design and use of past environment’:

“A landscape park is more palpable but no more real, no less imaginary, than a landscape painting or poem. Indeed the meanings of verbal, visual and built landscapes have a complex interwoven history. To understand a built landscape … it is usually necessary to understand written and verbal representations of it, not as ‘illustrations’, images standing outside it, but as constituent images of its meaning or meanings. And of course, every study of a landscape further transforms its meaning, depositing yet another layer of cultural representation.”

I take this, as well as what is presented in Cosgrove’s article ‘Prospect, Perspective and the Evolution of the Landscape Idea’, to mean that landscape is no longer, or well, hasn’t been for while, something that we see in paintings. Yes, landscape, as we understand the word, has its origins in landscape paintings, but they were depictions of territories. Subsequent developments led to altering those territories to match those pictorial depictions. It was almost like the people who held those territories then had a mandate to do so. It only makes sense that the world represents the painting and not the other around, eh? Now nothing is what once was, nature or space, as mentioned in the second paragraph of this essay. Now everything is first and foremost a landscape. The tables have turned. To be honest, I think it should be emphasized that the tables turned a long time ago already. It’s not a 2012 or a 2017 development. Everything is now more or less landscaped. The paintings have come to life.

In the final bit, Raffestin proposes a model. Following Michel Foucault, specifically how he defines labor as coming from below in the first volume of ‘The History of Sexuality’, Raffestin (132-133) states that through action actors dispose of labor. He (132) designates this with the letter L. He (133) adds that what labor disposes is M, as in mediators: material and material instruments, including knowledge. For Raffestin (133) these mediators are not just passive material objects, results of production, but they also play a role in production, as well as representation. More importantly, however, similarly to Bruno Latour in ‘Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory’, Raffestin (133) states that, as already hinted, the mediators are not mere objects that exist in isolation from another, nor from the actors, but as “complex ensembles manipulated by actor-networks[.]” Interestingly, he (133) adds that as actors rarely think of the mediators when mediating action through them, they might be making use of mediators that they are not aware of, as in mediators inside mediators. I think this is worth emphasizing. People not only use this and that, but what they are might be far more complex than what is on the surface. In Deleuzo-Guattarian terms, the assemblages are heterogeneous and to specify this, even common objects may have more than meets the eye, such as emergent properties. Back to Raffestin, who (133) notes that the mediators also affect representation. Here it’s worth reminding that the mediators do include knowledge, as well as money, so it’s not just bits and bobs, albeit they are important in their own right, inasmuch as they are. He (133) uses the example of how back in they day, in the 18th century, people used to consider mountains frightening, whereas that’s no longer the case, rather the opposite. Changes in the mediators, no, not as in the same mediators, but the ensemble of them that is contemporaneous mediates action, what is thinkable, seeable and doable. He (133) then states that this necessitates a program, P, for the actors: “a set of intentions, realizable or not, and objectives[.]” He (133) exemplifies this with how actors may produce or represent an ecosystem, be it rural or urban, to speak of it materially or intellectually. The relations, material and immaterial, between the actor and the environment he (133) labels R. The last two labels for Raffestin (133) are Sn, standing for the organic and/or inorganic environment or simply the given environment for the actor, and the So, the produced environment as acted upon by actors through mediation, both material and immaterial. In summary then, for Raffestin (133) the environment consists of these two, Sn+So, leading to territory, T, and the set of relations in that territory, territoriality, Ta. He (133) then returns to summarize the actor, A, who makes use of the triad of L, M and P in action (production or representation) in relation to the environment. He (134) goes on to add the temporal dimension and mix his model with the Deleuzo-Guattarian concepts of (de/re)territorialization, but it gets overly schematic to be illustrated here. Those who are interested can help themselves and read it all by themselves. What is important for my interests, what results from all this. He (134) states that:

“[The results] should also be considered in relation to a regard that depends on a particular semiosphere.”

I think it’s worth clarifying that a regard could also be stated as a look or a gaze. I reckon this is a language thing, just using regard, as you indeed can, because that’s how it’s used in French. Following John Berger, this could also be understood as a way of seeing. Anyway, he (134) designates this with Sg. He (134) then clarifies that:

“The regard implied by a particular language – whether natural, pictorial, musical, logicomathematical, graphical, etc – is here called G and will produce an image or a landscape[.]”

Finally then, the image, the landscape is summarized by him (134) as Sg G(T/Ta). It is worth going back a bit for a moment. Earlier on in the article, Raffestin (132) explains that it used to be the case the territory preceded landscape, but that got inverted. Raffestin cut that argument a bit for me, but I was fine with it because I was aware of it through the works of Daniels and Cosgrove, as well as of those of Maurice Ronai. It’s worth reminding that prior to the invention of landscape painting, vision was not as important as it later became. Life was very hands on and humdrum in the feudal period. In other words, following Lefebvre (39), the lived space was far more important that the representational space. In Raffestin’s terms then, the territory and territoriality were more important than the gaze and landscape. Why is that? Well, staying fixed on Raffestin for a bit longer, the actors did not have the mediators, the materials, the material instruments and the needed knowledge that would have enabled the required production and representation. Simply put, as Cosgrove explains in his article, landscape painting didn’t come about unprompted. It required the knowledge of linear perspective that was (re)discovered, the appropriate materials, namely oil paints (which require materials, instruments and knowledge to produce) and material instruments (same applies here). Of course that doesn’t mean that people didn’t look around prior to these developments. It’s rather that gaze, or way of seeing, was not the same that of the landscape painters, who, having the knowledge and using the materials and material instruments, could represent territory on canvas. I guess you technically only need the linear perspective and the rest of it is for making it stick, or so to speak. It does help when one can manifest that way of seeing. As explained by Cosgrove, I guess, in a sense, it becomes instrumental, but let’s not get bogged down on that. So, what was missing earlier on and I had to fill in myself, can be found in the final pages of the article written by Raffestin. He (134) explains that:

“Grasping the lived experience of the present is already difficult, but grasping the lived experience of the past borders on the impossible, since it is no longer anything but a representation, knowledge mediated by values whose significance is often difficult to recover and master.”

As a side note, before I carry on with the topic, this is actually something that puzzles me about the non-representational side of landscape research. I mean get it, I get why one would venture there, fair game, but as stated by Raffestin, I fail to appreciate rendering the lived experience, the non-representational, into an account of something because that renders it into a representation. I’m in favor of recommending people to go and experience things themselves, not read or look at something less than the experience itself. So, for example, assuming that I’m the company of someone else and we are both familiar with what is happening, say, in a hockey game, and we are spectating it, I don’t see the point in narrating what happens to the person in my company. We both can see and we know the rules of the game. The person sitting beside me has little need for my representations of what just happened. Now that doesn’t mean that you cannot later on narrate what went on to someone else who wasn’t there. That said, of course, you only offer a representation of it, that’s best you can do. Alternatively you can watch it on video, but while that probably is less shallow than what you remember and can convey in words, it still a representation. Another example would be when I attempted to convey in a letter to a friend of mine how it is surreal it is to drive on a motorway around at night time around time of the Finnish midsummer. There is no one around, it’s essentially day light conditions, the sun is shining, but the shadows are pronounced and elongated. It’s a very visual experience, very landscaped if you will. Of course there is more to it, being on the road. That feel to it. But even if we eliminate the driving part and the sensations related to that, it’s still worth experiencing and that’s the point. I cannot do justice to that experience when I put it to words. It’s a mere representation of how that is, or was to be more specific.

Anyway, getting back on track, Raffestin (134-135) provides two different accounts of how people used to consider mountains. The first example is that of a 16th century goatherd, Thomas Platter, whose experiences of living in the Alps can be summarized as indeed very hands on. There is no gazing at distant vistas. The accounts included by Raffestin have to do with the problems caused by lack of shoes and the poor sleeping conditions. In stark contrast then, later on, albeit it’s worth recognizing that there is partial overlap (goatherds were not the people first to take pleasure in paintings, not really the target audience to begin with), it’s about gazing at vistas and being impressed by their wondrous qualities.

In conclusion, I chose this text by Raffestin because much of his work is in French and, well, I can’t claim to be competent in it. I would have to go through it sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, so it’s not really doable, at least not at the moment. Never say never. Luckily the article covered here summarizes much of his thought up to the point of its publication. It also allows the reader to make sense of his influences, which he lists very generously. The article is worth reading, albeit you might struggle with it if you are not familiar with, for example, Lefebvre and Foucault, as well as Latour or Deleuze and Guattari. I particularly appreciate the examination of how the lived space and the representational space function in relation to each other and the explanation of how they became inverted and, well, blurred. I find it helpful in organizing my thoughts. I don’t know if I have much use for the model, or rather the schematic of it, but I nonetheless appreciated the clarity it offers to the reader. In summary, highly recommended reading.


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