Figures highlights spatially-inflected social taxonomies and draws historical and conceptual connections across modules, times, and places. Figures are specific manifestations of the broader spatial formations, imaginative geographies, and ideas of place that give their spatiality meaning. Figures serve to situate empirical objects in relation to particular trajectories or abstract social relations (Nail 2015, 16). They both emerge from and enable narratives, which are central to human experience and to human meaning-making processes. Figures may also be spark points of political movements and counter-hegemonic discourses, or invitations to new empirical research that recovers the spatiality of marginalized social groups.
In Conversation with Other Crossings
Figures are points of entry for analyzing or comparing Imaginative Geographies, Boundaries, Rationalities, Flows and Immobilities, and Environments. Examining why and how a given group was figured as “invaders” versus “strangers,” “migrants,” or “travelers,” for example, can illuminate the operation of particular Rationalities or show how particular Imaginative Geographies take shape and generate specific consequences for individuals. Figures identified as “liminal,” “mediators,” “gatekeeper,” “expert,” and “official” can be points of entry for analyzing the Rationalities and historical actors behind a particular concept or instantiation of Boundaries or Environments. Figures such as “corporation,” “consumer,” “deities,” and gendered figures open the door to analyzing how Imaginative Geographies and Rationalities become reified as specific Flows and Immobilities. The coalescing of spatial concepts and practices into particular, widely identifiable Figures is also, for these reasons, a historical phenomenon in its own right, which is part of the broader fabric of spatial history.
Nail, Thomas. The Figure of the Migrant. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2015.