Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

Imaginative Geographies

Imaginative geographies may be defined as “the ideological practice of every social formation that becomes aware of the existence of more or less remote lands and neighboring peoples” (Porter 1991, 20-21). As Edward Said defined them in Orientalism (1979), imaginative geographies are techniques of representation, ways of othering spaces and places through recourse to specific images, codes, and conventions, that both reflect and enable relations of power. Imaginative geography may serve as an expression of social anxieties or a means of diffusing a perceived threat (e.g., through the construction of "pure" and "polluted" spaces), or as a means of preparing spaces for colonization or other forms of appropriation (e.g., by identifying “uncivilized,” “savage,” or “backward” lands and peoples, or “empty” spaces devoid of their actual inhabitants) (Said 1979, Gregory 1995, Watkins 2015, Fields 2011, Sibley 1995). Conversely, imaginative geographies provide a shared sense of place and identity to those who participate, knowingly or unconsciously, in these modes of representation and subjectification. By (re)defining and (re)situating places, figures/bodies, and cultures, these techniques of representation enable or buttress specific spatial orders while subverting or transforming others.

In Conversation with Other Crossings

Imaginative Geographies fuel and are fueled by Rationalities, Environments, Vehicles, and Figures. They constitute Boundaries. Imaginative Geographies are also sites of conflict, which expose hegemonic Rationalities, and tools of subjective formation, which naturalize particular Boundaries, Figures, and Environments as reflections of an inherent spatial order rather than as historical products of human and non-human action (while denaturalizing or erasing other boundary systems). Imaginative Geographies intersects with Rationalities, Boundaries, and Figures. As noted in Rationalities, some Imaginative Geographies of the nation as a living body use vital and territorial rationalities to justify projects of territorial defense or expansion and genocide, often in tandem with discourses of development that manifest as the Figures of the advancing settler and the backwards native.


Fields, Gary. “Enclosure Landscapes: Historical Reflections on Palestinian Geography.” Historical Geography 39 (2011): 182–207.

Gregory, Derek. “Imaginative Geographies.” Progress in Human Geography 19, no. 4 (December 1, 1995): 447–85.

Porter, Dennis. Haunted Journeys: Desire and Transgression in European Travel Writing. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.

Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1979.

Sibley, David. Geographies of Exclusion: Society and Difference in the West. London and New York: Routledge, 1995.

Watkins, Josh. “Spatial Imaginaries Research in Geography: Synergies, Tensions, and New Directions.” Geography Compass 9, no. 9 (2015): 508–22.

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