Figures are geographic imaginaries applied to the representation of social groups. For example, referring to a person as an "immigrant" immediately invokes a spatial referent. The immigrant is, by definition, from "elsewhere." Immigrant also invokes its opposite, the native -- the one who is from "here." The designation of a person as an “official” (as broad as that term may be) invokes a sense of territoriality, with its attendant power dynamics (intrusion, mapping, concealment, etc.). The figure of the (colonial) “settler” embodies or represents conceptions of “empty” space, images of paradise or inhospitable terrain, and processes of domestication or expulsion, while invoking corollary figures such as the “aborigine” or “savage” (which carries its own spatio-temporal connotations).
The Figures crossing 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 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. Specific groups figured as “threats from outside,” such as the late nineteenth century idea that Chinese migrants were “invasive,” can be points of entry for analyzing or comparing imaginative geographies, spatialities, and place in particular historical moments.