Space, Place and Identity

GEO 6473, Fall 2011


Class Location: SIPA 503 Time: 2:00-4:45 p.m. Monday

Seminar Facilitator:  Ben Smith     Email:

Office: SIPA 305   Office Phone: 348-2074

Office Hours: Monday, 12:45-1:45 (or before and after class)


Teaching Homepage:

Readings: (log on to moodle)


So you want to learn about Star Trek, coming in second in horse racing, and government issued photo cards?


Unfortunately, none of those will be covered in this seminar’s readings.    Instead, we will be focusing on the intersection of what have undoubtedly become three “keywords” that transcend most social science disciplines, as well as many of the arts and humanities: space, place, and identity.    Indeed, what I hope you come to glimpse through this seminar is the deep-seated role ideas of space and place have in the formation of all types of identities – not just those of individual subjects and groups, but of regions, institutions, practices and even ecosystems.    Because of the wide-ranging nature of the readings, hopefully everyone will see some of what they are interested in within the course.


On top of this, for those of you taking this as part of your IR core, SPI has a special role as well.   The other courses in the core immerse you in International Relations theory and method, to make you a specialist in that discipline.   The job of this course is just the opposite – to make you a generalist; to help you converse with a wider academic community and help you make connections outside your discipline.  


The way I have structured the course is to make it a survey of contemporary spatial thought in the social sciences, covering various topics such as gender, nationalism, the field, the state, economy, nature, etc.    It will be a little heavy on geography – but then again, geography is the super-best #1 discipline for addressing issues of space and place (and it happens to be what I am trained in). 


Seminar Requirements & Grades


To make this a good seminar experience for everyone, you will have to 1) read all the required reading, every week, even if it is lengthy/difficult and 2) come prepared and ready to our weekly meetings so that we all can learn from each other.   To make sure you reap maximum reward out of this reading and sharing, you need to 3) write about it.


To provide the incentive to do all this, I have to assign grades.   Grades in the seminar will be broken down in the following manner:


Seminar attendance participation           25%

Weekly questions for discussion             5%

Weekly thought pieces                          20%

3 Critical Essays                                     50% (15, 15, 20)



Seminar Attendance & Participation


First off, to get the most out of the seminar, you have to be there, every week, on time.   The only valid excuses are if you have a medically validated illness or you are presenting at an academic conference.  Or, if the campus is destroyed by a hurricane.    Not feeling like it, having other things to do, traffic and work are not excuses.    


But showing up is only a fraction of it.  You also have be alert and ready to participate.  While I try to put the readings in context (letting you guess my thinking behind them), it is not my job to lecture – my role is as a facilitator for all of us to have a discussion and for all of you to have a chance to get your questions answered.   While I don’t like to (and thankfully, normally don’t have to), I will start calling on people with questions if the discussion starts to ebb, so be prepared with something to say.



Using Ecampus/Moodle & Your First Assignment


This is probably going to be the first time most of you have used Moodle (it certainly is mine).    So there will be a feeling out process, but here is what I know:


1.      Go to

2.      Look at the menu in the left column.  Click on “Moodle Login

3.      Use your FIU email ID and password to login.   Note: if your usual ID doesn’t work, ask Ben.  I will see which one the course shows you as using.

4.      In the upper-right corner, is a box called my courses.  Click on the Fall 2011 folder, and then on GEO 6473

5.      First thing you need to do is go to the left-hand column and click on “Profile”.     Once there, you should do several things.

a.       Click the “Edit Profile” tab.

b.      Unless you want to get an email every time anyone posts anything in a forum, change the box next to “Forum auto-subscribe” to “No: don’t automatically subscribe me to forums”

c.       It would probably be good to set “Forum tracking” to “Yes” so it is easy to see which posts you have and have not read.

d.      Please put a picture up.   It doesn’t have to be of you, but it is nice to have some sort of avatar for everyone so we can see who did what on the forums.

e.       The rest of it is up to you if you do it or don’t

6.      For your first assignment, I want you to go into the forum under “Getting to Know Each Other Week” and follow the instructions there to make a bio post.  Everyone please post their bios using the “Add a new discussion topic,” not by replying to each other’s posts.


Weekly Questions and Thought Pieces


By noon on the day of seminar, you will need to login to and click on the link for this course.   Then, go to the appropriate week, and click on the discussion forum (it has a little button that looks like this   ). 


In that forum, you need to put a single post that includes two things:

1.      A 600-900 word “thought piece” which touches on ALL the assigned readings for the week (more on this below).

2.      Two questions for discussion in class.  These questions can be points you were unclear on, or perhaps something you think would get a cracking good discussion going. 


To make this post, hit the “Add a new discussion topic” button.   In the “Subject” box, please type your name.   In the message box, please place both your thought piece and questions.  You can type directly into the box, but I would suggest using another program like Word to type your response and questions first, and then simply copy the text into the message box.


A couple of DO NOTs

1.       DO NOT make your initial post as a reply to someone else’s post.  Hit the  Add a new discussion topic” button to make your first post.   However, you are of course free to reply to each other’s posts if you want (although it is not required).

2.      DO NOT include your thought piece and questions as an attachment.   It just takes everyone more time to look at yours if you do that.


Once noon has passed, you should take time (provided you have it) to read over each others’ posts, so we are ready to discuss.


This writing and sharing is probably the single most beneficial part of the class – it allows you to collect your own thoughts and learn from the thoughts of your fellow students.



Weekly Thought Pieces


To make sure you have thoughts to share each week, and also have some notes available as you prepare for qualifying exams and thesis writing, each of you are to write a single 600-900 word commentary each week, focusing on all the assigned readings.   A commentary should give a brief informal abstract of EACH AND EVERY ONE of the readings (with the exception of the Key Thinkers.. readings, which are already summaries) assigned for the week (a few sentences on what it is about, what the author argued, what it speaks to, etc.).  It must also contain some original thoughts, analysis and/or criticisms on whatever you found striking in the readings: maybe how they connected together (or disagreed), or maybe a way a particular theory or method was used, or maybe a novel interpretation, etc.  These thoughts don’t have to be incredibly refined – they do have to be there.  


Again, to repeat, I only want one 600-900  word commentary from you each week.  The exact format is up to you and whatever works best for you is fine(e.g. one long flowing essay, more distinct sections for each reading, following by a paragraph that makes connections and analysis, etc). However, that one commentary must address all the readings, while also showing some original thoughts.  


I expect them to be ready by noon for each class session.   I am not expecting you to turn out The Sublime Object of Ideology, but I do expect you try your best to be grammatically correct, analytically bold and to not just babble on with no structure. Continually sub-par work will be rewarded as such – and apparent to all your hard-working peers.


Each week, you will receive  +” for doing the assignment; a “+L” if it is turned in late but done correctly,  a “–“ if it is turned in, but showed lack of effort; or 0 if it is not turned in.


Additionally, once (and only once) during the semester, you are allowed to pass on a week’s readings (if you are going to conference, or out of town, or are sick).   To use your pass, you still have to make a new post in the forum, but just write “Pass” in the message box.  This will be scored as a “+P”.



Critical Essays

Because the various weeks’ readings all focus on issues of space, place and identity, but do so in fairly diverse contexts, I will not make you go through the whiplash-inducing process of connecting them all together in a single paper.   Instead, what I am asking for are three 1750-2000 word essays, the best of which will be presented to the group at the end of the seminar.[1]   Ideally they will be expansions of the “thoughts, analysis and/or criticisms on whatever you found striking in the reading” from some of your weekly summaries, and not merely abstracting once again what the articles were about.  In other words, this is your chance for bold critical thinking.    And by critical thinking, I don’t mean just looking at an article and declaring “It Stinks.”   It means that you engage the readings, appreciating the context in which they were written and being humbly aware of the context from which you, as a situated reader, approach the readings.  This is a chance to push your boundaries as a thinker and writer. 


As for how to structure the essays, I hope you vary the approaches you take in the papers.

1.      One approach is to vary the scale of your analysis.  For example, if one particular passage or sub-section really grabs you, you can write an in-depth analysis of it.  Maybe it will be one paper, or a few of the papers from a given week.  Or maybe you have made some surprising connections across papers from different weeks. 

2.      Another approach is to vary the focus of the essay – for example (and please don’t limit yourselves to these), one time discuss what type of intellectual inquiry a group of readings make possible and what they ignore, another time discuss how theory is translated into empirically enquiry, or maybe how those people working as professionals or activists might be able to apply lessons from the readings to transform society.   

3.      Yet another approach – and one I hope you all take in one of your essays – is to espouse on how some of the readings might enrich research you hope to undertake, or – if you don’t yet have a clue what you want to research – how these readings inform, or maybe transform theory in your discipline.  


Basically, I don’t want to see the same paper from you three times, just focusing on different articles.


I want to see a much higher level of polish on these in terms of structure, grammar, and analysis than in the weekly thought pieces.    Papers that score well will show rigorous, internally consistent thought that engages the readings in their context.   Please note: these are not research papers, these are analysis papers.  You do not need to collect a bunch of outside sources.


To prevent you from leaving all three thought papers until the last minute (and to get some feedback from me), I will make the first one due on or before Monday, November 7.  It must be typed, printed and stapled, and handed to me during that day’s meeting.   The other two must be handed in at the beginning of class on Monday, Dec. 5.   Late papers will lose points rapidly and I don’t do incompletes.


Also, so everyone in the seminar knows what you are thinking, you are going to choose your best paper to present in class.  This will be done during the last two sessions of the seminar.   This paper will be weighted slightly higher than your other two.


Academic Integrity


Do not plagiarize.   If you do, I will hunt you down, or even worse, have the meanest of my two cats hunt you down.   


Seriously, this course is not about producing the world-shifting treatise on space, place and identity.  It is about you getting in the habit of writing and thinking in a critical and professional manner concerning work in the wider social science community, and imagining how you might become a part of that community.  That means the most important thing you can do is try your best – and plagiarism is not trying.


If you don’t know what plagiarism is, or its consequences, let me cite Rod Neumann’s 2006 syllabus for this course:


The disciplinary action that will be taken in the case of plagiarism is explained in the section on “Academic Misconduct” in the FIU Student Handbook. If you are uncertain about what constitutes plagiarism, check out the websites: “Plagiarism: What It is and How to Recognize and Avoid It (Indiana University)” at or “Paraphrase: Write it in Your Own Words” at



Required Readings


In an effort to save you from having to buy lots of books, and to give a wider sampling of thought, most of the readings in this course will be articles/book chapters/sections of books. 


There are two required books for the seminar. The books are:


  1. Massey, Doreen. For Space.  Sage Publications, Ltd.  2005. – This is a good overview of space, place and identity written by one of the most recognized authors on the subject.
  2. Hubbard, Phil; and Kitchin, Rob.   Key Thinkers on Space and Place (Second Edition).   Sage Publications Ltd. 2010. – This should be handy for you to contextualize the work of some of the big names we read this semester.


The rest of the readings I am distributing to you online.


Early Readings Schedule (will be updated ):


Week 1: August 22 – Introductions


Week 2: August 29 – Imaginative Geographies


1.      Edward Said. “Introduction” and “Imaginative Geography and Its Representations: Orientalizing the Oriental Orientalism.  Vintage, 1979. 1-28 and 49-73

2.      Derek Gregory. “Architectures of Enmity” and  ‘Civilization’ and ‘Barbarism’” The Colonial Present: Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq. Blackwell, 2004. 15-29 and 47-75.

3.      Michael Heffernan. ``A Dream as Frail as Those of Ancient Time'': The In-credible Geographies of TimbuctooEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space 19.2 (2001): 203-225

4.      Jeffrey Sasha Davis. “Representing Place: ‘Deserted Isles’ and the Reproduction of Bikini Atoll.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 95.3 (2005): 607–625.

5.      “Edward Said” and “Derek Gregory” in Key Thinkers…


Week 3: September 5 – Labor Day – No Class



[1] This idea of the expanded thought papers, and suggestions on how to write them, come from a Concepts in Geography syllabus by John Paul Jones III created in Spring 2001.