Abstract: The relationship between people and their environments is a subject of central importance to anthropology’s aim of understanding human interaction. However, anthropologists have so far struggled to generate a coherent theory for the way that people relate to the world that incorporates and explains the practices of navigation and wayfinding.
This paper examines original ethnographic data and theories arising from a variety of disciplines in order to present a theoretical approach that highlights the importance of the interaction of internal and external representations of the environment in our understanding of, and action within, the world.
Presenting critiques of the theories of Gell, Ingold, Bender and others, the author draws on the work of Juval Portugali, Andy Clark and Edwin Hutchins to argue that place is an immediate and synaesthetic sense. This sense of place develops into an emergent order through dynamic and dialectic interaction between varying sensory and representational modalities, both internal and external to the mind. The importance of a particular representation or sensory modality in this process both shapes and is shaped by the practices that bring it into use.
Such a view helps to situate new representational modalities, such as Google Maps, within a larger framework of processes and practices, revealing novel insights and raising new questions for the anthropologist.