Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Topophilia and Emotional Geographies in Tourism Destinations

Topophilia is “the feeling of affection which individuals have for particular places” (Tuan, 1961).  The term was first coined in 1947 by the American poet, W.H. Auden, and became popularized, at least among academic geographers, by Yi-Fu Tuan’s book, Topophilia: a study of environmental perception, attitudes, and values, which was published in 1974 (Prentice-Hall). 

Recent work in geography along the lines of how people develop affections and attachments to places has occurred under the broader title of emotional geography (Davidson, et al. 2007). Emotional geography incorporates cognitive theories on how people “know” and relate to places through their senses, bodily movements and emotions. It includes not just what people say about place experiences, but also the many different ways that they perform, function and experience place with their entire physical being.  How this leads to feelings of topophilia and place attachment is one component of emotional geography.

The connections of topophilia and emotional geographies to tourism are obvious.  Tourism destinations want visitors to like them. They want to create topophilic relationships.  They offer services and attractions that titillate the senses through site, sound, taste, touch and movement.  Though the emphasis is often on somewhat superficial sensory experiences, sometimes turning places into thematic amusement parks, the ultimate goal is almost always to touch that deeper sense of topophilia.

Aspects of cognitive emotional geographies that tourism destinations should consider in their efforts to create topophilic relationships with tourists include the following (adapted from Ogunseitan, 2005):

  • Landscape Diversity – A place should contain a variety of different landscape features that are blended together to offer visual and other sensory stimulation.
  • Sensory Coherence – Colors, smells, sounds, light, touch (including the sense of movement) all need to be considered and should blend in a logical and pleasing manner.
  • Environmental Familiarity – Tourists visiting a new place need things that ground them and which make them feel comfortable and safe, including identifiable objects, spaces of privacy, and open spaciousness.
  • Cognitive Challenges – Tourists also need to be challenged by the places that they visit, through varying degrees of complexity, mystery, surprise and exhilaration

In essence this is finding the right balance between sensory dissonance and rationality, and between cognitive safety and risk.  These are the tourism destination’s tools of topophilic place making.  How does your community compare on these measures?

References cited

Davidson, J., Smith, M., and Bond, L. (eds.) 2007. Emotional Geographies. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

Ogunseitan, O.A. 2005. Topophilia and the Quality of Life. Environmental Health Perspectives 113(2): 143–148. - Published online 2004 November 22. doi:  10.1289/ehp.7467, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1277856/

Tuan, Y-F. 1961. Topophilia. Landscape 11 (Fall): 29-32.