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17 NOVEMBER 2014

Mapping the geography of childhood playscapes

"In 1972, the British–born geography student Roger Hart settled on an unusual project for his dissertation. He moved to a rural New England town and, for two years, tracked the movements of 86 children in the local elementary school, to create what he called a 'geography of children,' including actual maps that would show where and how far the children typically roamed away from home. Usually research on children is conducted by interviewing parents, but Hart decided he would go straight to the source. The principal of the school lent him a room, which became known as 'Roger's room,' and he slowly got to know the children. Hart asked them questions about where they went each day and how they felt about those places, but mostly he just wandered around with them. Even now, as a father and a settled academic, Hart has a dreamy, puckish air. Children were comfortable with him and loved to share their moments of pride, their secrets. Often they took him to places adults had never seen before–playhouses or forts the kids had made just for themselves.

Hart's methodology was novel, but he didn't think he was recording anything radical. Many of his observations must have seemed mundane at the time. For example: 'I was struck by the large amount of time children spend modifying the landscape in order to make places for themselves and for their play.' But reading his dissertation today feels like coming upon a lost civilization, a child culture with its own ways of playing and thinking and feeling that seems utterly foreign now. The children spent immense amounts of time on their own, creating imaginary landscapes their parents sometimes knew nothing about. The parents played no role in their coming together–'it is through cycling around that the older boys chance to fall into games with each other,' Hart observed. The forts they built were not praised and cooed over by their parents, because their parents almost never saw them.

Through his maps, Hart discovered broad patterns: between second and third grade, for instance, the children's 'free range'–the distance they were allowed to travel away from home without checking in first–tended to expand significantly, because they were permitted to ride bikes alone to a friend's house or to a ball field. By fifth grade, the boys especially gained a 'dramatic new freedom' and could go pretty much wherever they wanted without checking in at all. (The girls were more restricted because they often helped their mothers with chores or errands, or stayed behind to look after younger siblings.) To the children, each little addition to their free range–being allowed to cross a paved road, or go to the center of town–was a sign of growing up. The kids took special pride, Hart noted, in 'knowing how to get places,' and in finding shortcuts that adults wouldn't normally use."

(Hanna Rosin, April 2014, The Atlantic)

Roger Hart (1979). "Children's Experience of Place", Irvington.



1972 • ad-hoc geographies • alone but not lonely • being allowed • childhood agency • creating imaginary landscapes • dissertation project • elementary school • environmental psychology • environments for children • fifth grade • free range playgrowing upHanna Rosin • how children learn • how children play • kid-oriented experienceslearning by doing • making places • modifying landscape • New England • observation (data collection) • open spacesopen-ended play spaces • overprotection • patterns of usepersonal autonomypersonal freedompersonal responsibility • places for children • play fort • playhouses • playscapes • riding bikes • risk-taking • Roger Hart • route mapscriptible spaces • second grade • smooth phenomenal spacesocial constructionismsocial geographysocial researchspaces for childrenthird gradeurban mapping


Simon Perkins
28 JUNE 2006

Charles Booth: London poverty classification maps

"The Maps Descriptive of London Poverty are perhaps the most distinctive product of Charles Booth's Inquiry into Life and Labour in London (1886–1903). An early example of social cartography, each street is coloured to indicate the income and social class of its inhabitants."

(Charles Booth Online Archive)



1903cartography • Charles Booth • classificationdemographygeographygovernance • house by house • human geography • labour survey • London • Londoners • mapmap of Londonmapping • policy research • poverty • public administration • qualitative descriptionsquantitative dataslumsocial classsocial geographysocial science • social surveys • sociologystatisticsUKurban studies
29 DECEMBER 2003

Urban Theory: Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft

A key "analyst of the transformation from the pre–urban to the urban was Ferdinand Toennies. Toennies published an influential book, Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft (Community and Society) in 1887. In this, he laid out the characteristics of two stages, the first was Gemeinschaft. Here, human relations are intimate, enduring and based upon a clear understanding of where each person stands in society. The worth of the individual is related to the person rather than what they have done, so status is ascribed and not achieved. The second stage, which increasingly characterised industrial society, was Gesellschaft. Here, the large scale and impersonal shapes human relations and the contractual ties that were apparently increasing. Status was achieved rather than ascribed, giving greater importance to individual actions and motivations, Toennies thus saw society as moving through a transition from one form of social organisation to another, and his work is an attempt to theorise about the changes that industrialisation A at the level of social relationships, and social groups.Of the two stages, Gemeinschaft is based on homogeneity, group orientation, informed and shaped by tradition, and guided by sentiment With each person feeling that they are part of the overall community (Table 2.1). Being a member of the community was more important than doing one's own thing. Thus individual desires were subordinate to those of the wider group. The collective nature of society meant that individuals were not specialised and so were 'Jacks and Jills of all trades'. Finally, primary relationships, that is face–to–face relationships between friends and close kin, were the most typical form.In contrast, in Gesellschaft, heterogeneity was the normal basis for society with a greater emphasis upon individualism. Individuals are guided by rationality and by actions which enhance their own self interest rather than the collective interests of the community or wider society. Tasks are specialised so, rather than 'Jacks and Jills of all trades', people become experts or specialists in particular tasks. A consequence of this is that they have to link up with others to get tasks completed. Relationships, rather than being based around a knowledge of the whole person, are more transitory and linked to the accomplishment of defined tasks. For each task, a particular combination of people are grouped together but once the task is finished the reason for that association is lost. Thus, relationships are more fluid than under the Gemeinschaft–based society.Table 2.1 illustrates the contrast between community and society that gradually became a major organising theme for this group of nineteenth–century social theorists. The terminology is a little different across the theorists. However, the differences are relatively minor as they all focus upon the idea of a contrasting typology based around notions of community and society.

Twentieth–century writing within this tradition developed more complex typologies of 'contrast' and built what became known as the rural–urban continuum. Most of the contrasts developed identified the 'rural' with the small–scale, integrated social group and set this against the 'urban' which was seen as larger in scale and more individualistic in orientation (see [Wirth, L. 1938. 'Urbanism as a Way of Life'. American Journal of Sociology 44, 1–24], [Redfield, R. 1960. The Little Community Peasant Society and Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press], [Pahl, R.E. 1975. Whose City? (2nd edn). Harmondsworth: Penguin])."

(David C. Thorns, 2002, p.24)

Thorns, David. C. (2002). "The Transformation of Cities: Urban Theory and Urban Cities": Palgrave Macmillan. 0333745973.

Gemeinschaft Gesellschaft
group orientedindividual oriented
tradition dominatesbusiness and commerce dominate
individual guided by sentimentindividual guided by rationality
each person part of the overall culturepreponderance of subcultures
each person jack–of–all tradesjob specialisation
relationships among people valuable in and of themselvesrelationships transitory, superficial
primary relationships predominatesecondary relationships predominate

Table 2.1




Simon Perkins

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