Locating Geographies of Belonging

Like many of the currents of contemporary social issues, the politics of belonging is not exclusively studied within human geography. Neither is it represented within this, or any other discipline, as a discrete body of work. Rather, issues of belonging emerge from a slip stream of interdisciplinary conversations. They are threaded within and across the related topics of identity, citizenship, migration, globalization, postcolonialism, and transnationalism; and as such form part of a fabric of intellectual endeavors to understand the nature of contemporary societies within a rapidly changing world. Across these intersecting themes, studies of belonging within human geography have been both informed by and themselves informed thinking across a number of disciplinary fields, such as history, sociology, anthropology, political science, cultural studies, feminism, psychoanalysis, postcolonial studies, and multicultural studies. Embedded within this milieu, human geography nevertheless offers a particular set of analytic lenses for retheorizing belonging that distinguishes it, to some extent, from other disciplinary perspectives. The position that human geography takes on matters of belonging is necessarily informed by its disciplinary preoccupation with theorizing space, place, and nature.

Picking up on ‘the spatial turn’ most often associated with Michel Foucault’s situated genealogies, human geographers have continued to theorize the ways in which space decenters or disperses history, or in other words, the difference that geography/space/place makes. Such work is exploring the intrinsic spatialities of power and the power relations that flow between space, place, and difference.

When considering the politics of belonging, therefore, it is not surprising that geographers foreground its spatialities: the physical, as well as the identity related or subject position based proximities and distances that shape our sense of belonging.

This involves maintaining a steady focus on the spatial and sociocultural differences that fragment and particularize experiences of belonging. It also involves considering the ways in which difference based, as well as geographically based proximities can spawn new constellations of spatial association, or new modes of belonging. Human goegraphy’s spatial foregroundings thus help us to better understand the diversity of conditions, manners, and positions through which we negotiate belonging.

Two arenas in which human geography has foregrounded the spatiality of belonging are taken up below. The first of these is the arena of identity and place. Cognizant that the spatial turn has widely influenced thinking across the social sciences and humanities, human geographers have taken a lead in interrogating the politics of place and the place of identity and belonging within this politics. The second arena is that of globalization. Within widespread cross disciplinary debates about the significance of globalization to belonging, and in particular the relationship between global, national, and local concerns and loyalties, human geographers have closely charted the spatialities of our multiscalar world.