Non-representational theory

Non-representational theory

Non-representational theory is a theory developed in human geography, largely through the work of Nigel Thrift (Warwick University)[1][2], and his colleagues such as J.D. Dewsbury (University of Bristol). It challenges those using social theory and conducting geographical research to go beyond representation.[3] Thus, Dewsbury describes practices of "witnessing" that produce "knowledge without contemplation".[4]

Instead of studying and representing social relationships, non-representational theory focuses upon practices – how human and nonhuman formations are enacted or performed – not simply on what is produced [5]. This is a post-structuralist theory drawing in part from the works of Michel Foucault, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and phenomenonologists such as Martin Heidegger [6], but also weaving in the perspectives of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Bruno Latour and Michel Serres, and more recently from political science (including ideas developed in radical democracy) and anthropological discussions of the material dimensions of human life. Non-representational theory's focus upon hybrid formations parallels the conception of "hybrid geographies" developed by Sarah Whatmore.[7]

Others have suggested that Thrift's use of the term "non-representational theory" is problematic, and that other non-representational theories could be developed. Richard G Smith suggests that Baudrillard's work could be considered a "non-representational theory", for example [6] which has fostered some debate. In 2005, Hayden Lorimer (Glasgow University) suggested the term "more-than-representational" as preferable.[8]


  1. ^ Thrift N 2000. “Non-representational theory” in RJ Johnston, D Gregory, G Pratt and M Watts (eds) The Dictionary of Human Geography (Blackwell, Oxford)
  2. ^ Thrift N, 2007. "Non-representational theory: Space, Politics, Affect" (Routledge, London)
  3. ^ Thrift, Nigel; 1996; Spatial Formations ; Sage
  4. ^ Dewsbury, J.D. 2003; Witnessing space: `knowledge without contemplation' Environment and Planning A 2003, volume 35, pp. 1907–1932
  5. ^ Thrift, Nigel; 1997; 'The still point: expressive embodiment and dance', in Pile, S and Keith, M (eds.), Geographies of Resistance; (Routledge) pp 124–151
  6. ^ a b Smith, Richard G.; 2003; 'Baudrillard's nonrepresentational theory: burn the signs and journey without maps' in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 21; pp 67–84
  7. ^ Whatmore, S. 2002. Hybrid Geographies; (Sage)
  8. ^ Lorimer, H. 2005; 'Cultural geography: the busyness of being ‘more-than-representational’' Progress in Human Geography 29, 1 (2005) pp. 83–94

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