Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Space and Time

After our meeting today, I had a chance to ask Jim Gee why space and place is never really mentioned in socially-situated learning theories -- even though it seems to be pretty foundational to the language used in the theories (e.g. "learning environment" etc.)

He said, in his matter-of-fact "Well, John..." way, that "time trumps space" for social theorists in the West. They tend to think of space as being organized or situated in time by the activities that take place in the space. As an example, he mentioned how a room becomes "classroom" when a teacher stands at the "front" of it (and the "front" moves, depending on where the teacher stands), but the same room may be "meeting room" later if peers sit in it, in a less hierarchically-structured circle.

He added that scholars on the edges have tried to move to the center of the conversations of learning by promoting the centrality of space, but they usually don't get far (again, using very space-based metaphors). But, he acknowledged that with the research we're doing (with GPS-based games), it's probably appropriate to look into the role of space.

I almost walked away feeling like I was spending too much energy on a topic that was not worth it, but then I started to think of all sorts of counter-examples. The door of the classroom, where the clock and chalkboard is mounted, whether the seats are movable or bolted down -- these are all factors that greatly affect the activities. If a teacher stands at the back of a lecture hall, it doesn't become the front.

Sure, the space is named and turned into a place according to the activities that happen there, but the nature of the place has a huge impact on what activities can happen there. The Dow Day riots could not have happened in Lake Mendota, and it's not likely that Ivan Illych would have drowned in Ingraham Hall. While activities structure the way we construct Places, the activities are themselves structured by the nature of the Spaces they occur within.

So, while I'll accept that Western theorists have privileged time over space/place, I don't think I'll accept that it's A Good Thing to remain stuck in that position. I also have to admit to getting so caught up in space/place that I've been overlooking the importance of temporality -- of course, I have plenty of time with which to address that shortcoming.


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