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Representing space and place: hunter-gatherer perspectives

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Peter Sercombe



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


The anthropological sciences have long been interested in how hunter-gatherers perceive and interact with their spatial environment. The spatially flexible and dynamic modes of subsistence and residence typical of many hunter-gatherer communities have been considered to be key factors in the social organisation and ideological framing of such communities. However, close attention to spatial representation – in the form of categories and distinctions as they surface in everyday communication and behaviour, for example – has so far been largely restricted to certain subfields within the language and cognitive sciences. This inquiry, on the other hand, has not been concerned with the hunter-gatherer category as such, and it has rarely addressed spatial representations in their sociocultural context. The present special issue aims to highlight the potentials of a closer integration of these different research perspectives in advancing our understanding of hunter-gatherer space. The contributions – written by experts on a diverse set of communities – address a range of representational phenomena of core concern to this aim. This introductory paper presents space as a domain of inquiry into meaning, it reviews the literature on spatial representation among hunter-gatherer communities, and it outlines some of the major patterns of hunter-gatherer spatial strategies that emerge from the literature and the present contributions. Pointing to both diversity and commonalities across communities, the data offer new views of promising ways forward in the inquiry into hunter-gatherer relationships with the environment.

Publication metadata

Author(s): O'Meara C, Burenhult N, Rothstein M, Sercombe P

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Hunter Gatherer Research

Year: 2020

Volume: 4

Issue: 3

Pages: 287-309

Online publication date: 05/05/2020

Acceptance date: 21/05/2020

Date deposited: 21/05/2020

ISSN (electronic): 2056-3264

Publisher: Liverpool University Press


DOI: 10.3828/hgr.2018.19


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