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Language-games, geography, and making sense of the Arctic

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Ingrid A. MedbyORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


© 2019 Elsevier Ltd. Geography is closely tied to language: denominations, definitions, and metaphors are all part of conditioning spatial understandings. In recent years, critical geographers have also highlighted that there is much more to geography than its representation. One philosopher whose work centred on the relationship between language and practice, meaning and use, was Ludwig Wittgenstein. Yet, explicit engagement with his thought has been modest in geography. This article argues that Wittgenstein's later philosophy of language offers useful contributions to the study of geography. It focuses on a space presently undergoing rapid “spatialisation”, the Arctic, and draws on articulations by Norwegian state personnel, policy papers, and speeches. Using Wittgenstein's concept of “language-games”, the paper demonstrates how spatial understandings are closely tied to practice, while political practices themselves are as much about knowing how to use language. The aim here is neither to unmask any hidden meaning nor to arrive at any one definition, but rather to highlight how meaning lies in terms’ use. In order to “make sense of” seemingly competing names, definitions, and sayings, these must be seen in light of different practices. However, as socially defined, the “rules” may also change. This is arguably where the potential and political purchase of Wittgenstein's thought lies: in emphasising how geographical meaning is made through social and political interaction.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Medby IA

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Geoforum

Year: 2019

Volume: 107

Pages: 124-133

Print publication date: 01/12/2019

Online publication date: 16/10/2019

Acceptance date: 03/10/2019

Date deposited: 20/10/2021

ISSN (print): 0016-7185

ISSN (electronic): 1872-9398

Publisher: Elsevier Ltd


DOI: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2019.10.003


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