Edward Relph

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Edward Charles Relph is a geographer who was born in Wales in 1944. He works as a professor at the Toronto University in Canada. Professor Relph teaches many different kind of themes but his career is mainly chararterized by one theme: The importance of critical observation and discription of changing landscapes. He is very commmited to teach students and colleagues how to look at places and landscapes for themselves ( Canadian association of geographers, 2009).

Relph's objective is to recover what he believes to be a dual sense of 'marvelling' and 'concern' (or 'care') embedded in everyday geographical experiences, as a prelude to reshaping an academic geography in which 'abstract technical thinking has begun to submerge geographical experience either by making (it) seem relatively trivial or simply by obscuring it with generalizations. More specifically, what Relph does is to examine four basic geographical concepts - those of region, landscape, space and place- that are not just concepts for academic geography, but are also 'the contexts and subjects of geographical experience, and in a differt aspect again... are parts of being-in-the-world (Paul Cloke, Clavis Philo, David Sadler, ('Approaching Human Geography", Paul Clapman, Londen)

What Relph really tries to do, is to change the geographical discours of abstract technical thinking. Instead of that, he tries to re-implement the phenomenon "wondering" about everyday geographical experiences, the real basis of geography. According to Relph, the core of this discipline consists of how people experience places they encounter. Two important concepts that he mentions are: "marvelling" and "care". Every human-environmental relationship is determined by these subjective ideas, by the importance someone gives to his or her surroundings. For Relph it is not about describing places in detail, but to uncover the different ways in which places can show themselves to people.

One of Relph's main points of view was: Science is inevitable or valid. So Humanistic Geography could be the solution to important problems or quests in Science. But Humanistic Geography is therefor contrary to Spatial Science. Those two mind sets (motions) are so completely different that they are not comparable or compatible.

Existential Insideness and Outsideness

Probably Relph's most original contribution to the understanding of place was his discussion of insideness. If a person feels inside a place, he or she is here rather than there, safe rather than threatened, enclosed rather than exposed, at ease rather than stressed. Relph suggested that the more profoundly inside a place the person feels, the stronger will be his or her identity with that place. On the other hand, a person can be separate or alienated from place, and this mode of place experience is what Relph called outsideness. Here, people feel some sort of division between themselves and world. The crucial phenomenological point is that, through different degrees of insideness and outsideness, different places take on different identities. In other words, Relph argued that outsideness and insideness constitute a fundamental dialectic in human life and that, through varying combinations and intensities of outsideness and insideness, different places take on different identities for different people, and human experience takes on different qualities of meaning and feeling. The strongest sense of place experience was what Relph called existential insideness, a situation of deep, unself-conscious immersion in place and the experience most people know when they are at home in their own community and region. The opposite of existential insideness is what he labelled existential outsideness‑-a sense of strangeness and alienation, such as that often felt by newcomers to a place or by people who, having been away from their birth place, return to feel strangers because the place is no longer what it was before. (Seamen, 1996, p.5)

Place and Placelessness

Edwards Charles Relph career begins with his book "Place and Placelessnes", Place and Placelessness was a major force in ushering the field of Humanistic Geography amidst the quantitative revolution. Colleagues call his book very inventive. His book challenges the old ways of looking to places and offers a new way of looking. This book is followed by two other books. These are: Rational Landscapes and Humanistic Geography in 1984 and Modern Urban Landscapes in 1987. Both of these focus on the meanings of landscape and place. Edward Charles Relph continues to publish on various topics including suburban downtowns and methodology. His interests today center on justice, dislocation and heteropia. His latest project is a book on Toronto where he would provide interpretations of the city from insights of Marshall McLuhan and Harold Innis. These are two proffesors who also worked and lived in Toronto (Canadian association of geographers, 2009).

Edward Charles Relph remains dedicated to look en teach about what lies beneath the visible landscape, to connect what you can see with sometimes distant processes like meanings and interpretations in a human mind. This requires the use of concepts that are connected to every day life. This important connection stands up over time in Dr. Relph's work. This is also why the Canadian Association of Geographers honours Professor Relph with the Scholarly Distinction in Geography Award (Canadian association of geographers, 2009).


  • Cloke, P., Philo, Chr. & Sadler, D. (eds) (1991) Approaching Human Geography: An Introduction To Contemporary Theoretical Debates. Chapman, London. Chapter 3: Peopling human geography and the development of humanistic approaches. Pages 57-92.
  • Seamen, D. (1996) A Singular Impact: Edward Relps Place and Placelessness. Environmental and Architectural Newsletter, vol. 7., p. 5-8.


  • Page published by Paul Cuijpers and Mike van der Linden
  • Page edited by Lars Schopen - September 9th 2011
  • Page edited by Teun van de Ven - September 20th 2012
  • Page enhanced and added to Category 'Human Geography' by Iris van der Wal - 16:28, October 21st 2012
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