Illustration 2: Perceptions of places


This illustration focuses on people's perceptions of places, which are informed by the geographical imagination. Two branches of geography – humanistic geography and behavioural geography – best help to deepen these perceptions. Humanistic geography focuses on people's relationships with place, with their feelings and attitudes towards space and place. Behavioural geography makes a distinction between an objective observation of places (things as they exist) and perceived places (things that are seen by individuals).

Learning goals

The illustration-specific learning goals are:

  • developing geographically informed perceptions of places
  • enabling students to employ their personal geographies to develop inquiries about people's perceptions of places
  • allowing students to consider the various ways that other people perceive places
  • reflecting on the different ways of seeing places.

Geographical understanding and context

Students examine their perceptions of places through their personal geographies. They develop empathetic understandings of how others perceive and feel about these places and other places. 

A geographical examination of places helps to unpack the complex and holistic interconnections between people and places. It nurtures students' curiosity about places and the differences between them.

Teaching approaches

People's perceptions of places can hold several different meanings. More conventionally, in geography, 'perception' refers to how things are remembered or recalled by people (for example, how a trip to Paris or Uluru is remembered). In urban planning, it is used to describe the situation when a number of interest groups agree to combine their ideas in the design process. In behavioural geography, 'perception' refers to the ways in which millions of pieces of information about places are received by people through their senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. This information is mainly transmitted through sight and hearing, but it also stems from secondary sources, through peers, through hearsay and through the media.

Once students make up their minds about their perception of a place their views are very hard to change, they cling to their preconceptions. The idea that people's perception of places is shaped by the extent and manner in which they engage with them allows school geography and geography teachers to 'bridge their understanding from what they already know about a place to gain an insight into other perspectives and a deeper, more holistic understanding of their local place' (Brooks & Morgan 2006, p.14). It also allows students to explore the idea of representation, the signs and symbols that convey ideas and inform people about places, how places are represented to themselves and to others. 'Often the rather strange notion of place as text is used to indicate that people both read and write places in terms of the various features they choose to emphasise (and ignore)' (Brooks & Morgan 2006, p.12).

There is room for student-centred inquiry here, for well-devised investigation through fieldwork. There is scope to examine the perceptions of others – from many different corners of the world, from other adolescents, from the sight- and hearing-impaired, from minority groups, and from the handicapped and the disadvantaged.

What you need

Refer to the excerpts in Peoples' perception of places (PDF) to access ideas and information to support your planning and to stimulate student enquiry. They aim to allow students and teachers to embark on meaningful inquiry work, where students are able to devise their own questions to embark on local fieldwork and investigate how people perceive places in other parts of the world.


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