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The Duplicity of Space: Germanic ‘Raum’ and Swedish ‘Rum’ in English Language Geographical Discourse

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The modern definition of geography as the science of ‘space’ derives in important measure, it will be argued, from the Germanic concept of Raum. The implications of the importation of this concept into English are masked, however, by its translation as ‘space’, an English word with very different connotations from the German Raum. Whereas the English space is conceptually distinct from place, Raum has a double meaning, combining elements of both space and place. This doubleness becomes duplicitous when Raum is transmogrified into the English space, thereby blurring the distinction; allowing space to appropriate the meaning of place. The problem is further complicated by the fact that this process of transmogrification occurred largely via contact with Swedish geography–in which rum is cognate to the German Raum. Geography, this essay concludes, would do well to apply the same reflexive critique to its concept of space as it has applied, with great success, to landscape, a Germanic concept that can also refer to both place and space.

Keywords: Raum; geographic thought; landscape; place; rum; space

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: SLU–Alnarp, Department of Landscape Planning, Sweden

Publication date: April 1, 2002


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