In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Non-representational Theory

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals and Other Research Resources
  • Philosophical Antecedents
  • Critical Engagement
  • Non-representational Theory and Practice
  • Non-representational Theory and Affect
  • Non-representational Theory and Landscape
  • Non-representational Theory and Materiality
  • Non-representational Theory and Technology
  • Non-representational Theory and Dance
  • Non-representational Theory and Music
  • Non-representational Theory and Methods

Geography Non-representational Theory
Paul Simpson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 August 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0117


Non-representational theory refers to a diverse body of work that emerged during the mid- to late 1990s in the United Kingdom as an alternative approach to the conception, practice, and production of geographic knowledge. Initially proposed by Nigel Thrift in a series of calls during that time, non-representational theory has sought to reorientate geographic analyses beyond a perceived overemphasis on representations (in a variety of forms), and a form of representationalism (whereby meaning is something formed in the mind and that acts as a precondition for action), toward an emphasis on practice, embodiment, materiality, and process. This call has been taken up by a range of geographers and has evolved in multiple, at times potentially conflicting, directions. This highlights a key feature of non-representational theory. It is not, in fact, a singular theory. Rather, non-representational theory marks a disposition based upon a range of styles of thinking that value practice and the processual. It is more easily understood in the plural—in terms of “non-representational theories.” Furthermore, the usefulness of the word non-representational has been questioned, both in critiques of this work and in responses to them. While this “non” suggests dispatching with concerns for representations in general, something many geographers have been troubled by, it is intended more to reflect a different approach to their consideration: a movement away from a focus on the interpretation of their meaning toward a consideration of what they “do” in the unfolding of the social world. The reception of non-representational theory in geography has been mixed. It is evident that a range of work has been inspired on the subject, particularly in terms of certain off-shoots, such as work on affect and materiality. It is clear also that non-representational theory has challenged geographers and encouraged reflection on the epistemological boundaries of the discipline. That said, it is clear also that it has led to the reassertion of certain core concerns for geography and critiques of non-representational theory’s potential devaluation of them. In light of such concerns and debates, non-representational theory has also come to be known by the alternative moniker of “more-than representational theory.” This title has sought to take a “softer” approach to the confrontational edge of the “non” and to suggest that the ideas proposed by non-representational theories can act as an animating supplement to existing approaches to geographic knowledge production.

General Overviews

Many overviews of what non-representational theory is have appeared since the mid-1990s. Thrift 1996 provides one of the earliest overviews and many of the subsequent introductions have been collected in Thrift 2007. With non-representational theory presenting more a disposition toward the world than an actual theory, a list-based outlining of a range of key concerns for non-representational theory is common to these introductions. These are often replete with references to social theory and continental philosophy, meaning they are not always easily accessible to those not well versed in such ideas. A number of more accessible overviews include Anderson 2009, Cadman 2009, Lorimer 2005, and Lorimer 2008, which provide less theoretical depth but more general thematic orientation for the reader. The themes of the initial overviews in Thrift 1996 and collected in Thrift 2007 have been taken up and developed in a number of ways in subsequent outlines. Notable here is Dewsbury, et al. 2002, which clarifies non-representational theory’s approach to representations and representationalism. Further, Lorimer 2005 reviews the early uptake of non-representational theories and suggested the alternative moniker of more-than representational theory so as to suggest more in the way of connections to research undertaken as part of and in light of “new” cultural geography. The most extensive overview of the plural forms non-representational theory has come to embody can be found in Anderson and Harrison 2010. This poly-vocal collection extends the work of non-representational theory far beyond the initial parameters initially outlined in Thrift 1996 and Thrift 2007, often in ways that go against aspects of the initial framings discussed above.

  • Anderson, Ben. “Non-representational Theories.” In Dictionary of Human Geography. Edited by Derek Gregory, Ron Johnston, and Geraldine Pratt, 503–505. London: Arnold, 2009.

    Provides a short and accessible overview of the key points of focus of non-representational theory. The entry highlights the plural nature of work undertaken under the banner of non-representational theory and suggests it be better thought of in terms of non-representational theories.

  • Anderson, Ben, and Paul Harrison, eds. Taking-Place: Non-representational Theories and Geography. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2010.

    The most comprehensive introduction to non-representational theory available to date. Includes chapters by sixteen academics exploring various aspects of non-representational theory, including life, representation, ethics, and politics. The introductory chapter also provides a clear genealogy of the emergence of non-representational theory and addresses a number of critiques.

  • Cadman, Louisa. “Nonrepresentational Theory/Nonrepresentational Geographies.” In International Encyclopedia of Human Geography. Edited by Rob Kitchin and Nigel Thrift, 456–463. London: Elsevier, 2009.

    Provides an introduction to non-representational theory’s interests in practice, everyday life, performance/performativity, embodiment, and space-time. Also highlights connections to developments around actor network theory, performance studies, and earlier work on the geographies of bodies. Useful in highlighting the methodological and political implications of non-representational theory.

  • Dewsbury, John D., Paul Harrison, Mitch Rose, and John Wylie. “Enacting Geographies.” Geoforum 33.4 (2002): 437–440.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0016-7185(02)00029-5

    One of the first outlines of non-representational theory “after Thrift.” Emphasizes the excessive and processual nature of the world and its perpetual (re)enactment through practice. Responds to critiques of non-representational theory around its argued lack of interest in representations, suggesting they be taken as performative “doings.”

  • Lorimer, Hayden. “Cultural Geography: The Busyness of Being ‘More-Than-Representational.’” Progress in Human Geography 29.1 (2005): 83–94.

    DOI: 10.1191/0309132505ph531pr

    First progress report dedicated to the implications of non-representational theory for research in cultural geography. Accessible for undergraduates and those new to non-representational theory. Contributed to broader uptake of non-representational theory by suggesting the alternative and less confrontational title more-than representational theory

  • Lorimer, Hayden. “Cultural Geography: Non-representational Conditions and Concerns.” Progress in Human Geography 32.4 (2008): 551–559.

    DOI: 10.1177/0309132507086882

    Further reviews the development of non-representational theory. Provides an accessible overview of debates related to affect emerging from non-representational theory. Also discusses work on embodiment and the body in terms of engagements with temporality and rhythm.

  • Thrift, Nigel. Spatial Formations. London: SAGE, 1996.

    The introductory chapter to this book provides one of the first outlines of non-representational theory in human geography. While dense with references to social theory and philosophy, this introduction (and the rest of the text) provides an extensive outline of how space is made and remade through practice.

  • Thrift, Nigel. Non-representational Theory: Space, Politics, Affect. New York: Routledge, 2007.

    This text collects many of Thrifts key pieces on non-representational theory. While most chapters are available elsewhere, the original introduction provides a reintroduction to non-representational theory based on ten years of development and debate and the concluding chapter presents new reflections on the politics of affect.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.