Placiality and Spatiality

RELATED TERMS: Time; Space; Place; Body; Phenomenology

While the design of narrative environments takes into account spatiality, it could be said that it is equally, if not more, concerned with ‘place’ than ‘space’; as, indeed, it may be said that it is equally, if not more, concerned with ‘historicity’ than temporality, since ‘placiality’ and ‘historicity’ are more concrete than the more abstract ‘spatiality’ and ‘temporality’.

As Stephen Hardy comments, ‘placiality’ and the adjective ‘placial’, from which the substantive is derived, are not words which appear in many dictionaries of the English language, even though ‘spatiality’ and ‘spatial’ are common enough usages.

Some of the reasons for this disparity, Hardy indicates, are explained in Edwards Casey’s (1997) book, The Fate of Place. Casey introduces the terms ‘placial’ and ‘placiality’ in the course of examining the ways in which ‘space’ has come to dominate philosophical thinking, despite an abiding concern with matters of ‘place’.

The crux of Casey’s argument is that Western philosophising from the time of Plato up to, and partly including, Kant found itself caught up in thinking increasingly abstractly about that which we are immersed in and that which we are surrounded by.

The ‘rediscovery’, so to speak, of place, Casey argues, begins with Kant, although his thinking is divided on the matter. On the one hand, Kant, in his Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science, reduces place to nothing more than a point in space. However, on the other hand, in his essay, Concerning the Ultimate Ground of the Differentiation of Regions in Space, he provides the beginnings for a modern philosophising of the significance of ‘place’ as opposed to the measurement of a supremely abstracted ‘space’.

Kant’s crucial development in this essay is to consider the importance of the human body and the way it is organised and orientated, Casey explains.

Casey further argues that insights of this kind were not fully taken up in European philosophising until the beginning of the 20th century when the phenomenology of Husserl begins to explore more fully the relation of the physical situation of the human body to the organisation of its perceptions. Husserl’s philosophical descendants, including Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze and others, further develop this exploration.

Jason Cons (2016) brings to attention the importance of what he calls the ‘placial imagination’ when he notes that,

“I am headed home to Austin, TX—to “my” place. When I arrive there, family, work, friends, and sets of familiar patterns and obligations will quickly reintegrate me into a spatiality that I know well. These patter[n]s are one aspect of a broader set of perceptions and situations that constitute my own intimate experience of place and my relationship to broader currents and flows of work in contemporary academia and social life in a rapidly growing city.”

In this context, one might talk of ‘spatial flows’ and ‘placial knots’, the latter being where flows intersect and become significant for particular individuals.


Casey, E. (1997). The Fate of place: a philosophical history. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Cons, J. (2016). Conclusion: the placial imagination. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, 6 (4), 788–789. Available from [Accessed 29 August 2019].

Hardy, S. (2000). Placiality: The renewal of the significance of place in modern cultural theory. Brno Studies in English, 26, 85–100. Available from[Accessed 29 August 2019].