RELATED TERMS: Philosophy; Performative

To represent, or re-present, to bring to presence and/or to indicate prior presence or existence, is the activity from which representations arise. In that sense, representation is similar to the notion of ‘sign’, as that which stands for something for someone in some respect.

Representation names both a field of established and emerging relationships and the act of representing. It does not specify what kind of relationships, which may be mimetic, diegetic, reflexive or constitutive, for example; nor does it specify how that representing is, or should be, done.

The notion of representation, in as far as it seems to denote the existence of an ‘original presence’ of which the re-presentation is a ‘copy’ in some sense, has been the source of much philosophical debate since the 1960s. Nigel Thrift, for example, tries to create a style of thinking which he calls nonrepresentationalist. Such nonrepresentational theory, Thrift writes, “is an approach to understanding the world in terms of effectivity rather than representation; not the what but the how.”

As Thrift explains, non-representational thinking draws upon three lines of thought: recent developments in feminist theory, such as those of Bordo, Butler, Grosz, and Threadgold on a performative philosophy and Irigaray on space; distributed theories of practices, taking their cue from writers such as Wittgenstein and Heidegger, Bourdieu and de Certeau as well as from actor-network theory with its emphasis on spatial distribution; and a tradition which takes biology as its inspiration and illustration and which draws on the work of Von Uexkull, Bateson, and Canguilhem, as well as Heidegger’s later work.


Thrift, N. (2000) ‘Afterwords’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 18(2), pp. 213–255. doi: 10.1068/d214t