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Relative/Relational Space

  • By: Barney Warf
  • In: Encyclopedia of Geography
  • Edited by: Barney Warf
  • Subject:General Geography, Earth & Environmental Science

In contrast to absolute space, which is fixed, asocial, and timeless, relative or relational space reflects the wide varieties of ways in which distance is measured and conquered, that is, space as socially made and remade over time. Relative space thus portrays geographies as fluid, mutable, and ever changing. (Some observers differentiate relative from relational space, while others treat them as synonymous; see quote by Harvey below.)

The genesis of relative space may arguably be traced to the famed 17th-century intellectual Gottfried Leibniz, Isaac Newton's great rival in the invention of calculus and the founder of a perspective on spatiality sharply at odds with the prevailing Euclidean/Cartesian emphasis on absolute space. In contrast to Newton, who held that space exists independently of how it is measured ...

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