Room for Manoeuvre: (Cultural) Encounters and Concepts of Place
William Beebe was an American naturalist and travel writer, who is nowadays regarded as a founding figure of the scientific field of tropical ecology. This essay understands his contribution to this field in terms of place-making activities. Starting point is one of Beebe’s observations that representations can never depict the material experiences that made up the essence of a place. Peter Turchi has called this problem “the challenge of representation”. For William Beebe, this challenge opened up a tricky room for maneuver: Various activities can happen in one spot and create different notions of place – as narrated landscape, room for bodily experience and site of research. In framing the scientific approach to nature, Beebe had to deliberately reduce the complexity of the place by silencing its imaginative and sensuous notions. The essay uses the written accounts by Beebe as keys to disentangle the different notions of place, guided by the theoretical approaches of Peter Turchi, Yi-Fu Tuan, and John B. Harley.