CfP: Session on “Rethinking Distance” at RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2021

PUTSPACE team members Tauri Tuvikene, Louise Sträuli and Aleksandra Ianchenko organise a session at the Royal Geographical Society RGS-IBG Annual International Conference in 2021. The session theme is “Rethinking Distance” and looks to examine how, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the word ‘distance’ has acquired new connotations and meanings all over the world. The deadline for submitting abstract to the organisers is 28 February 2021.

CfP: Rethinking Distance

Download the CfP as a PDF.

Over the past year, the word distance has acquired new connotations and meanings all over the world. ‘Social distancing’, or rather physical distancing with social proximity, became the new keyword. In geography, distance is indisputably a core concept. “Everything is related to everything else but near things are more related than distant things,” states the famous “first law of geography” by Tobler (1970). Contemporary research routes on distance are being explored in disciplines such as tourism studies, investigating how distance travelled affects travel behaviour and length (Jackman et al., 2020) or migration studies, focusing increasingly on the impact of short and long distances on migratory movements and border crossings (Van Houtum & Giels, 2006). In this way, the crossing of borders indirectly becomes the overcoming of distance – in a geographical, administrative, cultural or social sense – and borders generate new obstacles for covering distance. As transport innovations have shrunk the world over the centuries, linking trade and travel routes and connecting metropolitan regions, and as the advance of digital technologies supposedly erases space and time, borders, mobility and transport emerge as central elements of distance.

Yet, the concept of distance has remained on the fringe of conceptual thinking in human geography. A recent intervention by Simandan (2016: 250, see also 2020) aptly stresses the manifold aspects of distance: “getting somebody to think about distant places (spatial distance), tends to spontaneously elicit related thoughts about more distant futures (temporal distance), about unlikely happenings (hypothetical distance), and about other people (social distance).” Further conceptual advances are made around the notions of proximity and proxemics (Hill, 1969) bearing in mind that one “can feel proximate while still distant” (Urry 2002: 267). Moreover, distance may refer to a way of seeing when thinking of landscape (Wylie, 2009) or a relationship between the real and the fictional, as is common in the field of art (Bullough 1912; Michelis 1959). While from an artistic perspective, distance suggests gaining a fuller and more comprehensive view, releasing and re-formulating the imagination, this is also a key way to think post-colonial and decolonial geographies: overcoming imagined distances is central for understanding and achieving more equal intellectual positions across north/south or east/west intellectual divides (Robinson, 2002; Jazeel 2017).

What remains missing is a more comprehensive theoretical understanding of what distance means, what dimensions (beyond the merely physical) it includes, and how different understandings can be operationalised for research. Hence, the session explores the potential of creating novel “studies of distance” or a “distance turn”, and how this could enable re-thinking or re-conceptualising multiple ongoing, existing problematics within the field of human geography in its diverse relations to fields such as philosophy, transport and mobility planning, art, literature, economics and beyond.

Topics of interest in the session include but are not limited to:

  • Distance in/and public space
  • Mobility and distance
  • COVID-19 and potential changes in understanding distance
  • Proximity, proxemics and distance
  • Practices and meanings of social distancing
  • Sense of distance: affects, emotions and atmospheres
  • Distance and intimacy: friendships and relationships
  • Culture and aesthetics of distance
  • Digitally/virtually mediated distances and proximities
  • Imaginary distance
  • Distance and decolonial/postcolonial challenge

We welcome preferably, but not exclusively, conceptual papers that deal with one or several aspects of distance via critical engagement with literature or based on empirical research. Please send your abstract of no more than 250 words including a title, and the names, affiliations and email addresses of all authors to the session organisers by 28 February 2021 the latest. Please indicate whether you expect to present in person or remotely. (Confirmation by the conference organisers of whether in-person elements will be possible is due in April.)

The conference takes place from Tuesday 31 August to Friday 3 September 2021 virtually and potentially with in-person elements in London, UK. For more information, see the conference website.

Session conveners

Tauri Tuvikene (Tallinn University, tauri.tuvikene(a)tlu.ee)

Louise Sträuli (Université libre de Bruxelles/Tallinn University, louise.strauli(a)tlu.ee)

Aleksandra Ianchenko (Åbo Akademi University / Tallinn University, aleksandra-ianchenko(a)tlu.ee)

The session is organised as part of the PUTSPACE project, which is financially supported by the HERA Joint Research Programme, co-funded by AKA, BMBF via DLRPT, ETAg, and the European Commission through Horizon 2020.


Boschma, R., 2005. Proximity and innovation: a critical assessment. Regional Studies. 39 (1), 61–74.

Bullough, Edward (1912) Psychical Distance’ as a Factor in Art and as an Aesthetic Principle, British Journal of Psychology 5 (1912): 87–117.

Jackman, Mahalia; Lorde, Troy; Naitram, Simon; Greenaway, Tori. 2020. Distance matters: the impact of physical and relative distance on pleasure tourists’ length of stay in Barbados. Annals of Tourism Research, 1–11.

Hill. Edward T. 1969. The Hidden Dimension.Anchor Books Edition.

Jazeel, T. (2017). Mainstreaming Geography’s Decolonial Imperative. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 42 (3): 334–337.

Michelis, P. A. 1959. “Aesthetic Distance and the Charm of Contemporary Art.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 1–45.

Rutten, Roel. 2017. ‘Beyond Proximities: The Socio-Spatial Dynamics of Knowledge Creation’. Progress in Human Geography 41 (2): 159–77. 

Robinson, Jennifer. 2002. ‘Global and World Cities: A View from off the Map’. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 26 (3): 531–54.

Simandan, Dragos. 2016. Proximity, subjectivity, and space: Rethinking distance in human geography. Geoforum, 249–252.

Simandan, Dragos. 2020 “Distance”, In A. Kobayashi, Ed., International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, Oxford: Elsevier, 2nd edition, vol. 3, pp. 393–397.

Urry, John 2002 Mobility and Proximity, Sociology, Volume 36(2): 255–274.

Wylie, John. 2009. ‘Landscape, Absence and the Geographies of Love’. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 34 (3): 275–89.