I was born in 1962 in Berkeley, California, and grew up in nearby Oakland. I remained in the San Francisco Bay Area until 1994, when LSU's doctoral program in geography brought me to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. After eight years in the South, I moved to Beaverton, Oregon, where I now reside.
The pursuit of knowledge has been central to my way of life. After graduating from Skyline High School (Oakland, CA) in 1980, I followed the way of the "golden bear," doing undergraduate work at the University of California at Berkeley (we call it "Cal"). I made the most of my years at Cal, taking opportunity to study a wide variety of subjects that aroused my curiosity, including geography, anthropology, astronomy, music, psychology, French, computer science, English, forestry and zoology. The system eventually required a major, however, and I was accepted into the School of Business. In 1984 I was awarded the degree Bachelor of Science in business administration.
I realized even before I completed my degree, however, that I was not destined to be an accountant for the rest of my life. A post-graduation visit to a career counselor confirmed this impression, the results clearly pointing away from the orderly world of the office and toward the more expressive world of creativity and ideas (the arts, humanities, and social sciences). I decided to spend a few years working and then return to school to pursue a higher degree.
In 1988, I left my job as a corporate accountant and entered the Master's program in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at California State University, Hayward. Since I did not have a Bachelor's in geography, I took extra course work to obtain a good, rounded knowledge of the field. Geography (the study of space and place on the face of the earth) is a varied discipline that synthesizes material from many perspectives, and my studies were correspondingly broad, including work in regional studies, environmental studies, geography as a discipline (history, philosophy, topics, techniques), cultural and historical geography, cartography, and landscape studies.
For my Master's thesis, directed by Dr. Christina Kennedy, I studied wilderness, focusing both on the ideas behind the word and on specific places that are called wilderness. After many trips to wilderness areas in California and much reading about nature and wildness, my research led me to two particular wilderness areas: Desolation Wilderness, near Lake Tahoe, and the Tuolumne Meadows area of Yosemite National Park. In these two study areas, I considered the relationship between wilderness as landscape and wilderness as concept. What I found was a drama of order and chaos that plays out among the forests and meadows, trails and mountains of the kind of places we call wild. In 1994, I received my Master of Arts degree in geography from California State University, Hayward.
Upon completion of my Master's degree, I moved across the country to enter the doctoral program in the Department of Geography and Anthropology at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge (LSU). At LSU, I studied with Professor Miles Richardson, an anthropologist who also does work in geography. I continued to work with experiential qualities of place in naturalistic landscapes, now focusing on gardens rather than wilderness. Dr. Richardson introduced me to the idea of poetics of place, and this became a central theme in my dissertation (see below). In 1999, I completed the program and received the Doctor of Philosophy degree.
Since completing my doctorate, I have embarked on a career in freelance indexing and editing. I have pursued continuing education with a training course in back-of-the-book indexing through the graduate school of the US Department of Agriculture. This course is the leading training course for indexers in the United States.
My Ph.D. dissertation in geography, at Louisiana State University, explored Poetics of Place as a way of knowing and understanding places as they are experienced. I set my study in the context of public gardens in the United States, and focused on the theme of emplacement, i.e. the manner and extent to which places draw people in. In emplacement, we do not view our surroundings as an object, but rather we enter into an intimate relationship with them, fully engaging with the places where we dwell.
Many aspects of a place (be it a garden, a house, or a public square) contribute to quality of engagement: form, texture, color, light, functionality, sensory depth, comprehensibility, symbolism, a sense of movement or rest, spaciousness or intimacy, focused or dissipated attention, historical or cultural references, tactile experiences, or bodily involvement, for example. Often beneath the surface of consciousness, these experiential, or poetic, qualities of place can draw us in or push us out.
For more, read my abstract.
My work on the interpretation and experience of place, a geographic concept, is interdisciplinary, incorporating numerous disciplinary fields of study:
and a variety of topics of research specialization:
My emphasis has been on the experiential qualities of place and landscape and on epistemological alternatives for understanding them. In other words, "how can we understand the experience of places, particularly those aspects not addressed by conventional scientific approaches?"
These alternative ways of knowing invite such perspectives as phenomenology, existentialism, poetics, mythology and folklore, archetypal and depth psychology, and genius loci. My research interests also range across the fields of cultural and humanistic geography, Eastern and Western philosophy, the history of ideas, environmental history and philosophy, religious studies, and regional geography.
© 2003 Scott P. Smiley