Hägerstrand and Dunkirk?

When considering Hägerstrand’s identification of constraints that can prevent an individual from participating in certain activities, it is interesting to see its presence in cinema going. Hägerstrand’s time-geography model identifies three constraints that exist while individuals move and act in the allocation of limited time and among activities in space. The groupings of these constraints include capability, coupling and authority, and all explore the relationships between human activities and various constraints in a specific time context (Yu & Shaw 2007, p. 104). Hence it is through an individual’s own impulse and planning that an experience like cinema going can be executed successfully.

My knowledge surrounding the newly released film Dunkirk by famed director Christopher Nolan (known for his epic Batman films) was very limited before viewing it on a mid-afternoon Sunday a few weeks ago. After the spontaneous suggestion to see this film with a friend, I held a rather impartial attitude towards seeing it. However I can now confidently say that it was a superbly made film – which I believe was actually helped by my lack of expectation surrounding it.

The 2017 war-film directed by Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk, image via bookwormroom.com

In terms of location, Warrawong cinema has introduced new and improved leather, reclining chairs which in my words, completely amps up the cinema-going experience. This was my first time in these chairs and I was extremely impressed (and relaxed) by the atmosphere of engagement that mere reclining chairs could insinuate. Additionally, not only was everyone in the cinema reclined, but we also all seemed to have some sort of cinematic food item purchased beforehand. There were bucket loads of popcorn being crunched on, giant cups of coke being chugged and lollies being constantly chewed on. So you could say that even the cinema has its own, special ‘cinematic cuisine.’

As mentioned above, time geography assumes that an individual’s activities are limited by various constraints (Hägerstrand 1970, cited in Yu & Shaw 2007, p. 104). Capability can be defined as physiological necessities that may constrain a person from participating in certain activities (Yu & Shaw 2007, p. 104). In terms of Hägerstrand’s concept of capability in my cinema-going experience, I was able to rely on my friend for transportation. This generally meant that it required little organisation and planning on my behalf, making my job to simply be ready on time, fairly easy. Furthermore in regards to the cinematic cuisine, we also bought some food at the location, as well as expectedly sneaking some in my handbag.

Additionally, coupling refers to spatial and temporal requirements that allow an individual to interact with others to conduct certain activities (Yu & Shaw 2007, p. 104). When applying this constraint to cinema going, it is the set time of the movie that dictates individual’s preparation and behaviour beforehand. For the viewing of Dunkirk, we picked an afternoon time as we did not want to watch a night session and get out particularly late. Funnily enough, I remember that we were in fact running a tad late when we were driving to Dunkirk and as a result had to quickly and stressfully buy the food and tickets immediately as the ads were starting. So despite having a few hours to prepare, we still managed to execute this mission behind schedule.

The final constraint, authority, reflects general rules or laws that limit a person’s access to either spatial locations or time periods (Yu & Shaw 2007, p. 104). Capability constraints and authority constraints indirectly determine whether two individuals can ‘couple’, as they limit the movements of an individual and control whether each individual is able to be present at a certain location during a certain time period (Yu & Shaw 2007, p. 104). Again in reference to my cinema going experience, we were not overstepping any boundaries of authority. Despite being a little late to the movie, we did not disturb other people in the cinema as the ads were previewing which meant that the audience were still settling down. So thankfully, we were able to successfully find our reclining chairs and not miss any important moments in the movie.

Overall, when we consider any type of organised activity, it is critical to consider the implications of Hägerstrand’s constraints. Through the presence of capability, coupling and authority, we are able to appropriately comprehend the various barriers that can influence an individual’s ability to conduct activities in space and time. Like cinema going, there are particular elements of organisation and execution that must be adhered to in order to successfully plan and enjoy this experience. Therefore, it is through these constraints, that we see the spatio-temporal patterns of people’s movements be controlled within the notion of time geography (Golledge and Stimson 1997, cited in Shaw & Yu 2007).



Bookworm Pro News Theme, 2017, image, Dunkirk Movie 2017,’ viewed August 27th <http://www.bookwormroom.com/2017/08/06/dunkirk-movie-contrary-view/dunkirk-movie-2017-main1-copy/>

Shaw S, Yu H, 2007, ‘Societies and Cities in the Age of Instant Access: Revisiting Hägerstrand’s Time-Geographic Framework for Individual Activities in the Age of Instant Access,’ Springer Publishing, USA, p. 104


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