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“Geography is the study of human-environment interactions,” Larsen says of his discipline. It covers activity ranging from physical geography (e.g., wind erosion, weather patterns), techniques (e.g., modeling air pollution with GIS to understand the interactions between human and environment), and human geography. Human geographers focus on the political, economic, cultural, urban, and regional elements of human-environment interactions, looking at “the impact of the environment on human behavior,” as well as the “impact of human activity on the environment.” Within this subfield Larsen specializes in cultural geography, seeking to understand traditional land-use practices, naming practices, and sense of place.
Larsen gathers his data through a variety of different methods ranging from ethnographic field research to content analysis and GIS. But the method he prefers is called “participant observation,” an approach in which “you go and live with the people for an extended period of time, so you can start to learn how they think and feel and act.” In fact, Larsen considers participant observation to be a base line for all the research he does because “you gain an insight by participating in the culture.”
Larsen, who started out as an undergraduate English major, found himself writing about place, a sense of place, and the identities associated with it. Seeking to understand cross-cultural variations in terms of a sense of place led him to the discipline of anthropology, and it was through ethnographic research that Larsen finally reached geography. His past research projects have involved sharecroppers in the Tennessee River Valley, who were relocated by the TVA dams, as well as with the Cheslatta, “a small Indian band in British Columbia, Canada, that had been relocated from its traditional lands in 1952 in order to make way for a hydroelectric project that was being constructed by the aluminum company of Canada.” In each case, Larsen sought to understand traditional land use practices, naming practices, and what places mean to people of different cultures.