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My girlfriend keeps seeing the word topographical appear in her social work coursework, and asked me what it meant in this context.

I'm struggling to help explain clearly, can you help break it down?

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closed as general reference by tchrist, Carlo_R., Robusto, MετάEd, simchona Dec 31 '12 at 2:40

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Of or relating to topography -- I guess there's a particular specialised nuance for social workers. The question arises, why doesn't your girlfriend simply ask her tutors? – Andrew Leach Dec 30 '12 at 13:26
She's on her Christmas holiday and tutors are unavailable. – felixthehat Dec 30 '12 at 13:40
I never understood why Tales from Topographic Oceans was called that, and I'm still none the wiser after reading in that Wikipedia link about how Wakeman originally wanted to use his made-up word Tobographic (don't ask me - something to do with Fred Hoyle, apparently!). – FumbleFingers Dec 30 '12 at 16:54
up vote 3 down vote accepted

The Crankshaft explains how topography is used in social science to discuss societal relationship with place.

Translated literally from its Greek roots of topos (place) and graphein (to write), topography means "the writing of place." In modern usage, however, the term has taken on more complex significance. ... In social science, topographies (both representational and actual) are of interest to researchers investigating relationships between societies and local environments.

... In different ways, authors and others have moved understandings of topographies beyond concern for merely the material configuration of places and instead highlighted the multiplicity of ways in which humans become attached to and interact with places.

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Thanks Andrew, the section 'relationships between societies and local environments' was a lightbulb moment for her! – felixthehat Dec 30 '12 at 16:21
Perhaps a rider is advisable, to the effect that this is a subject-specific usage, not found amongst the several definitions at the AHDEL, for instance. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 30 '12 at 16:56
@EdwinAshworth Feel free to add one, if the introductory sentence is not enough. – Andrew Leach Dec 30 '12 at 18:06
It's certainly the correct answer to Felix's girlfriend's problem, but I think that there's enough valuable discussion posted on the website to warrant researcher-friendly asides (which is probably why I seemingly get regular downvotes). (Or it could be the puns.) – Edwin Ashworth Dec 30 '12 at 22:26

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