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sense of place

  Originating in studies of the physical characteristics and qualities of geographical locations as appropriated in human experience and imagination, sense of place has increasingly been examined in human geography as an outcome of interconnected psychoanalytic, social and environmental processes, creating and manipulating quite flexible relations with physical place. Geographers have thus examined both the character intrinsic to a place as a localized, bounded and material geographical entity, and the sentiments of attachment and detachment that human beings experience, express and contest in relation to specific places. In terms of the second approach, place may have no visible, material expression but may emerge and become articulated in and through social interaction (McDowell, 1997).

Certain physical locations seem to generate similarly powerful responses from quite different people over sustained historical periods through their distinctive or memorable qualities. This may result from unique topographical characteristics, as in the case of Mount Royal in Montreal (Debarbieux and Petit, 1997), the Sugar Loaf at Rio de Janeiro or Table Mountain at the Cape of Good Hope, visible as landmarks over great distances. Geographical distinctiveness may also result from long-term human occupance and physical shaping of a territory, as in the case of Tuscany in Italy (Greppi, 1990, 1991, 1993) or Rutlandshire in England (Cosgrove, Roscoe and Rycroft, 1996). It may alternatively be associated with significant events which have occurred and left their mark in social memory at a location, as in the case of battlefields, locations of great tragedy or evil such as Auschwitz in Poland (Charlesworth, 1994), or of epiphany (the eruption of the sacred into secular space), for example Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Delphi in Greece or Lourdes in south-west France. Finally, a powerful sense of place may be projected onto entirely mythical locations such as the Mountains of the Moon, believed from Classical times to hide the source of the River Nile. Such places become known and familiar to large numbers who may never have visited them personally, constituent parts of their imaginative geographies, constructed in and through stories, paintings, photographs and media images, often as exotic or \'other\' places through which the identity of the home place is normalized and reinforced. travel writing and guide books play a critical role in creating and enhancing such imagined senses of place, reporting and promoting travel pilgrimage and tourism (Gregory, 1995; Graham and Murray, 1997; Gilbert, 1999; see also art, geography and).

Whether physically distinctive or not, sense of place is profoundly connected to individual human and social processes producing deep emotional connections with specific locations. phenomenologies of place have tended to emphasize positive feelings of attachment, particularly in the case of \'home\' places, psychological satisfaction or spiritual elevation, but the experience of place may equally be one of fear, disgust or sadness (Relph, 1976). Places of fear and danger have also been studied, as in the case of women\'s effective exclusion from certain urban places and districts through fear of crime (Valentine, 1989). The most commonly examined aspect of this sense of place within humanistic geography has been of the experience of \'home\', where one feels oneself \'in one\'s place\' within a familiar locale. The social struggles and negotiations through which the personal sense of home place is realized have been the subject of study, as have the various expressions of homelessness, transience and being \'out of place\' (Cresswell, 1996). Because the sense of attachment and significance in place always draws upon memory, desire and experience of other people, it is as much social as personal, and a product of interaction between people at a specific location as much as of the physical properties of that location. Recent studies have concentrated on examining the ways that material expression is given to these complex senses of place and how both social memory and political struggle become expressed and concretized in place. This may find material expression in various markers, from the physical construction of memorials and monuments (Withers, 1996) to the more subtle indicators of social inclusion and exclusion within neighbourhoods (Western, 1993). A notable example is the case of war, where battlefield memorials may become the only material signifier of events which provided locations with a deep sense of place and social connection for people otherwise spatially and culturally disconnected from them and where there may be conflict over where and how to memorialize war dead: at \'home\' or in a \'corner of a foreign field\' (Heffernan, 1995).

In sustaining a sense of place, the measurable and visible features of a place are thus conflated with the subjective aspects of human experience, direct or indirect, and with social solidarity at that place, giving to places the characteristic of \'betweenness\' explored by Entrikin (1990). Entrikin emphasizes the significance of such social relations as family and community over the visible, physical features of material locations. A critical concern which has paralleled the whole history of modernization — expressed in much humanistic geographical writing in the 1970s — is that an \'authentic\' sense of place to which traditional forms of social solidarity gave rise (the village or small town for example) was becoming disrupted by processes of economic and social change, uprooting people from enduring local attachments and relocating them in less permanent, apparently anonymous and alienating, mass-produced places deemed to lack the necessary preconditions for developing a sense of place (cf. rural-urban continuum). In the 1980s this concern was recast within geography in the critique of postmodern places as commodified, alienated and dangerous by comparison with the more secure sense of place in the immediate post-war world (Eyles, 1985). The sense of place thus always seems to entail a dimension of nostalgic yearning.

Some geographers have sought to develop a more sophisticated theorizing of human connections to place. Doreen Massey has described \'a global sense of place\', a progressive rather than nostalgic and conservative sense, in which places are no longer regarded as fixed in scale or bounded in space and time, but as \'articulated moments in networks of social relations and understandings\' (Massey, 1993, p. 66). In a sensitive evocation of her own city neighbourhood, she describes how expressions of intense localism such as newspapers carrying news of small, geographically distant rural locations in Ireland are to be found on a busy inner-London street in Kilburn, a district occupied by a rich variety of ethnic and language groups and over which intercontinental airlines visibly inscribe connections to global destinations. Local intimacy, distance, movement and memory combine to produce a complex but not necessarily contradictory sense of place, a specific and local realization of multiple processes, connections and networks that are global in scope and range. The rapid evolution of electronic modes of communications, particularly the Internet, has also allowed the social connections formerly associated with face-to-face communication and thus a localized sense of place, to be realized at a global scale and in virtual space (Mattelart, 1996). A virtual sense of place may already exist for many regular users of these technologies, as for those participating vicariously in the imagineered places of TV soap operas, although these have only recently begun to be systematically explored by human geographers.

Place remains powerfully important in framing and sustaining individual and collective Identities. In the contemporary context of mobile, flexible and contingent senses of place, various agencies seek to fix and control place meanings and identity, and thus materialize an \'official\' sense of place. Much of conservation and heritage activity is concerned to achieve and sustain a singular and univocal sense of place through controlling change in the physical landscape. gentrification of villages and inner-city communities, and NIMBY attitudes among those with fixed economic and emotional investments in place are popular expressions of the same urge to resist change and flexibility in the sense of place, although, ironically, many who are most vociferous in defending a localized and univocal sense of place are also tightly connected into the networks that construct place\'s more global expression. The consequential marginalization of groups with respect to place, such as sexual non-conformists, homeless people, travellers and formerly institutionalized individuals have been the subject of geographical explorations of alternative senses of place (Shields, 1991; Sibley, 1995; Cresswell, 1996). Here, \'knowing one\'s place\' takes on a less comfortably secure and domestic resonance, as questions of identity, \'othering\' and exclusion point to the connections between power and place. A number of geographers have drawn upon de Certeau\'s distinction between strategies and tactics in everyday social life to explore the power relations constituted in place through the impositions and resistances of a distanciated, synoptic view of place and a more intimate knowledge of its quotidian workings (Stewart, 1996).

The conscious creation and manipulation of place images through advertising, architectural coding, place promotion and naming strategies have become distinguishing features of planning and representing place, particularly in the context of consumption spaces, as for example in \'themed\' areas within large shopping malls, designed to resemble stereotypes of places familiar through cultural conventions and media images (Goss, 1997). The supposed \'authenticity\' of former production spaces (docklands and textile mills for example) and heritage centres is both emphasized by conserving their physical form and deployed to promote altered uses, while new places are created which draw upon iconic references to other localities to enhance their own identity. There is much to suggest that most users of such places, far from being unconsciously duped by such manipulations of the senses of place, are actually knowing participants in this charade of place-making, suggesting that the human sense of place is highly sophisticated and flexible, and therefore most accurately theorized in terms of contingent connections and understandings. The shift in geographical studies of sense(s) of place from a concern with the physical qualities of location to their social construction has perhaps underemphasized the continuing significance of the aesthetic, sensual and visceral aspects of the sense of place, most powerfully expressed in rituals of death and burial (Foster, 1998). There are signs however of a revived interest in the materialities of place, stimulated by the focus within consumption studies on the signifying role of material culture, and of studies of embodiment on the physical presence of the gendered, aged, sexed, sensitized and variously abled human body within physical space (Imrie, 1996). (DEC)

References Charlesworth, A. 1994: Contesting places of memory: the case of Auschwitz. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 12: 579-93. Cosgrove, D., Roscoe, B. and Rycroft, S. 1996: Landscape and identity at Ladybower Reservoir and Rutland Water. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 21: 534-51. Cresswell, T. 1996: In place/out of place: geography, ideology and transgression. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press. Debarbieux, B. and Petit, E. 1997: Receuillement et déambulation, ailleurs et même au-delà. Façonnement et usages des cimetières du Mont Royal, Montréal: 1850-1996. Géographie et Cultures 23: 23-50. Entrikin, N. 1990: The betweenness of place: towards A geography of modernity. Basingstoke: Macmillan. Eyles, J. 1985: Senses of place. Warrington: Silverbrook. Foster, J. 1998: John Buchan\'s \'Hesperides\': Landscape rhetoric and the aesthetics of bodily experience on the South African highveld, 1901-1903. Ecumene 5: 323-47. Gilbert, D. 1999: London in all its Glory — or how to enjoy London: representations of Imperial London in its guidebooks. Journal of Historical Geography 25. Goss, J. 1997: The \'magic of the mall\': an analysis of form, function and meaning in the contemporary retail built environment. In L. McDowell, ed., Undoing place? A geographical reader. London: Arnold, 265-83. Graham, B. and Murray, M. 1997: The spiritual and the profane: the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Ecumene 4: 389-409. Gregory, D. 1995: Between the book and the lamp: imaginative geographies of Egypt, 1849-50. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers 20: 29-57. Greppi, C., ed., 1990, 1991, 1993: Paesaggi dell\'Appennino toscano; Paesaggi delle colline toscane; Paesaggi della costa toscana. Venezia: Marsilio. Heffernan, M. 1995: For ever England: the Western Front and the politics of remembrance in Britain. Ecumene 2: 293-324. Imrie, R. 1996: Disability and the city: international perspectives. London: Paul Chapman. McDowell, L., ed., 1997: Undoing place? A geographical reader. London: Arnold. Massey, D. 1993: Power-geometry and a progressive sense of place. In J. Bird, et al., eds, Mapping the futures: local cultures, global change. London and New York: Routledge, 59-69. Mattelart, A. 1996: The invention of communication. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press. Relph, E. 1976: Place and placelessness. London: Pion. Shields, R. 1991: Places on the margin: alternative geographies of modernity. London and New York: Routledge. Sibley, D. 1995: Geographies of exclusion: society and difference in the West. London and New York: Routledge. Stewart, K. 1996: A space on the side of the road: cultural poetics in an \'other\' America. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Valentine, G. 1989: The geography of women\'s fear. Area 21: 385-90. Western, J. 1993: Ambivalent attachments to place in London: twelve Barbadian families. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 11: 147-70. Withers, C.W.J. 1996: Place, memory and monument: memorializing the past in contemporary Highland Scotland. Ecumene 3: 325-44.

Suggested Reading Daniels, S. 1992: Place and the geographical imagination. Geography 337: 310-22. McDowell, L., ed., 1997: Undoing place? A geographical reader. London: Arnold. Oakes, T. 1997: Place and the paradox of modernity. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 87: 509-31.



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