Place is a concept that seems like it would seem like a particularly simple word that would be easy to describe, when in actuality there are many technical parts that comprise a definition. A simple definition is too short and simple, leaving out many important details, whereas a longer and more specific definition may create confusion and add complexity to others, which can make the concept hard to grasp. In Lynn A. Staeheli’s article titled “Place,” she provides a specific and idealistic point of view on definitions regarding the word “place,” along with conceptualized categories that place falls into, and also how place is related to politics.
Many consider place a relatively broad concept and often do not look deeply into the root of what place actually means, or consists of. In Staeheli’s article, defines place and examines five conceptualizations of place. These five conceptualizations consist of place as: a physical location or site, a cultural and/or social location, a context, constructed over time, and a process. The first consists of space being a material “thing” and is something that relates to space. This is the general concept that most people consider the true meaning of what place actually is; it is a physical place that can be described or pointed to on a map. The second expresses place as a cultural, or social location. It focuses on how people are located within webs that consist of cultural, social, economic, and political relationships and how their identities are shaped. It was interesting to note that this conceptualization primarily relates to studies on women and researchers draw their information from cultural studies, feminism, and identity politics. The third idea of place as context really starts to be the transition where place starts to become a complex idea. Context relates to the idea of place being a cultural, or social location, but and shares the ideas on the concerns of social, political, economic, and cultural relations, but centers on the social positionality that shapes political action. Now if most people are like myself, they would read that and have no idea what that means, however, Staeheli goes on to explain that context is more like “identity of place” and that it implicates political behavior by shaping meaning of events for different actors and it provides resources for action. The next idea portrays place as being socially constructed through time. This sense of place begins to really combine all aspects of place and represents place as being dynamic and always changing. The final concept of place incorporates place as a social process. All of the preceding concepts combine to form an idea that implies place as a particular outcome, or product. Staeheli then introduces the concept of place by John Agnew, which represents three main concepts of place, including locale, location, and sense of place and how the processes interact and operate at different scales. This process of place really incorporates all the aforementioned conceptualizations and shows how they are all interconnected. This idea of place is the most theoretical, complex, and detailed (Staheli, 2003).
Next, Staeheli continues and breaks down place and political studies. She talks about four specific ways that place is implicated in political struggle and it includes: politics about place, politics in place, politics in the construction of place, and the politics that deploy or transgress place. When explaining politics about space, Steheli provides examples that come to show politics about place are more progressive and not reactionary. Politics in place is directly correlated with the conceptualization of place as context, as explained earlier. A good way to think of this can be summed up by Kirby (1985) who claims this idea as “activity in place” or how resources that places provide as people make decisions are recognized. The following idea consists of politics as the construction of place. This idea expresses that physical and social constructions of place are central to political processes and it helps in achieving political goals. The final idea incorporates politics deploying place. This concept relates to the construction of place, but it involves conscious efforts at transgression and how it includes exposing and challenging the gendered construction of public places (Staheli, 2003).
In conclusion, place is a very complex term that includes a wide variety of alternate ideas. There are many different aspects of place and it can be difficult to understand all of them. This article by Steheli helped break down five different conceptualizations of place to help introduce the complexity of the term and to help sort out each idea related to place, in order to help make it easier to understand and grasp the concept of place. She also explained four areas of political studies where place is interconnected. These particular aspects of the term show just how intricate the idea of place actually is and how many themes can be included in order to formulate a precise and unified definition.