“Place” Article Review

The reading “Place” by Lynn Staeheli was an interesting look at how little consensus there is within the scholarly community on a concise and universal definition of place. Lynn Staeheli provides a number of interesting definitions on “place”, from a number of different contexts. Her first definition is basically a material definition and is pretty straight forward, her second definition deals with “place” as a cultural construct. In her definition of “place” as a social and cultural construct, she notes that place here is metaphorical but with some spatial components. Here, she uses the example of women and how historically they occupied their own socially acceptable places such as the “home”, “church” and “neighborhood”; this was their “place, but when they ventured outside of their designated role in society they were “out of place”. My problem with this view is that “place” in the way the author is using it does not seem geographical, the author is basically saying that if a woman were to leave her role in society she would be “out of place”. This seems like more of a sociological definition then a geographical one, sure there is a spatial component invoked here but even if the woman is not in the “home”, “neighborhood” or “church” as long as she was fulfilling her societal roles it seems doubtful she would be considered “out of place” for leaving a space like the neighborhood.

Another important concept of definition up by the author is “place” as a social construct over time. Here place is viewed in the lens of “continuity and change” in what is described as almost a layering effect. This idea of layering is interesting, but a flaw I see with it is that some history is no longer relevant to a “place” today. A European City that was once primarily Roman Catholic for instance today might be mostly Secular or Protestant, containing a population whose view of place has little to do with their cities Roman Catholic roots. This is the flaw in my mind with this method, some “places” today have little connection with their past.

The second part of the reading deals with the usage of “place” in political science today. One topic discussed in this section is the idea of “turf politics”, where due to globalization and external pressure many average citizens feel a need to control their “turf”. This section was quite interesting, because in the world today there turf wars going on everywhere imaginable. A good example for this concept is when young professionals “gentrify” previously ethnic neighborhoods the old residents have to fight back to “save their neighborhood.” A problem I do have with this section is that the author says “politics about place can be seen as progressive, not reactionary.” Without getting into specifics, this seems like an oversimplification. It seems hard to believe that the politics of place is is solely a progressive ideology, which is what the author seems to hint at.

As the author states, place truly is a “messy concept”,  but the various definitions of place all have different areas in which they can be used and if used correctly they can be very beneficial to the realm of Political Geography.

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