Place is one of those words whose definition we often take for granted as known and understood by everyone. At first thought, it would seem strange to be asked to analyze this word and its meaning. If asked to give a definition for “place,” many would immediately consider this task a very simple one. However, as described in the article “Place,” by Lynn A. Staeheli, place is a complex word with many meanings. Staeheli describes five particular conceptualizations of place.
The first conceptualization of place is “place as a physical location or site.” This definition is probably the most commonly thought of, and describes place as a particular spot in the world that one can physically visit, such as a point of latitude and longitude or the area encompassing a park.
Another definition, “place as a cultural or social location,” approaches place in a more abstract manner, focusing on the meaning and function of places according to cultural and social norms. An example of this definition is described by Tim Cresswell in his explanation of “moral landscapes;” or how certain people and activities are expected to be in or take place in certain physical boundaries, and vice versa. His example described how in the past women in Western cities were not supposed to enter or participate in areas reserved for “commerce, industry, and politics,” meaning both “materially and metaphorically.” These expectations were not written law, but more of an accepted social norm.
The idea of “place as context,” from my understanding refers to place as more of a collection of the “events, objects, and actions,” that exist and take place in a particular physical area, but I would like to discuss this concept more in class, because I don’t think I entirely understand this conceptualization and was a little lost in this section.
“Place as socially constructed through time,” is a conceptualization that combines the previous definitions in a way that highlights the complexity and interaction of physical, social, and individual systems. It is the idea that a place changes over time through the action of the people who inhabit the place. Also, it describes that past activities influence the present state of a place, but do not entirely determine its present or future state of being.
Finally, “place as a social process,” also combines the previous definitions, especially “place as socially constructed through time,” but further elaborates on the idea that a place is not static, but constantly changing. It describes place “as process, as always ‘becoming,’” and emphasizes the social impact on this process. John Agnew uses this approach for his definition of place as being a combination of location, the role a place plays in the world, or its function, locale, the institutions of a place, such as families, schools, and political and governing organizations, and sense of place, meaning the collective idea and identity of a place.
To me, I think it is best to think of place as a multi-layered collection of concepts that are equally valid if considered together; meaning all previous definitions are important to consider when thinking of place. It is definitely a complicated concept, and I thought the article did a good job at breaking down the separate conceptualizations. I also appreciated the following explanation of “Place and Political Studies,” but would like to discuss the meaning of the section “Politics in Place,” as I did not fully grasp the idea Staeheli was trying to get across.