Politics and place

Lynn Staeheli’s article comes in two sections, starting with a definition of place and then explaining when and how it is applied. While this sounds simple, the driving point of the piece is that neither can actually be done, going so far as to say that place cannot be defined by itself, rather it must be looked out through a series of differing lenses, which we are offered five of. The first three definitions all vary from one another by a rather large margin, defining place as a physical location, as a cultural or social location, and then finally as context. However, immediately after they are discussed, we are presented with a version of place where all are put together, place as constructed over time. Granted the example of a stratigrapher analyzing place, where it is built over time, by the shared lives and views of the inhabitants, and continues to change as society advances. While Staeheli notes that place cannot be examined layer by layer, she neglects to mention that, if the layers are considered to function not below one another, but all at the same level, they can be picked out, each giving at least a rough estimate of their effects on other layers, if not an identifiable effect that has been applied. This idea though, is restated, folded into the fifth and final definition of place, place as process, where the definition itself is a combination of locale, the physical location and first definition, sense of place, the local feelings about an area and second definition, and location, the area encompassing the social processes and third definition. With these shortened versions of the first definitions, and the notion that they cannot be separated, we are given an overarching definition of place that encompasses prior meanings of the word and gives us an overall better definition.

This new, complete, definition in hand, we then proceed to discussing place in political studies, and the four places it can be applied. First is simply politics about place, concerning a feeling of wanting a physical location for the place-based ideas associated with it. This functions as a feeling of guardedness as well, wanting to keep outside ideals from changing one’s own place. Second comes politics in place, which is concerned mainly with place as context, under the idea that in many locations and areas, they only gain their status as a place after a feeling about the area has been established by an inhabitant, gained through their own experiences in the area, in which the inhabitant becomes part of a web of individuals, whose shared feelings define the place. Next is politics concerning the social construction of place, which, in essence, states that places function as a sort of “social identity”, giving citizens a shared identity with which to associate, such as a city being known as good or bad, or being described as a port city, industrial city, or otherwise something similar. Finally, politics deploying place are explained, which is a type of politics where people fight for a specific change in a place, challenging the established rule through protest or otherwise, wherein norms are defied for the purpose of drawing attention. Finishing up the four types of place in politics, we are reminded that place continues to remain without a unified definition, and are given possible justifications for it and resolutions that can take place.

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