Thursday, October 20, 2011

The place of place in space?

Left image: Red dust, strata and vegetation, Flinders Ranges, South Australia.
Right image: Sunset across the plains, Flinders Ranges, South Australia.

Related sites to the Spatialworlds project
Spatialworlds website
21st Century Geography Google Group
Australian Geography Teachers' Association website
'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
Geography Teachers' Association of South Australia website
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Where am I??
Hobart, Australia: S: 42º 50' E: 147º 20'

Place and space: the difference?

In previous postings I have explored the nature of the concepts of place and space. An outcome of such discussion is usually a need to articulate the difference between place and space for the non-geographer (and geographer in fact). What essentially is the difference?

The following work from Massey and Cresswell is a very useful delineation of the difference between place and space:

Space and place are often merged together in the geographical imagination but space is more abstract than place. We begin with undifferentiated expanses of space and then we identify with certain parts of space, get to know them better endow them with value, then name and identify them as places. It is people that form place. Space is a locale that is made into a place by human intent. A place is given its personality by human relationships across space. It is produced through connections to the rest of the world, particularly the movement of people but also commodities and ideas (Massey,1991, Cresswell, 2004).”

Most importantly it is the humanistic interpretation of place that is at the centre of place study for the cultural geographer. This sense of place is fundamental when exploring the connection of people to place and their sense of place. However the term sense of place has been defined and used in many different ways by many different people.

“To some, it is a characteristic that some geographic places have and some do not, while to others it is a feeling or perception held by people (not by the place itself). It is often used in relation to those characteristics that make a place special or unique, as well as to those that foster a sense of authentic human attachment and belonging.”

Others, such as geographer Yi-Fu-Tuan have pointed to senses of place that are not inherently "positive," such as fear.”

The work of Yi-Fu-Tuan is particular interesting in this area. His work called “Topophilia: a study of environmental perception, attitudes, and values” had significant impact on the area of human geography since the 1970’s and is an area I would love to see geography classes engage in.

Topophilia means literally love of place. It is a term used to describe the strong sense of place or identity among certain people It can be defined widely so as to include all emotional connections between physical environment and human beings.

In 2001 I conducted a GIS project with my students, called Streetscapes, which on a small scale I tried to get students to determine through specific criteria why every street has a different feel and sense of place.

In fact, to add or clarify the confusion about place and space, Yi-Fu-Tuan contends in his book Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience, that:

“… place is defined as a particular part of space that can be occupied, unoccupied, real, or perceived.”
“a space requires a movement from a place to another place. Similarly, a place requires a space to be a place. Hence, the two notions are co-dependent.”

Yi-Fu-Tuan went on to say that:

“…the ways in which people feel and think about space, how they form attachments to home, neighborhood, and nation, and how feelings about space and place are affected by the sense of time. He suggests that place is security and space is freedom: we are attached to the one and long for the other.”

As what often happen in this area of geographical conceptualisation, one can get more confused the further one reads. Can I suggest that a read of some of Yi-Fu-Tuan’s work is well worthwhile to see that place and space are more than just dimensions and patterns to be mapped but are determined by human perception, sense of belonging and attachment. It certainly enriches the study of the key concepts of place and space in the Australian Curriculum: Geography. The following edited extracts from the draft Australian Curriculum: Geography released this week clearly shows that the writers have been influenced by the modern geographical work on place and space outlined above. For example:


“A place is a specific part of the Earth’s surface that has been named and given meaning by people, and these meanings may differ. The concept of place, however, goes well beyond the study of places and is about a way of understanding, explaining and thinking. In particular in involves exploring people’s aesthetic, emotional, cultural and spiritual connections with places; the role of places in their own feelings of identity, sense of place and belonging; and the ways they experience and use places. It is to be recognised that places may be altered and remade by people, and that changes promoted by one group may be contested by others.”


“Space in geography is the three-dimensional surface of the Earth. While history studies change over time, geography studies difference across space, and has a particular interest in understanding the rich diversity of environments, peoples, cultures and economies that exist together on the surface of the Earth.
The study of space in geography recognises that people perceive and use spaces differently, and may feel accepted and safe in some and unwelcome or unsafe in others.”

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