Tim Cresswell is Professor of Human Geography at the University of Edinburgh. He considers the meaning of place for geographers, philosophers, artists and architects. He explores radical ideas in geography, for instance “Queer Places” and the occupation of Tiananmen Square, Tahrir Square, Cairo and Wall Street as significant moments of protest at significant places.
I read the Book preliminary to undertaking a study of my own into the sense of place in Jersey.
The Book is dedicated to Yi-Fu Tuan, one of my heroes. Tuan contrasts the openness, freedom and threat of space with the security of places, pauses in a journey. The Book’s cover picture is of a personalised place, the interior of a VW Van (?). There is obvious tension between the van moving, (on a road movie?) through space, and the pause and comfort provided by the van’s interior.
Tuan sees villages and cities as places. He notes that the scale of place considered by geographers goes down to the city neighbourhood, but rarely to individual houses or an old rocking chair.
Landscape, the perspective of the outside observer, is contrasted with place, the insider’s view.
Names give meaning to places. The Tlingit, from the Pacific North West, “Peoples of the Tides” (what a meaningful name!) had many names for the sea, but, for them, the land remained unnamed. To explorers, the sea was empty, the land full of potential places to be mapped and named, the mirror image of the Tlingit sense of place
Scientific geography with its concern with abstract space (Peter Haggett etc) diminished the importance of the particular, which (without going back to regional geography) needs to be recaptured. In my view this is being done by travel writers (in the English tradition), Roger Deakin, Robert MacFarlane, David Gange et al.
Places are not static but maintained by re-performance. Oxford’s students are there generally during term time, for only three years. By re-performing their roles, they maintain the city’s unique quality. Contrast this with places were ritual is no longer performed, for instance Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka. It retains a hill club, now a hotel, and bungalows, but its reality as a hill station is pretence.
In the transition from the late medieval to the early modern, society accepted travel by pilgrims and transhumance, but was suspicious of “vagabonds”, apparently able to wander anywhere. Cresswell argues the homeless are now generally associated with towns. This wasn’t always the case. Consider the English tramps described in Laurie Lee’s “As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning”.
Modern communications, Google, Google Maps, dating apps, Booking.Com etc. are made to appear, but are not, objective measures of space and place.
Distance workers, I can think of my web adviser, Sarah, work anywhere in cyberspace and (at some stages in life) may be happy to move between distant locations, but, everywhere they go, they frequent, and carry out web based work from coffee shops etc which, as a result, change, becoming different places.
Anthony Gormley’s “Angel of the North” at Gateshead is an example of sculpture placed, noticeably in the landscape, to increase awareness of place. In 2019 it was suggested an “Angel of the South” be put in place off Green Island, in Jersey’s intertidal zone, a proposal, which raises a number of questions.
The paintings of Constable and Cézanne helped establish Debden Vale & Provence respectively as places. Hung on walls, the paintings help create “National” Galleries and contribute to the perception of nations as places.Then there is the artificiality created by the “Heritage” Industry, neologisms, like “ Constable Country”.
The “End of Place” generally is threatened by globalisation and, lacking authenticity, the similarity and “placelessness” of retail parks and Disneyland etc (Relph).
David Harvey (I cringed) argued places like, time and space are (inevitably unequal) social constructs. Apparently, this is the only thing he was interested in.
He referred to the calls for gated communities after a double murder at Guildford, Baltimore, which it turned out was committed by the victims’ grandson. Harvey argues such gated communities exclude the disadvantaged. Maybe, but my wife and I live between Jersey & Brittany which are safe places, where we are little concerned with our personal security, surely a human right. By contrast, if you live in Cape Town, you would be wise to consider living in a gated community.
To be fair, (despite his Marxism) Harvey’s analysis of the conflict between the mobility of capital and fixedness of place was interesting
The philosopher, Malpas, and geographer, Sack, do not deny that places may be social constructs, but argue society is inconceivable without place, that the social, political and cultural are always geographically constructed.
Recommended. The Book ends with sources and suggestions for further research