Psychology and Place


Theories of place in environmental psychology

Phenomenological Approach

Tends to regard space as an abstraction of place. The focus is on human experience of place, and the human experience as always in a place. Phenomenology is mainly descriptive, although the description is not of discrete and unrelated experiences, but of those things that are shared, constant, or universal. Sense of place is one of these things.

Determinist or Transactionalist Approach

A determinist approach focusses on how an environment determines or influences behaviour, mood, or personality.

Transactionalism is about transactions, or exchanges. It is a kind of neo-functionalism.

"A strong transactionalist perspective is concerned with the objectives or goals of the individual and the way in which they are structured and organised by the social process of which that person is part. These processes give rise to a set of place specific actions and experiences...Within the transactionalist perspective, places are in a constant state of flux and construction, through social, cultural and personal interaction. The physical aspects of peoples conception of places in this model cannot be separated from their affective responses to those places. These together are shaped by the motivations (goals/purposes) and expectations (roles) which people bring to their interaction with places."

"How can we look at the meaning of places? One popular approach is to look at the relationship between the meanings and associations that people have of a place; the activities that go on there and its physical form. This is called the Theory of Place. In this way
to understand a place, you cannot look at the physical form alone, but must focus on the relationship between what people do there; what they think and feel about it and what they intend to do there."

All this means that a transactionalist approach to place requires a number of constituents, such as people's attitudes to place, their activities in place, their goals, and the actual physical places themselves. "Place" is the exchange that happens between these components.

For example, people may hold different goals in a particular physical place. In a downtown street ,for instance, some people are interested in just passing through to another place, while others have as a goal making a living on that street. There are exchanges that happen between these people, and between themselves and their sense of or ideas about what that place is like. If you ask these people what this place is like, you will get very different accounts - in some sense, these are different places.