Quotations on the Uses of Place

1. Place and Particularity

Place as Spatial Location

And of course, at the same time, the possibility of writing allows for the development of maps and atlases, which are able to give names to places, to classify them, and to suggest that they have "real," delineable borders. Writing allows the transformation of the region from the sum of a series of stories of a series of trips to a new kind of place, the image of which can be inscribed on a flat surface. And it thereby allows one to imagine the place as a container for its inhabitants.

Indeed, and in this way, writing is the invention that allows for the invention of the idea of space. Without writing there is no space, but only an image of the void. There are of course places, because as we have seen, the construction and maintenance of places can rely upon strictly oral modes of communication, like narrative. But those places do not exist in space; at best, they exist in concert with other places.

To see how this might be true we need only look at early accounts of places. They typically are of the form of, "I traveled in the place where such and such people live, and I saw this and that." They are really in the form of accounts of journeys.

From our perspective today we are inclined to read too much into those accounts, to imagine that the people recounting them had what we might call mental maps, that put all of these accounts into a nice clean gridded system. But they did not. Indeed, an oral tradition lacks the means to store such images. But with writing it becomes possible to organize these stories, and to locate the peoples and events on a flat surface that is imagined to be a replica of the world itself. So it becomes possible to imagine places as located within space.

Michael Curry, New Technologies and the Ontology of Place

Place as the Immediate or Concrete

Place as Exclusivity

Place as the Unique

Place as the Static, Fixed, Permanent, or Stable

The idea of place as we once knew it has changed in that the emphasis now lies not in permanent structures but those things (ex roads) that allow for an increasingly globalized world to move.

Jackson, J.B.. A Sense of Place, A Sense of Time

...certain values almost inevitably fostered in stable, place-bound communities [that] are indispensable ingredients for a decent human existence.

Seamon & Buttimer, The Human Experience of Space and Place.

Place as the Chaotic, Complex, or Impermenant

Place is collectively made up of the conglomeration of many different elements within this locale. Such elements include things such as day and night rhythms, weather, survival threats, economy, trade, plants and animals and food.

Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams.

Why is it that theorists see culture as manifesting out of a certain place? What does it look like to see it emerging, rather, out of historical process? Place is a topic for revisitation, to flesh out the assumptions that we have about this concept, culture and literature. Place ends up resisting the tendency to homogenize culture.

Dainetto, Place in Literature

Place as Presence and the Locus of Order

Place as Embodiment

2. Place and Relation or Context

Place as the Local

Over time I have come to think of these three qualities--paying intimate attention; a storied relationship to a place rather than a solely sensory awareness of it; and living in some sort of ethical unity with a place--as a fundamental human defense against loneliness. If you're intimate with a place, a place with whose history you're familiar, and you establish an ethical conversation with it, the implication that follows is this: the place knows you're there. It feels you. You will not be forgotten, cut off, abandoned.

As a writer I want to ask on behalf of the reader: How can a person obtain this? How can you occupy a place and also have it occupy you? How can you find such a reciprocity?

The key, I think, is to become vulnerable to a place. If you open yourself up, you can build intimacy. Out of such intimacy may come a sense of belonging, a sense of not being isolated in the universe.

Barry Lopez

Place as Nature or Landscape

Not all natural locations have the characteristics of natural places. Examples of candidates for being places would be a forest glade, a rocky cove, a small island in a lake. Examples of locations but non-places would be oceans, deserts, mountain ranges, arctic wastes. What makes a location also a place? First there is some requirement of size on places: locations can be too small or too large to be places. There may not be precise dimensions; but the Brazilian rain forest is too large to be a place, a square yard of the New Forest is too small. It might be a 'spot', but not a place. The size must be somehow of 'human scale', 'perceptually graspable', not necessarily at a glance but maybe at a 'wander'.

Second, and relatedly, places must have 'human' features, features of a kind and scale which humans can relate to perceptually and not just conceptually via knowledge about it. The middle of the Pacific ocean, Sahara desert or the North American prairie are too featureless to be places. There is probably some requirement about shape also - some sort of natural arena, with protective sides. Children tend to like 'small' places.

So, lingering in such a paradigmatic place is the start of the story. How does it go on? The next step is perhaps the development of a deeper attachment, a greater sensitivity, to that particular place. Sensitivity involves an initial 'openness', a willingness to relate to something other than oneself but not alien. an acknowledgement that it commands respect. The place invites further investigation, so that one becomes familiar with it, knows every nook and cranny, feels at home in somewhere not man made. It comes to have a significance as a kind of home. Its spirit can be restorative of your spirit.

This initial liking of the place leads to one's learning about the place, acquiring the ability to read it, acquiring knowledge of the past of the place, how it got that way. This knowledge informs one's present experience of the place. One's knowledge of the place broadens and deepens. One thereby develops a sensitivity to the significance of the place. One learns how the place can be affected by its surroundings: distant hills, the shape of the horizon, the weather, different seasons, distant noises, smells. Footpaths and routes leading to the place can affect it. These are not 'in' the place but are partly constitutive of it. Inhabitants or visitors, human or otherwise, similarly can affect a place while not being permanent residents of it.

Out of such particular attachments, a 'sense' of place can develop. So that one recognises places which are amenable to such human attachment. One can come to recognize a place as such without actually having already developed an attachment to that place. One can learn to be open to, and to respect places generally as congenial but not humanised, they are still other than us. We can learn to relate to them; and, if we do, they can contribute to our quality of life, not just in a trivial way of a quick fix, but in a serious way: making us the people we are, serving to constitute the continuity of our lives.

So, the spirit of place has a past. It also has a value: places, unlike mere locations, can be violated or destroyed. What counts as violation and destruction of place and what would count as conserving it.

Jane Howarth, "In Praise of Backyards"

Place as Relation

"the places of the chessmen vis-à-vis each other, as well as the place of the chessboard on the ship, remain the same, so long as the relationship of those parts of the ship that serve as points of reference is not affected by the ships motion."

John Locke

Place is "the embodiment of relationships among people. …. Places are imbued with the identity of the people who live there"

Myers, Fred R. Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self: Sentiment, Place and Politics Among Western Desert Aborigines

Place is "the creation of the social, psychological and cultural relationships that people have to particular landscapes or physical places."

Diane Keahey, Making It Home: Place in Canadian Prairie Literature.

Place as Mediation

Provides the spaces essential to association and mediation and it represents a city to its inhabitants.

Caragata, "New Meanings of Place", Light, Philosophies of Place

Place as a Term of Opposition

Place is the location that "communities of resistence" come together to question political power and hegemony. "New spaces of resistance are being opened up, where our ‘place' (in all its meanings) is considered fundamentally important to our perspective, our location in the world, and our right and ability to challenge dominant discourses of power."

Michael Keith & Steve Pile, Place and the Politics of Identity.

3. Place and Meaning

Place as the Personally or Communally Significant

Place is where meaning making takes place and at the same time place is full of the cultural and experiential artifacts that are full of socially constructed meaning – understand place, and we understand more about what it means to be human.

Francis Violich. The Bridge to Dalmatia: A Search for the Meaning of Place.

Place can be seen as a creation of architecture whose purpose is to make the individual more embedded in the community, and in the world.

Karsten Harries. The Ethical Function of Architecture.

Physically, a place is a space which is invested with understandings of behavioural appropriateness, cultural expectations, and so forth. We are located in ``space'', but we act in ‘place'

Harrison, S. and P. Dourish (1996). "Re-Place-ing Space: The Roles of Place and Space in Collaborative Systems." Proceedings of CSCW 96. Cambridge, MA., ACM Press: 67-76.

Place as Identity

Aristotle understood place (as topos) to be a point no different from any other point, an inert container exerting no particular influence on the creatures or objects within it. Topographical maps and Global Positioning Systems are preoccupied, after this pattern, with precise elevations and fixed contour lines, being able to pinpoint exactly one's location on the globe. By contrast, Plato preferred to speak of place as the wetnurse, suckler, and feeder of all things. His fascination was with the capacity of a place to resonate to the immediacies of human experience. Place as chora carries its own energy and power, summoning its participants to a common dance, to the "choreography" most appropriate to their life together.

Belden Lane, "Giving Voice to Place"

For us, Indigenous encompasses the place from which we see the world, interact with it, and interpret social reality.

The foregoing constitutes a very strong test of indigeneity. On the other hand, it also means that a Kwara`ae person can live anywhere in the world for long periods or perhaps permanently on a day-to-day basis, and still be seen as indigenous. Moreover, Kwara`ae persons can be born somewhere else and still be seen as indigenous so long as they are not of mixed blood. (Children of mixed marriages, for instance, are seen as Native Kwara`ae but not Indigenous.) Space (kula ni tua, literally, "place situated in dwell[ing]"; that is, place not of one's existential being but rather of temporary or even long-term staying) refers to a space that is not of one's identity or origin. Space has to do with the location where a Kwara`ae person may be at any given time as necessitated by contemporary conditions (such as going to an urban area to get a job to meet basic needs, or going overseas in pursuit of an education). The underlying image in kula ni tua is that one is sitting in a space that, should one get up and leave it, will be occupied by someone else. Space is the location a Kwara`ae person occupies while in motion or in circulation, to draw a metaphor from Murray Chapman's work on population mobility and circular migration. For the Kwara`ae, therefore, because of the possibility of space, a person can be anywhere and still be inextricably tied to place. Place is portable and, as we Kwara`ae say, "It's in our blood."

David Gegeo, "Cultural Rupture and Indigeneity: The Challenge of (Re)visioning "Place" in the Pacific."

Place as Activity

If I were to say, "Well, we were going to have a seminar today but it was a nice day so we all went outside and talked about a set of readings instead," people would think me a bit odd; a seminar, most people would say, is a seminar not because of where it takes place but because of what goes on. The characteristics of the location are in certain ways irrelevant; what matters is what happens.

In contrast, to say that something is a household is typically to say something about a set of activities, but also about a set of objects and putatively about a set of people who do and do not belong in a household. If in principle in a political debate everyone is treated equally, to the extent that we even have a name for the fallacy of not doing so—the ad hominem—in a household it is the norm that people be different.


The modern nation state is a place that—in part I hasten to emphasize—is created through the production and circulation of works whose explicit aim is to characterize that place in a thoroughgoing way. Its inhabitants take on an existence as members of broad and fluid sets of categories, some of which may have no apparent meaning to them. They are, in an important sense, virtual individuals. But they are virtual individuals who exist in a place that is very real, a place that in part obtains its reality through the process of creation of that virtuality.

There are of course antidotes to this abstractness, and indeed, the state relies upon them as means to its maintenance. One longstanding antidote is, of course, to cut through the apparent abstractness of the nation state by appealing to symbols, which become means of uniting diverse individuals. This is precisely what happens in the US, where the flag, the constitution, and a variety of other symbols have this function.

So it seems to me that when we start from the most basic feature of human life, that we communicate one with another, we are forced quickly to see places as important among the contexts of our actions.

Michael Curry, New Technologies and the Ontology of Place

Place as Home

Place here is an object/subject of art, looking at the different ways of how place is manifested in art helps to to understand the meaning of home and the origins of belonging.

Grynsztejn, Madeleine. About Place.

Place is home and home is the ever elusive calling toward recognizing one's own freedom, freedom to question home and our ever present plight for it.

Karsten Harries. "In Search of Home" Cloud – Cuckoo Land: International Journal of Architectural Theory.

Facts carry the traveler only so far: at last he must penetrate the land by a different means, for to know a place in any real and lasting way is sooner or later to dream it. That's how we come to belong to it in the deepest sense.

William Least Heat-Moon

Place as Feeling

What reaction or emotion is created in a place? Place creates a certain state of mind which in turn elicits particular actions or behaviours.

Winifred Gallagher, The Power of Place

Place is "feeling measured in one's muscles and bones."

Kent Ryden, Mapping the Invisible Landscape

The word "place" has come to mean a variety of things to students of the novel. At the simplest level it usually refers to a writer's artistic use of a highly particularized physical environment, geographical region, or human community. Place in this sense has had many uses. One of them, of course, is the increased symbolic role played by "setting" in the gothic, romantic, and post-Romantic novel: the wildness of the heath in Wuthering Heights mirroring the inner turbulence of the characters, the riven oak at Thornfield Hall foreshadowing the fate of Jane Eyre and Rochester, and so on. The concrete details of physical places and communities also began to serve the Victorian novelists' growing sense of the complex relations between individuals and history. In the nineteenth-century novel, the physical world was much more fully realized than in earlier narrative--factory and slum as often as village and heath--because there was less interest in timeless moral or ethical drama alone and more in examining what it meant to have been an orphan in the age of Political Economy and the Reform Bill of 1832, or to be an individual with dreams and ambitions swimming against the current of habit, custom, and social and cultural bias at a particular moment in history in a complex community like Middlemarch. As Richard Altick demonstrates, in The Presence of the Present (in a chapter titled "A Sense of Place"), the physical objects that filled and defined places also provided Victorian novelists with a rich new language for revealing aspects of character and registering subtle and not-so-subtle social, class, and moral distinctions. [9] (In Charles Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, the Veneerings' garish gas chandelier marked them immediately, Altick tells us, as pretentious nouveaux riche, and so on.)

William R. Siebenschuh, "Hardy and the Imagery of Place."

Place as the Social or Intentional

...if two people meet in a place, talk and get to know one another there, they in that way constitute that place as "theirs," as a place within which each can do certain things and not others. But the introduction of writing alters the relationship and the place. A diary, a series of letters, a transcript of a conversation, potentially shared with others; all of these transform the place, from one wherein one has a set of experiences, afterwards lodged only in memory, to one in which there can after the fact be multiple versions, multiple interpretations, and the possibility of classification and cataloging.

Michael Curry, New Technologies and the Ontology of Place

A sociology informed by place will be most effective, I think, if it is neither reductionist nor determinist. That is, the three defining features of place—location, material form, and meaningfulness—should remain bundled. They cannot be ranked into greater or lesser significance for social life, nor can one be reduced down to an expression of another. Place has a plenitude, a completeness, such that the phenomenon is analytically and substantively destroyed if the three become unraveled or one of them forgotten. This anti-reductionism precludes geographical fetishism and environmental determinism, just as it precludes an unbridled social constructivism... Place stands in a recursive relation to other social and cultural entities: places are made through human practices and institutions even as they help to make those practices and institutions. Place mediates social life; it is something more than just another independent variable.

Gieryn, "A Space for Place in Sociology": 466-7

Place as Symbolic Order

I am distinguishing here place from space. The first . . . can be understood as a kind of locus, specifically as a plane which is "the order [of whatever kind] in accord with which elements are distributed in relationship of coexistence" (de Certeau 1984: 117). On the other hand, space is rather a geography constituted by dynamic elements which meet, intersect, unite, cross each other, or diverge. As Michel de Certeau put it, "Space occurs as the effect produced by the operations that orient it, situate it, temporalize it, and make it function in a polyvalent unity of conflictual programs or contractual proximities. (1984: 117). To expand de Certeau's illustrations, I would say: As a street is a place that a walker transforms into an active space, or as a text is a locus of organized signs obeying the logic of a proper place that every reader can change into an intellectual or aesthetic space of learning and enjoyment, so the "object" of an anthropological curiosity (a culture, its institutions, rituals, or mythical narratives) constitutes a place with its proper rules that the anthropologist's activity and interpretation transform into a new space. This new product is a "practiced place," something which is different and, in any case, could hardly claim to compare its dynamics with what de Certeau called "the law of the ‘proper' which rules in the place" (1984: 117).

Mudimbe, Parables and Fables, 169.

...the problem of space in anthropology, [which is] the problem of place, that is, the problem of the culturally defined locations to which ethnographies refer. Such named locations, which often come to be identified with the groups that inhabit them, constitute the landscape of anthropology, in which the privileged locus is the often unnamed location of the ethnographer. Ethnography thus reflects the circumstantial encounter of the voluntarily displaced anthropologist and the involuntarily localized "other."

Arjun Appandurai, "Place and Voice in Anthropological Theory", 16.

Place as Time

Places act as evidence of the passage of time (ex. decaying of a building, disaster destroying a landscape or the replacement of an old library with new) and therefore our individual perception of time is tempered by the external world in a reciprocal relationship.

Kevin Lynch, What Time Is This Place?

As a image maker Morris uses the readers mind as a canvas as he unfolds a simpler life on an old homestead in the early 1900's. For the author this time was about "independence not abundance" he refers to "home grown made on the farm trinity" as "abstinence, frugality and independence" . Morris sees place as a way to refer to certain "intangible" ideas as occurring within a certain space. Place is the vehicle of expression for those characteristics of life that the author is passionate about.

Morris, Wright. The Home Place.

Place is significant in that, for the Apache, history is conceptualized spatially.

Keith Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places.

For the Foi, place is the more tangible expression of temporality which can be expressed through poetic images.

Weiner, James. The Empty Place: Poetry, Space and Being among the Foi of Papua New Guinea.

...continual passage of time from past, present and future becomes embodied in ritual, tradition and ceremonial rites – in fact history becomes embodied in these things and further in the land itself.

William Mitchell, Ceremonial Time.

Place is land to which history has occurred.

Don McKay, "Otherwise than place"

Place as Transcendence

Place is that which is given by God and for us to commune with, have a relationship with rather than dominate.

John Hart, The Spirit of the Earth: A Theology of the Land.

Place is significant in that God made entry into time and space (the combination of which constitutes place) with His incarnation into Christ.

Geoffrey Lilburne, A Sense of Place: A Christian Theology of the Land.

Space vs. Place

It is also worth, as a note, making some distinction between what I mean by space and by place. Space refers to the three-dimensional coordinates of things. A place is a particular space that has meaning. But this difference should not be reifed. Like most categorical distinctions, this too falls apart at the margins, for even the merest recognition of coordinates is a form of meaning, of placement. Perhaps it would be better to say that, in what follows, when I speak of place I am emphasizing issues of meaning more than I would be if I were speaking of space.

Michael Bell, "The Ghosts of Place" Theory and Society 26: 813-836, 1997