How Does Where You Are Relate To Who You Are?

The concept of place has been approached in a variety of ways. All of them, in one way or another, relate to the question of identity.

Identity and Approaches to Place:

1. Phenomenological & Hermeneutical

"How does one investigate sense of place, without transforming place into either a material, quantifiable object "out there," or a reflection of arbitrary, nebulous subjective emotions?"

Ingrid Stefanovic

The phenomenological approach to place emphasizes the experience of place. This experience must be brought to the surface, or made clear, not because it is hidden, but because it is so close to us and familiar that it is difficult to articulate.


The phenomenological approach to place assumes that in investigating our sense of place, we are also investigating our way of being in the world. Our identity is part of the place we occupy, in the sense that we "dwell" or find a home.

2. Symbolic & Structural

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"...

Valentin Mudimbe, Parables and Fables

Much research on place in anthropology focusses on the material or cultural symbols of place. Place, then, consists of the symbols we use to express the relationship between self, community, and location.


In this understanding of place, we get clues to our identity by deciphering the symbolic structures. Our arrangements of place and space tell us something about what we regard as important, what we

3. Social Constructivist & Marxian

Place, in whatever guise, is like space and time, a social construct.

David Harvey, Justice, Nature & the Geography of Difference

The Marxian approach to place treats it as a function of the social world. "Place" does not cause anything, and at worst mystifies social relations.


In this approach to place, identity, like place, are both functions of the social world. Our identity is our social identity, made possible by our construction of place.

4. Psychological & Causal

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 psychological understanding of place tends to be a causal account. Place is understood as the cause of our mental states, our emotions, etc.


In the psychological understanding of place, one's identity is a function of place. This is the domain of much environmental psychology, although of course those talking about "place attachment" will argue that place and identity are reciprocally related.