My interest in the concept of place is most readily seen in my current project. I am working on a book in African philosophy called Philosophy as if Place Mattered: Hermeneutics and Contemporary African Philosophy. In it, I argue that the question that has animated much discussion in the field of African philosophy, that of whether there is such a thing, is a misdirected question because it relies on a metaphysical assumption - that African philosophy may or may not have a particular territory. In other words, African philosophy has been trying to defend its entitlement to a "country" on a map of the academy.
The metaphysical assumption that African philosophy makes is really a spatial assumption; that is, that there is an abstract standard of ordering (like lines of longitude and latitude) into which land fits. African philosophy has had to live up to the abstraction that mapping demands, and thus the question "Is there an African philosophy?" is always slanted toward the negative.
I want to re-ask the question, as one of place. The new question, a hermeneutical and phenomenological one, is now "What is it to do philosophy in this place?" This question contains two components - a request that we connect philosophy (in this case, African philosophy) with the places from which it comes (something few philosophers have been inclined to do), and a request that we examine the place that African philosophy holds in the academy, and in the general discipline of philosophy.
This may seem like a metaphorical use of the notion of place, but in fact I think it is within the tradition of discussion of place. Place has always been about a connection between thought and the other, thought and the "place" (we can hardly keep from using the term) from which it springs. African philosophy is a good place to reflect on these issues, as it defines itself in terms of geographical particularity (African) and universality (philosophy) at the same time.
I see this website as doing philosophical work as well. As I started research for the book mentioned above, several things struck me:
1. There is an enormous amount of work, across many disciplines, on the concept of place.
2. While those that write on the concept are aware of work in some other "adjacent" disciplines (there's a place term used for academic discourse again), even the best writers seem to limit themselves to a very small part of the available work.
3. This is so for several reasons. Obviously, there's just too much to do justice to it all. But further than that - it seems clear that we don't have just one concept at work here. So, people use the version of place that fits into their disciplinary discourse, and tend to ignore those that don't.
4. The problem has been that, while place stands as a critical concept to mainstream disciplinary discourse, it has been relatively uncritical of itself and its uses or applications. It is a concept with great intuitive appeal, for a wide variety of (sometimes contradictory) reasons.
5. My own discipline, philosophy, has done a great deal of work on the concept of place, but it has not thought much about its place, or about the places from which it comes.
This website is philosophical work in the Gadamerian tradition, in that it brings together the work on place so that the various writers can illuminate each other. When a concept like place stands as an assertion, it ironically becomes place-less, a concept that cannot or does not know its place in discourse and discipline. On the other hand, when it is allowed to encounter other uses (and we don't want to push the agency metaphor too far here; it is people that encounter each other through concepts, but let's let that pass for the moment), the various uses find their intellectual place.
I have also been involved in interdisciplinary work for the last decade or so, having just completed the directorship of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in the Liberal Arts (CIRLA). This centre has, among other things, hosted conferences on interdisciplinary themes. I see the present website as a good example of interdisciplinary work. Interdisciplinarity is not just a matter of combining disciplinary strengths to solve a problem. It involves those disciplines understanding themselves better by interacting with the strengths and limitations of other disciplines. I am hoping that this website will encourage interdisciplinary work in the best sense, by making previously unrealized connections for people and spurring work that would be difficult or impossible within disciplinary boundaries.
Page Location: http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/~janzb/place/myresearch.htm