109: Tim Cresswell’s Place

Tim Cresswell’s Place: A Short Introduction is a lovely lit review of cultural geography debates on the concept of place.  While Cresswell is clear and thoughtful about each of the geographers he discusses, his own definition of place is as a “meaningful location,” which he likes because it is both subjective and objective, both physical and cultural.  In addition, his research focuses on social difference and place, what it means to transgress a place, and what it means to be out of place – “anachorism.”

The three levels of place:

  • Descriptive; visual; surfaces
  • Social construction; practice; social difference
  • Phenomenological; essential; humanist; universal
At one point or another, cultural geography has embraced one or more of these levels.
Debates/ paradigms in cultural geography, in chronological order: 
  • Regional geography (Sauer, Hartshorne); 
  • Humanistic Geography (Tuan, Relph; universals); 
  • Place as home (Heidegger’s dwelling; feminist critiques); 
  • Radical Human Geography and the Politics of Place (Marxist critique of essentialism; Harvey; Cresswell); 
  • Place as Being-in-the-World vs Place as Social Construct (whether place has a physical component?); 
  • Place, Practice and Process (bodily mobility; place-ballets; return to essentialism; structuration theory and place as becoming; Thrift and non-representational theory; Soja; de Certeau; place as event, openness, change); 
  • Place, Openness and Change (Harvey’s static places; Massey & Cronon’s place as node; Lippard’s place as sediment); 
  • End of Place (Relph; Auge’s place as fantasy, Thrift’s place as frame; Lippard’s local as hybridity)

Cresswell’s summary of “a global sense of place:”

  • Massey: place is open, hybrid, and extroverted, but it is still unique because it also has accumulations and networks connected in a certain way; permeability is not vulnerability
  • Harvey: place is reactionary exclusivity, a stopping place for capital flows; capital reshapes place when it no longer permits for accumulation
  • Jon May: empirical research shows that place is neither of these two extremes; the people on the ground all have their own perspectives on what a place is and usually it’s some combo of the two

From section 4, short summaries of research that uses place as a central concept:

  • Geraldine Pratt: Filipina migrant workers in Vancouver create a sense of place in their fragile living situations; making place becomes marking boundaries and communicating them.
  • Gentrification: in New York’s Lower East Side, gentrification means making a neighborhood a “nice place to live.”  But gentrification also means “urban genocide,” depending on whose side you’re on
  • Place and manufactured authenticity: planned housing developments, garden cities
  • Regions and nations as places or “imagined communities” 
  • How redistricting requires creating new histories and new meanings for new regions
  • In Place/ Out of Place, or anachorism (Cresswell’s jam): place and what’s appropriate; Cresswell uses gay communities, refugees, and homeless people as folks who use place in ways they’re not intended, including queering space through performance, and using the homeless, refugees, and other deviant users of space as a constitutive outside that constructs and reinforces normative ideas of place
Wasn’t that nice?

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