The Term Sense of Place and Several Ways of Thinking about It

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The term sense of place is a very controversial and has been used in many different ways. It is characterised either by the geographical location with a specific position such as degrees of longitude and latitude or by subjective feeling and the perception of people. The term sense of places is defined by Tim Cresswell as the ‘subjective feelings evoked by a place for both insiders (people who live there) and outsiders (people who visit or imagine that place)’; (Cresswell, introducing human geography, third edition). The term itself is often used to make a place memorable and unique as well as cultivate a sense of human connection and attachment to a specific area. ‘Place’ is a simultaneously geographical and social aspect hence in this essay, I chose Vietnam as my ‘sense of place’. The aim of this paper is to discuss and evaluate the term ‘sense of place’. This essay will consist of 3 ways of thinking about ‘a sense of place’. The first one is ‘as a sensory experience of place’ from Yi-Fu Tuan’s idea of ‘Topophilia’, the second idea is as a sense of ‘belonging to’ or ‘ownership of’ a place and the third one is as a sense of the distinctive links, past and present, to other places in the world by Doreen Massey.

Yi-Fu Tuan’s idea of ‘Topophilia’ is the ‘affective bond between people and place or setting’

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‘Home’, a word that is defined by Tuan himself is a cultural identity, a place that inhabit each and every one personality as those whose lives and create memories. That bond is formed by the mixture of the three terms that Tuan had categorised as perception, attitude and value. Those stories we told about places we called home usually say as much about who we were, who we are and where we set roots for our lives. For me, my so-called home is Vietnam, a small Southeast Asian country with a rich culture and diversity. I often describe myself as mixed-race, having dual nationality between English and Vietnamese, but where I was born and raised will always be my home, my ‘sense of place’. The term ‘a sense of place’ through Tuan’s idea portrait place as experience and meaning and a nostalgic type. Individuals have an intimate need to identify with their places such as through repeated experiences of sounds, smells, sights and sensations of a place; also, through behaviours, routines and ties of kinship and spirituality (Gilbert, 2019). ‘Place exists at different scales, ranging from a particular part of the house or garden in which a person lives, through the streets, shops and other facilities and landmarks of the local neighbourhood or town in which they grow up, out to the wider countryside, region and nation of residence, origin’ (Tuan, 1974, 1977). When referring to my ‘home’, Vietnam is more than a country where I grew up from, it is the base, the platform like the soil for a flower to grow in. The place that I remember the most sine my childhood is one specific place called: Hoa Hue street. It is a very small street, big enough to fit one car to drive through without going up on the pavement. That street contains most of my childhood with those traditional games I used to play with the kids in the neighbourhood. The street is filled with houses fitted right next to each other, walls next to walls; house next to house.

Alternatively, it could be argued that writing about feeling and perception, emotions is a challenging and difficult task, and one in which will depend on different views and angles for each individual when they relate to the term ‘a sense of place’

The second way of thinking about ‘a sense of place’ is as ‘a sense of belonging to’ or ‘ownership of a place’. The ideas of rootedness, essentialism and exclusion, a strong sense of place, and attempting to close places to outsiders or outside forces, can be response to globalisation (Gilbert, 2019). David Harvey (1993) described the significance of place gas increased in an era of globalisation and time-space compression. Adjacent to the idea, places also act as refuges, a safety and familiarity in a changing world. Places are also in competition, as assets to be branded and marketed in a global economy and places as increasingly close and exclusionary to outsiders (Gilbert, 2019). Belonging can be define in two ways either by social or spatial aspect. Social is sense of belonging and an attachment to a particular social group. Spatial is a connection to a particular place, normally fill with memories and feelings. The concept of belonging is more than just an ownership of a certain property but for me, what it means to belong and to not belong to either UK or Vietnam. The relationship between two nations, the freedom to chose and the meaning of to be one but not another. The idea of exclusion has been amplified by the growing economy, of what is mine and yours and what groups other people categorized us into. The globalisation and the interconnection have been amplified by the time- space compression theory, as a ‘shrinking world’ by David Harvey in (The condition of postmodernity 1989). Time-space compression associated with cultural homogenization such as similar brands that operate in both the UK and Vietnam such as Mcdonalds, Starbucks, Topshop…However, if place is about belonging, then who belongs and who doesn’t, who decides who belongs where and when. The concept of exclusion and surveillance create homelessness and loneliness all around- as the notions of social and spatial transgression. There are gentrification and the sanitizing of urban places, the politics of places and ethnic decides who belongs and who doesn’t. This concept of belonging also doesn’t apply to gypsy and travellers as they move from place to place without settling, hence there wouldn’t be ownership and rootedness. Moreover, globalisation is making places becoming less distinctive; local cultures blander and more similar as global corporations spread their influence throughout the world in a way bringing us closer together but also losing that culture and diversity.

The final way of thinking about ‘a sense of place’ is as a sense of the distinctive links, past and present, to other places in the world. This conceptualisation of sense of place picks up on Massey’s relational ‘global sense of place’. Massey’s writing in response to what she calls the effects of time-space compression (the simultaneous spreading out and concentration of space and time) on the notion of place. She argues that the perception of place should be based on the history of the past and the present. Moreover, places do not have single identities, but multiple ones based on different views and perspectives. Places are also a process that continue to develop with time and are not enclosures with a clear image. Massey acknowledge the idea of globalisation is bringing the world closer in a valuable way as place should be consider both progressive domestic and international in a social aspect and economic relations. The ‘shrinking world’(Harvey, 1989) is ways in which transport and communications technologies are bringing parts of the world closer together. The geographer David Harvey suggests that the most fundamental force driving both time-space convergence and distanciation is global capitalism. Capitalism is regarded as an inherently competitive system, always seeking to maximize profit. Vietnam is a perfect example due to it rapid growing in economic and becoming more globalise. For me, time- space compression concept has brought me closer to my family back in Vietnam as the distance and time differences don’t matter as much anymore. They are just one phone call away and one flight away from me. However, more complicated conceptions of globalisation emphasise that there are different dimensions to globalisation (e.g. political, economic, social and cultural); and that the processes of globalisation are highly uneven creating powerful central places and marginalised peripheries inequality (Gilbert, 2019).

In conclusion, collective understanding of ‘a sense of place’ are not coherent, these different understanding of places can be look at in a scale perspective such as local, national and global; hence can be fracture out. Each individual will have their own perception about sense of place, as this relate to different regions and nations people come from when come into contact with the concept. Sense of place has varied over the course of history timeline, especially as technologies of communications are rapidly growing.

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