1. A fixed point on the Earth’s surface.
2. A locus of individual and group identity.
3. The scale of everyday life.
Until the 1970s all three meanings of place were understood via a ‘mosaic’ metaphor that implied that different places were discrete and singular. However, in the wake of globalization, it became necessary for human geographers to rethink their ideas about place. This is not to imply that places are becoming the same, as if globalization is an homogenizing process. Rather, the challenge has been to conceptualize place difference and place interdependence simultaneously. The ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ of a place is no longer clear cut. The metaphors of ‘switching points’ and ‘nodes’ better enable us to see places as at once unique and connected, and mediate between older idiographic and nomothetic approaches. As will be explained, these metaphors currently find favour among most human geographers writing about place. Despite definition three possibly implying that all places are of a similar area (e.g. 100 square kilometres), human geographers have never sought to offer an absolute measure of what distinguishes a place from, say, a region. This is because what constitutes a place is partly a function of changing technologies and infrastructures (e.g. roads, railways). In turn, these affect people’s perceptions of what is near or local, and what is far.
In its early years as a university subject, many geographers devoted some or all of their careers to studying one or more places. Typically, theirs was a holistic analysis that covered both human and physical geography and which presumed there to be unique or even singular characteristics that distinguished one place from another (see areal differentiation). With the post-1950 Quantitative Revolution in geography this sort of place analysis, also conducted at the regional scale, was largely eclipsed. Places began to be seen as instances of general processes because the new ontological presumption was that a certain spatial order was operative within and between otherwise different and distant localities. This presumption was also made by the early Marxist geographers, despite their concern to criticize spatial science. They were initially interested in the ‘laws of motion’ of capitalism that governed towns, cities, and rural landscapes worldwide. However, within a decade these new approaches to place came in for criticism. First, it was argued that place similarity is not synonymous with place sameness: only by abstracting too much from the specifics of places could general patterns be identified, so said many critics. For instance, in a particular twist on this argument, Edward Relph argued that the spread of homogenous, featureless modern architecture across Western cities was creating a damaging placelessness. Secondly, it was argued that the hermeneutic and affective dimensions of place experience were being ignored in the rush to privilege general theories and models. Humanistic geographers especially emphasized the second meaning of place, arguing that attention must be paid to how people value and interpret the places they inhabit, or have inhabited in the past. These valuations and interpretations, they argued, matter greatly to people and may vary considerably according to age, nationality, ethnicity, gender, and so on. ...
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