Sense of place

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The term sense of place has been defined and used in different ways by different people. To some, it is a characteristic that some geographic places have and some do not, while to others it is a feeling or perception held by people (not by the place itself). It is often used in relation to those characteristics that make a place special or unique, as well as to those that foster a sense of authentic human attachment and belonging. Others, such as geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, have pointed to senses of place that are not inherently "positive," such as fear.[1] Some students and educators engage in "place-based education" in order to improve their "sense(s) of place," as well as to use various aspects of place as educational tools in general.

Geographic place

To understand sense of place, the geographic concept of space needs first to be defined. Geographic space is the space that encircles the planet, through which biological life moves. It is differentiated from "outer space" and "inner space" (inside the mind). One definition of place, proposed by Tuan, is that a place comes into existence when humans give meaning to a part of the larger, undifferentiated space. Any time a location is identified or given a name, it is separated from the undefined space that surrounds it. Some places, however, have been given stronger meanings, names or definitions by society than others. These are the places that are said to have a strong "Sense of Place."

Cultural geographers, anthropologists, sociologists and urban planners study why certain places hold special meaning to particular people or peoples. Places said to have a strong "sense of place" have a strong identity and character that is deeply felt by local inhabitants and by many visitors. Sense of place is a social phenomenon that exists independently of any one individual's perceptions or experiences, yet is dependent on human engagement for its existence. Such a feeling may be derived from the natural environment, but is more often made up of a mix of natural and cultural features in the landscape, and generally includes the people who occupy the place. The sense of place may be strongly enhanced by the place being written about by poets, novelists and historians, or portrayed in art or music, and more recently, through modes of codification aimed at protecting, preserving and enhancing places felt to be of value (such as the "World Heritage Site" designations used around the world, the English "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty" controls and the American "National Historic Landmark" designation).


Places that lack a "sense of place" are sometimes referred to as "placeless" or "inauthentic." Placeless landscapes are those that have no special relationship to the places in which they are located—they could be anywhere. Roadside strip shopping malls, gas/petrol stations and convenience stores, fast food chains, and chain department stores are often cited as examples of placeless landscape elements. Even some historic sites or districts that have been heavily commercialized (commodified) for tourism and new housing estates are sometimes defined as having lost their sense of place. A classic description of such placeless places is Gertrude Stein's "there is no there there".[2]

See also

  • Spirit of place
  • Topophilia
  • Yi-Fu Tuan
  • Ian Nairn
  • Marc Augé


  1. Tuan, Yi-Fu (1980). Landscapes of Fear. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
  2. Anyone's Autobiography, 1937: see Gertrude Stein.

Further reading

  • Alexander, Christopher. A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, Oxford University Press, 1977. ISBN 0-19-501919-9
  • Cresswell, Tim. Place: a short introduction, Blackwell Publishing, 2005. ISBN 1-4051-0672-7
  • Kunstler, James. Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape, Free Press, 1994. ISBN 0-671-88825-0
  • Relph, E. C. Place and Placelessness, Pion, 1976. ISBN 0-85086-111-X
  • Snyder, Gary "A Place in Space"
  • Inge, John A Christian Theology of Place, Ashgate, 2003. ISBN 0-7546-3498-1
  • Casey, Edward S. The Fate of Place, University of California Press, 1998. ISBN 0-520-21649-0

External links