David Harvey (1989 as cited Tuck and McKenzie 2015, p. 1) notes: “How we represent space and time in theory matters, because it affects how we and others interpret and then act with respect to the world”. Edward Casey in his book The Fate of Place in 1997 also ruminated that discussions on place have been important, if not always a central theme, for much of the history of Western philosophy. Many contemporary thinkers, inspired most prominently, perhaps, by Martin Heidegger, have made “place” a central concern of theory (particularly ontological meanings) and illustrated that it mattered. Jeff Malpas (2006), for example, argued that throughout his life Heidegger was concerned with understanding “the ‘placed’ character of being,” with “the place of being – as a topology of being” (p. 305). Cresswell (2015) in later writings postulates Heidegger saw place as a spiritual and philosophical endeavor with the authentic human existence being one rooted in place. Scholars in a range of disciplines have adopted place as a central conceptual and philosophical theme, but in particular geography, humanities and social sciences have been central to understanding how place comes to be activated through and within the relations of humans with others. Areas that have been theorized in literature include place in relation to the body, the local, the regional, and the global. Place as a theme has incorporated a range of foci such as location, architecture, place attachment, place identity, sense of place and in the arts the production, practice, and performance of place. In more contemporary times, theoretical frames have sought to unsettle the romantic sometimes more static physical notions of place with critical, feminist, poststructuralist, and new materialist theorists taking up conceptual ideas around gendered spaces, contested spaces, embodied spaces, the politics of space, cultural topographies, cyberspace, nomadism, spaces of desire, monumental spaces, forgotten spaces, and the materiality and relations of objects and entities (human and nonhuman).
Place and the Geographers
Place as a key theoretical concept emerged principally from the discipline of geography. The early physical geographers understood place primarily as a static spatially bound concept where localized social and material practices were enacted (Tuck and McKenzie 2015). A revival in the later 1970s saw key scholars reinsert “place” outside of its spatial framing to be focused on the social relations that become inscribed within these locales, as they exist necessarily in place and across places (Cresswell 2015; Massey 1994). Cresswell (2015) argues for “spaces” or locations to become “places” people must imbrue meaning to them. Cresswell (2015) (drawing on the work of political geographer John Agnew) recognized a meaningful location as having three aspects: location, locale, and sense of place. Location is the physical setting that can be static (a town) or moving (a ship); locale is the material setting where social relations are enacted and meanings are produced; and sense of place is the subjective, emotional attachment personal or shared that are evoked by a place. Cresswell (2015) notes the theoretical contribution of Yi-Fu Tuan here who used the term “topophilia” to define the affective bond between people and place and argued people come to know the world through places. “Places” in this insistence are theorized as shared temporal spaces. The work of Edward Relph is also significant here with his philosophical commitment to phenomenology and his introduction of the concept of “placelesssness” which came to be a useful term for later theorizations of the human experience of place and mobility in a globalized world (Cresswell 2015). Massey (1994) in her substantial body of work on place also around this time identified that place was not only a set of social relations and networks, but she believed there was a need to pay attention to the complex politics and power of these relations and how they were constantly being played out through shared lives. For Massey, place was open and hybrid and the product of interconnecting flows (Cresswell 2015). A place therefore by its very nature was full of power and symbolism, a complex web of relations of domination and subordination, of solidarity and co-operation. How these relations were negotiated revealed the power and politics of “place” boundaries and the temporal constraints of time. While for Massey (1994), time is often conveyed as having a “coherence and logic to its telling, while space does not” (p. 267). Places have spaces between them, while time provides space its characteristics of fluidity and place its opportunity to pause.
Theorizing Identity and Community Through Place
Physical locales, through the experience of being in space and time, have been theorized as lived spaces, as the site for the cultural production of identity, and offered as the location for place dwellers to connect to the real, material geographies of place and with the imagined, symbolic geographies of space. Theories on community and cultural identity extended these ideas by discussing how identity (in community) could be produced through and between places and that these places could then become the terrain for elaborating strategies of selfhood. This construction of a community or communal way of being in “place” is a central theme of place theory and place pedagogy. David Gruenewald (see for example Gruenewald and Smith 2008) often discussed in his early work the importance of “real world,” “community based” pedagogies as central to place-based theories, although this work was often limited by the idea of a static “community” existing in a specific “place.” These “orderly” “static” views of community places have not gone uncontested and like many key conceptual ideas in place theory have been disrupted in more contemporary theorizing within the disciplines of geography and other social sciences, spilling over into the education theory literature (Tuck and McKenzie 2015). The focus on the local community specifically came under scrutiny within discourses of globalization, as the relevance of “place” in a global, open, unbounded world with the relative collapsing of space-time due to increased mobility was questioned. Massey (1994) argued that even though humans are living through a time of spatial upheaval, an era of powerful globalization place provides ironically a backcloth for theorizing experiences of colonialization and decolonialization, dislocation, otherness, and disorientation. The unsettling of place as “ordered” and “located” allowed for the analyzing of those changes at both at the level of geographical and social relations. For example, deeper analysis of place allowed for the revealing through feminist theorizing the implications of sexism, exposing power relations in colonialization by contrasting indigenous and settlers histories past and present, and for noticing economical relations of capital and corporate accumulation.
Spatial, Phenomenology, Poststructuralism, and Assemblage Theory
Through this unique relationship with time-space compression, place is often theorized as having both elements of order and chaos. Order, because all spatial locations of phenomena are caused; and therefore they can in principle be explained in “time.” Order also because there are indeed spatial systems, sets of phenomena in which spatial arrangements are also part of the constitution of a system. Yet chaos is also an element inherent to our understandings of the spatial, because although the location of each set of phenomena may be directly caused, the spatial positioning of one in relation to the other may not. That is, place encounters become unintended consequences – paradoxical mixtures that often end up manifesting as unexpected relations between sets of phenomena. Building on assemblage theory, these relations can be mapped as having two roles for place, a material existence and an expressive existence, and two forces supporting place coherence, territorializing forces, and deterritorializing forces (Cresswell 2015). Cresswell (2015) on the changing set of theoretical relationships noted with a phenomenological emphasis on gathering, and the poststructuralist notion of assemblage, places become syncretic wholes made up of parts. Cresswell writing on the history of the idea of place noted traditionally there emerged three main ways place was approached: a descriptive (surface) approach, a social constructionist approach, and a phenomenological approach. In order to represent the complexity, he identified that geographers (such as Doreen Massey) were writing accounts outside of these approaches by incorporating syncretic and descriptive accounts that were informed by phenomenology, poststructuralism, and assemblage theory. This represented what Massey came to call the “throwntogetherness” of place.
Decolonizing Conceptions of Place
Tuck and McKenzie (2015) write, “decolonizing conceptualizations of place confront, undermine, disavow, and unsettle understandings of place” (p. 49). They note that indigenous philosophies and theories (though they do critique the notion of theorizing as to narrow to represent the ways indigenous people speak of their interactions or relationship to “place”) “represent significant epistemological and ontological departures from those [philosophies of place] that have merged in Western Frames” (p. 51). They explain how “place” and “space” are imbued with a colonizing settler history and that an “ontology of the land” encompasses a material, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual understanding that is more akin to an ontological conceptualization of place that does not prioritize the human or the place but a collective and shared relation to the “land.” The perspectives of Indigenous have been central to recent shifts in re-theorizing space, place, and time outside of Western frameworks. Theoretical work on place in decolonizing spaces brings to the surface issues of replacement and emplacement and the invisibility of Indigenous people’s perspectives in settler epistemologies that repeatedly foreclose discussions on the urgency of decolonization (Tuck and McKenzie 2015).
Place and the New Materialist Turn
The recent new materialist turn has provided also a useful segue here for theorizing even further the entangled and complex materiality of bodies and entities as it sets about supporting the means for re-configuring the dynamism of space, time, and matter through the conceptions of all things “intra-acting with” and “being in” the world (Barad 2007). Barad (2007) for example introduces the apparatuses for studying diffraction as the means for pointing out the specificity of particular entanglements and the entangled effects that “differences” make. Thinking about the nature of differences and space, time, mattering is to consider that prior to their intraaction entanglements do not exist. As humans, writes Barad (2007), we are not outside observers of this entangled world nor are we located in a particular place, but we are part of the world, “part of the world-body space in its dynamic structuration” (p. 185). Onto-epistem-ology is the term she proposes for describing the study of knowing in being, coming to terms with how “specific intra-actions matter” (p. 185) and our humanness of being in and with place in the world.
Place in Education Theory
Until more recent times, it has been argued education theory has for the most part ignored the importance of “place” as a relational concept. In her essay in the 2005 edition of the philosophy of education, Ruitenberg (2005) goes to great lengths drawing on the work of David Orr and others that beyond place as a static physical concept, the place where learning occurs, and place has had no particular impact in contemporary education. She notes in her introduction that education philosopher Michael Peters has also in the past been quoted as saying “modern educational theory has all but ignored questions of space, of geography, of architecture” (2005, p. 212). Emanating from this limited view of place, theorizing place-based pedagogies, has focused primarily on teaching strategies around engaging learners to get to “know a place” to build place-based attachments. Place-based education, according to Stone (2009), was fundamental to schooling that supported environmental education and sustainability. He argued that when places were known deeply and were well loved, they had the best chance of being conserved and cared for in the future. “When people acquire a deep knowledge of a particular place, they begin to care about what happens to the landscape, creatures, and people in it” (Stone 2009, p. 13).
Gruenewald and Smith (2008) have also argued that place-based education rooted in community settings should be reclaimed as central places of public education and that this could alter the role of schools and places of learning with and through connection to places. A significant element of a place-based pedagogy for education therefore has been the opportunity for children to be active learners in the real world and to take their learning outside of the classroom. Ruitenberg (2005) wary of this often narrow emphasis on place pedagogies and outdoor or environmental education has argued this limits the focus of place-based education on the natural environment, with this “connection to place” is presented mostly with “a hint of nostalgia and romanticism” (p. 212). She contends place means more than the natural environment, places are political spaces often with contested histories and …“each (inhabited) place has a spatial configuration through which power and other socio-politico-cultural mechanisms are at play” (p. 215).
Radical or Critical Place Pedagogies
Theorists of place-based education resisting a romantic nostalgia of place, as evident in education discourses around children needing to “re-connect to place” or develop a “sense of place,” have embraced critical theory as enacted through a more radical critical pedagogy of place. New forms of radical place-based pedagogies by critical place-based theorists in education, similarly to cultural and radical geographers in earlier times, have drawn attention to structures of oppression based on race, class, and gender. By interrogating classroom pedagogies and curriculum content, they have questioned how and why certain ways of conceptualizing place are being valued and prioritized in classrooms. A radical or critical pedagogy such as that taken up in contemporary times by education theorists such as Ruitenberg focus on supporting students to consider conflicting interpretations of places, and the multiplicity of meanings they have for others. It supports students to notice the complexity of place relations who is welcome, who is able to live, work, and play in which spaces, and why, and who benefits and who loses from the different modes of emplacement. Armed with a radical pedagogy of place “students are taught to see the multiplicity of and conflicts between interpretations of a place, the traces of meanings carried by the place in the past, the openness to future interpretation and meaning-construction” . Therefore, “(a) radical pedagogy of place does not pretend to offer answers to or ‘correct’ interpretations of hotly contested places”(Ruitenberg 2005, p. 218). Payne and Wattchow’s (2009, p. 18) slow ecopedagogy of place that comes from the experiential education and experiential learning tradition that has been well represented in “place-based education” provides an example of a “phenomenological deconstruction at the personal, social, cultural, and ecological layers of experience.” They position this work as a response to the intercorporeal and ecocentric turns of contemporary theorizing that sought to address a new ontological ethics of human-nature encounters. This shift to a more radical theorizing of place contested “traditional/dominant epistemic and anthropocentric metaphors of learning, teaching, thinking, and knowing” (Payne and Wattchow 2009, p. 30) and illustrated a turning point where educational theorists begun to move outside and disrupt “under-theorized” definitions of “place” (Tuck and McKenzie 2015). Much of this disruption came from a realization that binaries are not useful in conceiving place. Nespor (2008, p. 481) articulated this well when he wrote: “A division of the world into parallel binaries such as place and nonplace, inhabitant and resident, commons and markets, or local and global, turns complex, changing relations into discrete states, chops gradients into well-bounded regions, and obscures the critical questions of how places are constituted and connected to one another.”
Posthumanist and New Materialist Theorizing
Recent contemporary theorizing of place-based education drawing on key concepts of place, human and nonhuman relations using posthumanist and new materialist theorizing is seeking to disrupt the Cartesian divide between human and other entities. This work challenged the simplistic dichotomies/binaries of animal/human, nature/culture, subject/object, place/nonplace that constructed how place came to be viewed within the impending consequences of the Anthropocene (Malone 2015). Malone (2015) for example in her recent theorizing argues that by considering multispecies relations as multifarious and diffractive place encounters it supports educational opportunities that question the impact of anthropocentrism and human exceptionalism in the classroom, especially through the disruption of traditional research methodologies and pedagogies in outdoor learning, environmental and sustainability education. Malone (2015) states these new theories provide “the spaces for interrogating further child/body/species/place relations as assemblages, associations and relationships that could be useful when considering the complexity of core concepts in sustainability education like interdependency and multiple ecologies” (p. 54).
Conclusion: Complexity of Place Theorizing
Theorizing about or through concepts of “place” as identified through these varied theoretical turns are by definition ambiguous and contradictory. Seemingly an ordered and simple concept, place is also simultaneously complex and contested. In no context is the nature and purpose of this complexity of negotiations of place more evident than when gazing into classrooms and noticing the subtleties of contrasting definitions being espoused. Education will continue to evolve as an important contested location where epistemological and ontological questions of place/space/time/matter relations exist in the complexity of heterogeneous “space.” Place theorizing has and will continue to be an essential philosophical, conceptual, and methodological activity for furthering deeper understandings of education.
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