“place”

In her article ‘Place,’ Lynn A. Staeheli explores the idea of ‘place’ and what it means. She overall comes up with five different concepts to define what it is and throughout the article Staeheli clearly states and then explains each idea and definition of place. These include place as a physical location, a cultural or social location, as context, constructed over time, or as process. The most common concept people tend to have of place is physical location. Staeheli describes this more in detail when she says, “it identifies a material ‘thing’ — something one can point to on a map or take a walk through. Place is often conceptualized as material, grounded, and bounded, and the focus of geographic research is on the particular, and sometime unique characteristics of places” (159). To discuss this further I am going to use the Underground Coffeehouse on Western Washington University’s campus as an example. If one were to consider this coffee shop as just a physical location or site, based on Staeheli’s explanation is it just a place on the map. It is on the north side of campus, on the 3rd floor of the Viking Union. It’s filled with comfy couches and cozy armchairs, built almost like a living room, and has huge windows overlooking Bellingham Bay. Overall it seems that just focusing on the physical characteristics and where a place is located in comparison to other things is the main way people tend to think about a place, but Staeheli continues to say that there are other ways to think about it as well.

If one were to think about place in a different way, such as a social process, it gains a whole other level of meaning. Staeheli states that this definition of place “eschews the idea of place as outcome and emphasizes place as process, as always ‘becoming’” (162). She then uses John Agnew’s words to continue to help describe what place as a process means and how it involves three elements: “Locale, the settings in which social relations are constituted […] location, the geographical area encompassing the settings […] and sense of place, the local ‘structure of feeling’” (163). Overall, it seems that thinking about place as a social process not only considers the physical aspects, but what is means or feels like to the people who are there, and also the fact that place is always changing. The people who go there affect it, and the place can affect the people there. If we were to think of my previous example of the Underground Coffeehouse as a social process, it definitely gains a lot more meaning than just a spot on a map. Throughout the years this coffee shop has become a place for students meet up with each other for coffee, to study, or just kick back, relax, and enjoy a concert or show. The comfortable and laid-back physical aspects of the place (e.g. cushioned couches and chairs, relaxing music) combined with the friendly staff who work there have made it an overall environment where people feel welcomed and comfortable. Maybe in the past the Underground wan’t always like this, but like I mentioned before, place is always changing and becoming, and the Underground Coffeehouse has became a place where people might experience sense of warm community and a place of belonging and comfort. Overall, it seems that thinking about place this way gives us a lot more insight on what it means to people, rather than just thinking about where it is or what it looks like. In general, place is very complicated to just think about in one way though, and Staeheli’s definitions give us overall more insight about what place means.

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