Section 1: Diverse Conceptions of People, Place, and Space

Photograph of La Marketa (Moore Street Market), Brooklyn, NY. CC BY-NC Amanda Matles, 2012, Brooklyn, NY.
Photograph of La Marketa (Moore Street Market), Brooklyn, NY.
CC BY-NC Amanda Matles, 2012, Brooklyn, NY.

Susan Ruddick “Constructing Differences in Public Spaces: Race, Class and Gender as Interlocking Systems” [1996]

David Harvey “Spacetime and the World” [2005]

Kurt Lewin “Psychological Ecology” [1943]

Rem Koolhaas “Junkspace” [2002]

Miwon Kwon “One Place after Another: Notes on Site Specificity” [1997]

Setha Low “Spatializing Culture” [2014]

The essays in this section serve as entry points into the ongoing and interdisciplinary conversation about how people, place, and space are produced, perceived, and experienced. The authors share a common starting point: space and place are not fixed or innate but rather created and re-created through the actions and meanings of people. This critical understanding of space and place confirms our agency and responsibility in producing these spaces, as well as the social relations that are enabled through this approach. Gathering perspectives from sociology, geography, psychology, architecture, history, and anthropology encourages different approaches to uncovering underlying assumptions about people, place, and space. The writings examine these relationships in fresh ways and from radically different vantage points, gaining insights from varied methods and interpretations, and to enact new meanings and purposeful change.

Space and place are co-produced through many dimensions: race and class, urban and suburban, gender and sexuality, public and private, bodies and buildings. Feminist geographer, architect, and philosopher Susan Ruddick begins with an examination of the multi-layered relationship of power and place around the highly publicized 1990 shooting at Just Deserts in a Toronto mall. Ruddick unpacks the media attention to this tragic story through dimensions of public space and dynamics of power. She argues how the shooting of a middle-class, white woman by a black, male immigrant is used to create fear about public space, especially for women, and hatred and fear of non-white people and those marked outsiders like immigrants. The author spatializes Kimberlé Crenshaw’s (1996) concept of intersectionality to show how different identities interconnect with spaces to form different situations. Ruddick shows that the media frenzy around the event was related to what Neil Smith (1992) calls jumping scale. The concept of jumping scale explains how an issue at the level of a place can be magnified to commodify and objectify difference, at the same time that society rejects that difference. In this way, places are produced as raced, sexualized, classed, nationalized, ethnicized, and gendered through mechanisms of oppression, and, at the same time, these qualities are projected on to other spaces and places at different scales and these attitudes affect how we see ourselves.

Geographer David Harvey articulates three dimensions through which we experience and produce space and time in order to unpack what space really means. Rather than a pre- existing container or environment, Harvey finds it most beneficial to work from the idea that space is socially produced (see Lefebvre 1991, Section 9), for which he identifies three simultaneous and mutually produced dimensions. The first dimension is what Harvey refers to as absolute space and time, where every person and object occupies a particular point on a universal and mathematically describable grid. The second view of space describes the relative space-time of a journey, or flows of information or commodities. While the absolute space between two places may remain fixed, the relative space changes due to changes in technology or access. The third view of space is relational spacetime. Harvey suggests that spatial meaning comes through the memories and attachments we forge through relationships.

Social and critical psychologist Kurt Lewin is interested in how social, economic, and political experiences overlap with and co-produce the psychological elements of our everyday ecologies. He argues that these structures and processes come together to establish the status quo of different places, and demonstrates this using the example of why we eat what we eat. Writing in 1943, Lewin draws on the lifestyles of low-, medium-, and high-income “housewives,” as well as groups of Czech immigrants and African Americans. Bridging the structural social system and everyday environments and experiences of seemingly banal actions, he demonstrates how decision-making processes, structural influences, and power dynamics interdependently effect how food makes its way from outside of the home to the kitchen table through gatekeepers (housewives) and organized institutions (the flow of social life through specific channels). Changes are produced by the social and cultural rules and economic limits upon and cognitive and motivational tendencies of gatekeepers. Lewin’s study is one example of how he understands the lifespace as the social-psychological situations of decision-making and the interrelated ways in which identities, health, and power operate. The psychic lifespace resides in a larger ecology of institutions, cultural norms and roles, and interactions among different people. Together the individual lifespace and the broader ecology form a field of transactions, exchanges, and emotional valences.

While social, economic, political, and psychological dynamics shape our environments, the physical spaces are created through processes of design and planning. Architect Rem Koolhaas uses the term junkspace to describe what is being produced in the constant destruction and construction of our environments. Highlighting the consequences of air- conditioning and other technologies, Koolhaas argues that junkspace is hopelessly casual, a flow without order; it pretends to unite but actually splinters people, places, and experiences. His criticism of contemporary built space—in his writing and his design projects—is articulated through a technique of over-identification that exaggerates a situation to its most extreme in order to amplify the issues (see BAVO 2007). This selection looks at an airport, and traces the situations and encounters one may face in simply going from here to there.

Installation artist Miwon Kwon likewise questions the layers and meanings of contemporary places. While showing that site-specific art installations have the possibility of being a grounded way of thinking about place, they also may be commodified and manipulated to represent other intentions. Building from the knowledge that all stories are rooted in place, Kwon describes how art that starts with site can tell new narratives and re-imagine possibilities, while also asking questions about originality and authenticity. Investigating the specific qualities of each site, what Kwon calls the relational specificity of a piece of art to its site, reveals the processes, structures, and institutions that shape and define the space and art. Kwon’s concept helps us to see how art can be a lens to unpack gender, race, and class as well as the social, economic, and political processes that are created and play out within places.

Another way to examine space and place is through its social and cultural dimensions. Anthropologist Setha Low suggests that spatializing culture is a way of revealing how social relations are grounded by aspects of space and place. By studying the political economy of the production of space as well as the construction of its sociocultural and personal meaning, she demonstrates the social complexity of interactions of people and the built environment and how everyday realities are enacted historically, translocally, and personally. The ethnographic study of Moore Street Market in Brooklyn, New York, a Puerto Rican and Latino city landmark, is at the same time part of an idealized past that is still relevant today (see figure at the beginning of Section 1). Her findings highlight the way in which the urban milieu, moving bodies, and historically produced spaces work together to create a translocal space that is both in New York City but also in Mexico City or San Juan, Puerto Rico. What Low calls embodied space extends notions of the social production and construction of space to account for the mobility of people as their own spatial fields and the meanings of those spaces and places.

As may be seen from these readings, the relationships between people and place have many facets—psychological, social, physical, and cultural—and include structural and institutional forces that may originate in distant places or times. Even the way we talk about space has various dimensions in the ways in which it can be understood as simultaneously fixed, relative, and relational. The activities people engage in, the meanings they give spaces, and the opportunities open to them are all informed by the complex dynamics embodied in places and spaces. Basing his concept on over a year’s-worth of observations of the entire population of a small town in the Midwestern US in the 1940s, psychologist Roger Barker (1991) posited the theory of behavior settings whereby certain settings inform if not enforce certain types of behaviors, such as students entering a classroom being inclined to sit at desks and raise their hands to speak. Some of these theories about how people experience and produce space have shifted over time, often moving increasingly away from frameworks of environmental determinism (Wicker 1991) to argue for the role of human agency in producing spaces and enacting justice. Tony Hiss (1991), writing vividly about Grand Central Terminal, suggests we experience a form of simultaneous perception, whereby the combined responses of our senses alter and enrich our perception of the world. Peter Zumthor (2010) identifies similar feelings in environments that have special significance, and asks whether these places have a soul. As we grow with this literature, it is useful to pull these threads apart to examine them more closely to better understand the fascinating dynamics at work in the relationship between people and place. In doing so, we can learn more about the values that shape the environment, and which conversely shape us.

– reproduced from Gieseking, J.J., W. Mangold, C. Katz, S. Low, & S. Saegert (eds.). 2014. The People, Place, & Space Reader. New York: Routledge.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Barker, Roger. 1991. “Prospecting in Environmental Psychology: Oskaloosa Revisited.” In Handbook of Environmental Psychology, Volume II, edited by Daniel Stokols and Irwin Altman, pp. 1413–1432. New York: Krieger Publishing.

Basso, Keith H., and Steven Feld. 2009. Senses of Place. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press.

BAVO (eds). 2007. Cultural Activism Today: The Art of Over-identification. Rotterdam: Episode Publishers.

Casey, Edward S. 2009. Getting Back into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place-world. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Crenshaw, Kimberlé. 1996. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color.” In Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement, edited by Kimberlé Crenshaw, Neil Gotanda, and Garry Peller, pp. 357– 383. New York: The New Press.

Danze, Elizabeth, and Stephen Sonnenberg (eds). 2013. Space & Psyche. Center, No. 17. Austin: Center for American Architecture and Design, University of Texas at Austin.

Dean, Tacita, and Jeremy Millar. 2005. Place. London: Thames & Hudson.

Forty, Adrian. 2004. Words and Buildings: A Vocabulary of Modern Architecture. London: Thames & Hudson.

Hensel, Michael, Achim Menges, and Christopher Hight. 2009. Space Reader: Heterogeneous Space in Architecture. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley.

Hiss, Tony. 1991. “Simultaenous Perception.” In The Experience of Place: A New Way of Looking at and Dealing With Our Radically Changing Cities and Countryside, pp. 3–26. New York: Vintage.

Jackson, John Brinckerhoff. 2000. Landscape in Sight: Looking at America, edited by Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Kitchin, Rob, and Martin Dodge. 2011. Code/Space Software and Everyday Life. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Mitchell, Don. 1996. Lie of the Land: Migrant Workers and the California Landscape. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Proshansky, Harold M., William H. Ittleson, and Leanne G. Rivlin (eds). 1970. Environmental Psychology: Man and His Physical Setting. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Read, lan (ed.). 2000. Architecturally Speaking: Practices of Art, Architecture and the Everyday. Abingdon: Routledge.

Rivlin, Leanne. 1987. “The Neighborhood, Personal Identity, and Group Affiliations.” In Neighborhood and Community Environments, edited by Irwin Altman and Abraham Wandersman, pp. 1–34. New York: Plenum Press.

Rose, Gillian. 1993. Feminism and Geography: The Limits of Geographical Knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Smith, Neil. 1992. “Contours of a Spatialized Politics: Homeless Vehicles and the Production of Geographical Space.” Social Text, 33: 54–81.

Soja, Edward W. 2011. Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory (2nd edn). New York: Verso.

Sparke, Penny. 2008. The Modern Interior. London: Reaktion Books.

Tuan, Yi-Fu, and Steven Hoelscher. 2001. Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Uexküll, Jacob von, Joseph D. O’Neill, Dorion Sagan, and Geoffrey Winthrop-Young. 2010. A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans with A Theory of Meaning. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Wicker, Allen W. 1991. “Behavior Settings Reconsidered: Temporal Stages, Resources, Internal Dynamics, Context.” In Handbook of Environmental Psychology, Volume I, edited by Daniel Stokols and Irwin Altman, pp. 613–654. New York: Krieger Publishing.

Zumthor, Peter. 2010. Thinking Architecture (3rd edn). Basel: Birkhäuser Architecture.

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