This book developed from conversations between Jen Jack Gieseking and William Mangold when they began teaching undergraduate courses drawing upon readings and discussions they had with Cindi Katz, Susan Saegert, and Setha Low during their time in the environmental psychology program at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). Jen Jack and William were surprised that no text captured the cross-disciplinary and socially engaged work with which they had become familiar. Further discussion brought the editors of this book together in order to share the resources and scholarship that informs our interdisciplinary field.

There is no volume that draws as widely as the one you are now reading, and, as Susan describes below, it has been decades since the last reader on this material was compiled. In the time since the publication of these previous anthologies in the 1970s, Susan, Cindi, and Setha honed the core courses with the faculty of the environmental psychology program to present a dynamic and critical understanding of space and place. Through this effort certain topics such as home, urban experience, and public space remained significant, while other concepts emerged or challenged previously held ideas about nature or the way in which spaces are socially produced. As an outgrowth of that work, we feel that this book represents a fresh gathering of ideas and the beginning of a renewed conversation on these themes.

The People, Place, and Space Reader brings together the excerpted writings of scholars, designers, and activists from a variety of fields upon which we draw in our teaching and research to make sense of the makings and meanings of the world we inhabit. They help us to understand the relationships between people and the environment at all scales, and to consider the active roles individuals, groups, and social structures play in creating the environments in which people live, work, and play. These readings highlight the ways in which space and place are produced through large- and small-scale social, political, and economic practices, and offer new ways to think about how people engage the environment in multiple and diverse ways. The People, Place, and Space Reader provides a road-map for thinking about these concerns, offering guides for some familiar paths while charting new routes to recognizing and heralding differences in perception, experience, and practice that traverse disciplinary boundaries, period, and location. Emphasizing interdisciplinarity, this reader provides multiple entry points to join these conversations about what may seem to be quite disparate works and conceptual worlds.


Of the words in the title, people may seem least in need of definition. Yet many conceptions of the person sever the individual from the environment without recognizing the extent to which humans come into being and live inextricably connected to places, people, and their material and cultural histories and geographies. This book presents a conception of the person in which people live ‘as much in process across and “through” skins as in processes “within skins”’ (Dewey 2005 [1934]). This way of understanding people as connected to each other and their environment allows for a reassessment of the meaning of place and space in planning and policy as well as in everyday life.

Space and place have multiple and sometimes meandering meanings attributed to them. Indeed, these terms are often deployed exactly because of the wide-ranging possibilities and variations they imply metaphorically and conceptually. Most generally, place is bounded and specific to a location, and is a materialization of social forms and practices as well as affective experience. Space tends to be understood as abstract, unlimited, universalizing, and continuous. The infinite, undefined quality of space makes us think of the cosmos, the ether of flows and travel, or the metaphorical space one needs to think. Places are often more grounded, serve as reference points in our lives, and have distinct qualities that give people a sense of belonging. The ways people, place, and space work together to form one another are complex, varied, and dynamic, and are the focus of this volume.


The field of environmental social science examines how people relate to, create, and define space and place; and how space and place relate to, shape, and define people and their experiences. This field of inquiry has gone by various names, including environmental psychology, psychogeography, environmental sociology, and environmental behavior and design. In the late 1960s, environmental psychology was formalized as an interdisciplinary field drawing primarily upon psychology, sociology, anthropology, geography, architecture, and urban planning (Bell et al. 2005; Pol 2006). As editors of The People, Place, and Space Reader, we come from several of these disciplines and were brought together through the environmental psychology program at The CUNY Graduate Center. Subsequently, as the volume and diversity of topics and approaches has steadily grown, the label environmental psychology has often seemed too narrow and has been replaced with the term environmental social science. In the sections below, each of the co-editors narrates the ways in which our disciplines have come together to inform and learn from environmental social science. Our education, research, and experiences offer a variety of ways to enter and make sense of this interdisciplinary field, while our different points of view allow us to challenge received ideas and build new understandings of people, place, and space.


Susan Saegert, psychologist

Environmental psychology remains a perpetual work in progress, developing in tension with a psychology that not only bounds people within their skin but also fractures them internally into separable processes like cognition and affect, physiology and phenomenology. The effort to offer an analysis of psychological processes embedded in environmental and social transactions extends back to the American Pragmatists, as well as to continental European Gestalt psychologists. J.J. Gibson is an important figure who connects these traditions throughout his work. We provide an excerpt from Gibson’s last book, Ecological Approaches to Visual Perception (1979), in which he presents a conception of organisms (including people) as inherently and literally in touch with their surroundings. Keeping with the tradition of John Dewey and William James, organisms are not just registering information but creating it as they go about the activities necessary for life and for the pursuit of goals; Gibson succeeds in removing the psychological construct of a little person in the head who has to interpret perceptions and apprehensions by representing them to the person whose head is occupied. However, as a perception psychologist, Gibson leaves that head unsatisfyingly empty. Harry Heft’s (2001) tour de force, Ecological Psychology in Context, connects Gibson to the legacy of William James who thought about thought plenty. He places Gibson in relationship to both the ecological psychology of Roger Barker (1968) and the lifespace psychology of Kurt Lewin (Lewin and Gold 1999; Heider 1959). He also attends to the ways in which humans make their environments and are made by the places and objects we create (Lewin 1951). Heft’s continuing productive line of inquiry and critique represents one of the most promising offspring of the work of the environmental psychologists of the 1970s. One of the living edges of this work is an attempt to connect the still individualistic psychologies of these authors to a richer understanding of embedded social beings engaged in collective as well as individual, and material as well as psychological and social projects.

Other strands of scholarship in psychology that significantly contribute to the making of a fully situated and robustly social environmental psychology may be found in social and community psychology. The practice of participatory action research (PAR) incorporates not only Kurt Lewin’s pioneering work to develop that approach to research, knowledge, and social action but also Peirce’s concept of abduction (Fine 2010), in which inquiry proceeds through simultaneous reasoning about and exploration of a problem. Community psychology has built an area of interdisciplinary research and practice dedicated to two aspects of the aspirations of early environmental psychology: (1) placing the creation of knowledge within real-world contexts; and (2) understanding individuals as transactionally engaged with communities and the broader society. Community psychology has found particularly fertile resonance with environmental psychology on topics such as place attachment (Manzo and Perkins 2006) and an action research approach to environmental sustainability (Schweizer-Ries and Perkins 2012).

Early environmental psychology began a path that continues to lead into engagement with contemporary concerns and continual re-understandings of our place in the world. In fact, The People, Place, and Space Reader is the third edited book of readings addressing these issues to be produced by the environmental psychology program of The CUNY Graduate Center. The first two readers, both by Harold M. Proshansky, William H. Ittelson, and Leanne G. Rivlin (1970, 1976), helped define the field, and their contributions still ripple through environmental psychology. Those two Environmental Psychology readers, as well as this volume, share the goal of increasing knowledge about the dynamic relationship between people and places while addressing issues of social and spatial inequalities. This work also aims to help develop theories adequate to the everyday experience of environments, as well as to aid in the creation of more just and more sustainable environments. Each of these books has engaged many different disciplinary perspectives on how people and places make each other.

The first reader, Environmental Psychology: Man and his Physical Settings, published in 1970, began the decade of institutionalization of the field. The editors brought together extraordinarily diverse collections of papers that situated people in relationship to the built and natural environment as well as specific institutional settings. The collection expressed a deep commitment to the idea that human behavior had to be understood as always situated within a physical milieu. The psychological works represented stemmed from divergent theoretical perspectives from the Lewinian inspiration of Proshansky and Rivlin through Ittelson’s transactional approach to visual perception, to several contributions by authors from the behaviorist tradition. The success of these readers and the program in environmental psychology lies in part in bringing these separate pieces together into one area of psychology.

The early readers clearly defined the field as interdisciplinary. The seminal works of anthropologist Edward T. Hall (1966) on an anthropology of space, urban sociologists’ contributions on the lives of slum dwellers and suburbanites (cf. Gans 1982a, 1982b), and urban planners such as Kevin Lynchh’s The Image of the City (Section 2) and Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities (Section 7) inspired and are represented in the collections. The influences of architecture, urban design, and resource management are evident as well. Many selections also testified to the important cross-fertilization of geography and environmental psychology described by Cindi Katz below. The second edition (1976) of Environmental Psychology: People and Their Physical Settings reflected the growth of an actual area of research called environmental psychology, especially around topics of continuing importance such as environmental stress, mental maps, and the role of the environment in child development.

In the time since the initial volumes were published, the program at The CUNY Graduate Center and the field itself moved in increasingly interdisciplinary directions (Saegert and Winkel 1990). The editors of this volume saw a need for a collection that would situate the reader in a much-changed landscape of everyday life, local and global relationalities, and people–environment problematics, including the ever-worsening environmental crises; awareness of the global dimensions and historical, political, and economic power relations that lead to unjust access to and control over environmental resources; and cultural diversity and other differences in the nature of people–place transactions. Research and theorizing have expanded to include a wide range of issues of how people experience, prosper, suffer, and make habitats from urban communities and homes through everything from foodscapes to the physical construction and inhabitation of specific locales, regions, and the globe itself. At the same time, long-standing concerns such as wayfinding, environmental attitudes, environmental aesthetics, place attachment and identity, and the meaning of spaces of everyday life have built significant bodies of research.

The intellectual landscape and cast of characters has changed as well in recent years to shift and multiply our lenses for examining inequality. Identity politics joined with Marxist and critical social theory to influence the growth of feminist, queer, critical race, and disability theories and sensibilities. The hegemony of white and US and European scholars gave way, at least in the discourses that situate this book, to critical race and postcolonial theory. The totalizing narratives of modernism and scientism were challenged by postmodernists, standpoint theorists, and poststructuralists. The work of environmental social science continues to build on past understandings and research into the person-in-the-world, but now engages with a far wider set of concerns. The diverse disciplinary backgrounds of the editors suggest the nature of this broader conception and approach.


Setha Low, anthropologist

The anthropology of space and place represented in this volume incorporates what I have called spatializing culture, the linking of culture and space through material, metaphorical, and social conceptualizations grounded in the field. Regardless of whether it is an ethnographic multi-sited study, a survey of human bone locations, or an archeological dig, in anthropological research there is always an encounter with the inherent materiality and human subjectivity through fieldwork that situates the researcher at their interface. Studies of space and place that emerge from the sediment of anthropological research draw on the strengths of studying people”in situ”producing rich and nuanced sociospatial and critical encounters that are included in the various sections.

I joined the environmental psychology program in 1989 to contribute to this interdisciplinary work, focusing on the social production and social construction of space, and developing the theoretical concept of embodied space to emphasize the importance of the body and bodies in the co-production of the built environment. Methodologically this has meant training students in the craft of ethnography. Ethnography uncovers enabling social structures and political and economic constraints, and their material and symbolic expression through long-term, intimate contact with people in their everyday environments. Participant observation, in-depth interviewing, augmented by activity maps, movement maps, mental maps, photographs, drawings, and many other spatial techniques drawn from environmental psychology and landscape architecture make up a methods toolbox for deciphering the role of culture in the production and construction of space and place.”

Historically, anthropologists have contributed “culture” to environmental psychology theory and research. Edward Hall (1966) and his discussion of proxemics, the so-called hidden cultural dimension that guides human-to-human and human-to-environment spatial relations was a first attempt. Architect Amos Rappaport (1969) and social psychologist Irwin Altman (1972) used an essentialized concept of culture to explain why built environments varied in ways that could not be explained by an environmental deterministic point of view. A few anthropologists, including Denise Lawrence Zuniga, Ellen Pader, and myself, took academic positions in design schools that brought us into contact with environmental psychologists who were interested in the cultural aspects of design (see Low and Lawrence 2003).

Today, anthropological discussions of space often start with Pierre Bourdieu (1977) because he moves beyond the constraints of the structural analysis of space by focusing on how meaning and action, or practice, interact in interdependent ways to inculcate and reinforce cultural knowledge and behavior. He argues that space can have no meaning apart from practice; the system of generative and structuring dispositions, or habitus, constitutes and is constituted by actors’ movement through space (1984) (see Section 5). Because social practice activates spatial meanings, they are not fixed, but invoked by actors who bring their own discursive knowledge and strategic intentions to their interpretation.

Anthropologists often use narrative to elicit details of how local populations construct perceptions of and experience place. Much of this kind of ethnography describes “local theories of dwelling” (Feld and Basso 1996) and draws implicitly or explicitly upon phenomenological approaches and thick description (Geertz 1973). Narrative and its interpretation are at the center of ethnography, according to Steven Feld and Keith Basso, who suggest that cultural constructions of the environment can only be understood by talking to natives about landscapes.

The inscription of place with meaning is not limited, however, to telling stories, but includes a complex set of sound, smell, touch, and other sense-based perceptions (Feld 1990; Peterson 2010.) But “people do not simply ‘experience’ the world; they are taught—indeed disciplined—to signify their experiences in distinctive ways” (Myers 2002, 103). Alberto Corsín Jiménez goes even further in his insistence on a socially constituted notion of space. For Jiménez, social relationships are inherently spatial, and “space an instrument and dimension of space’s sociality” (2003, 140). In his analysis the material landscape recedes as space becomes a dimension and form of”agency that configures well with environmental psychology’s interest in action and advocacy.

Thus, anthropologists examine the social and environmental forces that produce physical space and place, as well as the lived experience of individuals and their constructions of meaning. This kind of analysis is not a simple task, since there are significant disagreements about the prioritization of space or”place and the nature of their relationship, but anthropologists are uniquely anchored in fieldwork in a way that is particularly useful. The goal of the addition of anthropological theory to the mix, therefore, is to demonstrate how anthropological theory, research, and methodology is deployed to understand space and place, and suggests that anthropologists offer an ethnographic and grounded approach to this interdisciplinary endeavor.

One point, however, that needs to be added is that the concepts of place and space—central theoretical constructs in geography, architecture, and planning—pose such a concern for anthropologists that they are often avoided. One reason is that at least for ethnographers it is difficult to discuss place or space in a way that does not confine the inhabitants. Arjun Appadurai (1988) and Margaret Rodman (1985, 1992) correctly criticize ethnographic conceptions of place and space that provide taken-for-granted settings to locate their descriptions or reduce the ethnographic to a locale that imprisons natives. Instead, anthropologists require a flexible and mobile conception of space, one that speaks to how space is produced historically and physically and came to be in its current material form, but also how it is created by bodies in motion, embodied dreams and desires, and social interaction and environmental interrelations.

The anthropological perspective offers a process-oriented, person-based perspective and allows for agency and new possibilities, even though historically ethnographies relegated space to the description of fixed material culture markers. One solution to this dilemma that continues to develop in the literature during recent years is to consider place and space as always embodied. Their materiality can be metaphoric and discursive, as well as physically located, and thus carried about. Introducing embodiment into sociospatial analysis problematizes these concepts in a way that allows for the exploration of their social construction and production at diverse global and local scales. The body (and bodies), conceptualized as embodied space(s), incorporates metaphors, ideology, and language, as well as behaviors, habits, skills, and spatial orientations derived from global discourses and faraway places, and yet is grounded at any one moment in a specific field context. It is through embodied space that the global is integrated into the inscribed spaces of everyday life where attachment, emotion, and morality come into play. Research that identifies the embodied spaces of individuals and groups as sites of translocal and transnational spatial flows as well as of personal experience and perception solves some of the misplaced rootedness found in anthropological thought. Some topics, however, are not directly discussed in anthropological theories and for these concerns we must turn to the contributions of geography.


Cindi Katz, geographer

Interest in the connections between people and space has followed a number of strands in geography as well. As environmental psychology emerged as a discipline in the 1960s, scholars in geography were thinking through and trying to systematize the role of perception and cognition in practical interactions concerning the environment from policy to everyday practices. One of the key sites of this research was Clark University, where geographers who had done research on environmental perception and behavior had teamed up with psychologists to study the role of perception in individual and social behaviors around hazardous environments, both “natural” and built, resource definition and use, and the management of transformations of the “human environment” (e.g., Kates and Wohlwill 1966; Burton and Kates 1964). Among their influences were economist Kenneth Boulding’s (1956) iconoclastic book The Image, Kevin Lynch’s (Section 2) pivotal The Image of the City, and René Dubos’ (e.g., 1965) writings, all of which creatively insisted that it was how things, relations, places, or environmental stimuli are seen, symbolized, imagined, known, and understood that matters.

These ideas led planners and other professionals to address environmental problems and hazards such as flood plain management or nuclear facility siting in terms that might resonate more meaningfully with affected populations. Understanding the role of the image—of environmental perception and cognition—in environmental activity and behavior influenced policy and practice in urban design as much as around resource management, the siting of hazardous technologies, the management of environmental risk, and possible responses to large-scale phenomena such as global climate change. These concerns remain vital today as the effects of climate change and the interconnections of global and local practices become everyday more urgent.

At the same time, geographers and developmental psychologists received funding from the US Office of Education for the groundbreaking “place perception project,” which examined young children’s spatial cognition and the development of their place learning and behavior, including the acquisition of mapping skills in early childhood (Blaut and Stea 1971; cf. Wood 2010). This work eventually expanded to encompass research on children’s place experience, knowledge, and home range (Tindal 1971; Hart 1979; Wood 2006), and on the development of children’s environmental learning and knowledge (Kates and Katz 1977; Wood and Beck 1994; Katz 2004). These lineages may be seen in the abiding concerns of environmental psychology with cognitive mapping, children’s geographies, environmental education, and the development of environmental concern and care (e.g., Chawla and Cushing 2007). There was plenty of important work in behavioral geography that did not address children and the environment. Inspirational here was William Kirk’s (1952) original research on the behavioral environment, which engaged psychology theory and emphasized the role of perception—as itself a cultural process filtered through values—in human geography and environmental engagement. Pioneering geographers pursued similar concerns, addressing behavior as an outcome of environmental perception, wherein action is understood as rooted in the images produced at the interface between people and their environments (e.g., Downs and Stea 1973; Golledge 1981, 1998; Gould and White 1986; Downs 1967, cited in Wood 1970; Wood 1992; Kitchin et al. 1997). From its inception, behavioral geography was a counterweight to geographic thought that homogenized “man” as rational decision-makers operating in an objectively knowable world. Drawing insights from the cognitive sciences as much as from phenomenology, the multiple strands of behavioral geography insisted on the place of people—individually and collectively—as social actors; thinking beings with histories, incomplete knowledge, emotions, and agendas, making decisions about, negotiating, and triggering geographic processes and making the worlds they inhabited.

Time-geography was another strand of influence in the late 1960s and grew out of allied concerns with experience and behavior. Associated predominantly with the Swedish geographer Torsten Hägerstrand (e.g., 1970, 1978), time-geography offered a way of looking at the person in space with time as its other dimension to discern patterns in everyday interactions across historical geographies and over the life course. Addressing the various constraints on mobility and activity in time-space, time-geography reckoned with embodiment and understood space as a malleable social form (cf., Pred 1977, 1981, 1984). Although criticized for its masculinism (Rose 1993; but see Friberg 1993; Scholten et al. 2012) and its problematic abstraction from any sort of political economic framing, time-geography offered insights into everyday life and the overlapping structures of the behavioral environment.

These strands of geography, which looked at the role of perception in behavior; the experience of place and environmental cognition; the maps and worlds in people’s heads; emotion and environment; and the person in space or the behavioral environment, shared much common ground with—and offered critical insights into—the burgeoning concerns of environmental psychology as they coalesced in response to the social, political economic, and environmental crises of the 1960s/1970s. Among the other important strands of this braid that I can only touch on here was work in humanistic geography, which examined the sensory and affective experience of space and place (see Buttimer 1976; Lowenthal 1961). Among its early and most influential practitioners is Yi-Fu Tuan’s pioneering and often beautiful work focused on the relationship between place and space and people’s fluid relationships to the two at all scales from the body to the globe. In a series of books, he explored place attachment, love, and reverence as well as fear and insecurity in everyday environmental interactions, in the imagination, through the senses, and in all manner of representations, including mental maps (e.g., Tuan 1974, 1977). As humanists, these scholars looked at relationships between people and place thinking through the role of memory, imagination, identity, emotion, embodiment, and sedimented cultural forms and practices.

Another important strand, scale, is one of the key ideas of geography (see Section 10). Before the contemporary debates on the production of scale (cf., e.g., Smith 1993; Marston 2000; Sheppard and McMaster 2004; Marston et al. 2005), geographers in the late 1960s were considering not just the received descriptive notions of geographic scale such as global, regional, urban, and local, but also the quite intimate such as the body, the home, the city street. They were mindful of the fluid interpenetrations among these scales and the material social practices associated with them. There was a radical impulse to much of this work, a sense that while the environmental impacts of people would be more legible at smaller scales, the global and local infused one another and neither one could be altered—or understood—without attending to the other. James Blaut, for example, examined the geography of a one-acre farm in great detail, and drew on it and other “microgeographies” to interrogate development, agroecology, and diffusion models of knowledge and practice (e.g., Blaut 1953). William Bunge and his collaborators in the Detroit Geographical Expedition and Institute (DGEI) examined one square mile of the city intensively to assess not just the state of the city but also the nation. The DGEI analogized their project to a medical examination wherein a drop of blood can reveal the health of a patient (Bunge 2011). Their work—like that of many of the scholars reviewed here—traverses the porous boundary between the geographical and the psychological, making and remaking the still lively grounds of environmental psychology. The materiality of those grounds is addressed in the next section.


William Mangold, designer

While much of the scholarship in architecture has focused on questions of avant-garde form-making, the interdisciplinary approach of environmental social science offers architecture a critical and dynamic way of thinking about the spaces we design and the places we inhabit. The conventional narrative of 20th-century architecture emphasizes the development of aesthetic styles over the creation of new social situations, but there have always been critics and designers who have used architecture as a medium to discuss and imagine alternative social and spatial situations.

Architecture initially took up questions of space in the late 19th century and has since contributed to understanding the way in which space provides a conceptual and literal territory for social relations (see Forty 2004 for a history of how the term space evolved in the architecture discourse). Propelled by material and structural innovations in the use of steel, concrete, and plate glass, the early work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, and Mies van der Rohe, especially as championed by Sigfried Giedion (1940), provided built examples of this novel concept of architecture as space-making. Excited about the new types of spatial relations, designers were also interested in what this meant for social relations. Transparency, openness, mobility, and interconnection were ideas that permeated design and were intended to challenge the existing spatial and social conventions. However, over time these social ideas were obscured and this early modern architecture became known for the aesthetic style it introduced, rather than for the new social relations these spaces offered.

However, there have always been designers who insisted on understanding and integrating social concerns into their design work. William Morris’ pursuit of small-scale craft production in the face of industrialization, and Hannes Meyer’s development of the Bauhaus curriculum are early modern examples that contest the emphasis on aesthetic style. Victor Papanek (1971) wrote a scathing critique of design in the context of mass production and advocated for a “high social and moral responsibility from the designer.” Felicity Scott (2007) traces a number of critical junctions when designers and critics pursued alternative socio-spatial possibilities, such as those by Buckminster Fuller or Emilio Ambasz, but shows how they were subsumed or rejected by mainstream architectural practice. Other designers and activists have advocated for space to be a terrain of freedom, creativity, and connection. In this volume, Guy Debord and the Situationists, site-specific and socially engaged art practices such as those advocated by Miwon Kwon, and the urban design work of Michael Sorkin each represent attempts to rethink the spatial status quo. These socially responsible design practices emerge in response to demands of production and highlight ways in which designers can create spaces that are more democratic, sustainable, and just.

When the aesthetics of modern design were adopted as the style of corporate and bureaucratic architecture in the latter part of the 20th century, social critics also began to voice their objections. In this volume, Henri Lefebvre and David Harvey (1989) feature prominently for their poignant critiques of the ways in which space is used by hegemony to dictate or obfuscate social relations. Using Marxist thought to analyze urban development allows for an understanding of how financial capital shapes spaces and social relations to the benefit of corporate power and capital accumulation. Contemporaneous with these theoretical critiques was the start of research in the social sciences (see Sommer 1969; Hall 1966; for Robert Gutman’s writings, see Cuff and Wriedt 2010) concerned with the social and psychological impacts of the spaces that were being mass produced in the boom following World War II. Critics like Jane Jacobs and Kevin Lynch took issue with the way cities were being re-engineered for automobiles instead of people. Others, like J.B. Jackson and Dolores Hayden (1981), all included here examined the impact on the landscape as highways were built and suburbs expanded. These scholars from the edges of architecture were able to look critically at design practices and have contributed significantly to understanding how places shape social life.

During this period, some designers teamed with social science researchers to find more conscientious approaches to design and building. One long-standing concern has been the lack of voice by the people who are living in the places designed for them. David Chapin and his ARC Group colleagues developed ways of studying and making places that involved both children and the elderly (see Bakos et al. 1978, 1980). This alternative is known as the process of inclusive or participatory planning (Blundell Jones et al. 2005), and is a user-based process that seeks to gather and integrate ideas from the people who will inhabit the buildings or communities being designed.

Another idea from environmental social science that challenges architecture is a shift in emphasis from space to place. From psychology, we have a better understanding of how and why people like or dislike particular places, and what makes them feel comfortable or uneasy. Sometimes labeled place attachment, this research has shown that the formal or aesthetic aspects of design are only part of what creates connection between people and their physical settings (see Section 3). Memories, social interactions, the ability to modify surroundings, and a sense of security are all significant contributors to attachment (see Low and Altman 1992; Bachelard 1994; Cooper Marcus 1992). These qualitative and affective aspects of the relation people have to their environment contribute to what makes a space a place.

Many architects and designers have attempted a more humanist approach to building, emphasizing the qualities of materials and the experience of place over the smooth surfaces, structural logic, and open, empty spaces of modern architecture. Notable figures include Juhani Pallasmaa (1996; see also Section 10), who argues for a more sensual and multi-sensory experience of place, and Christopher Alexander (Alexander et al. 1977), whose notion of pattern language provides a radical template for the built environment based on the scale of human inhabitation. The work of contemporary designers such as Peter Zumthor (2010) and the firm of Diller and Scofidio (1996) also pay close attention to the experiences and interactions of people in the places they create. The field of interior design is likewise concerned with the experiences of inhabitants and tends to emphasize the sensory qualities of materials and spaces. Through attention to the surfaces, details, and objects that people come into direct contact with, interior design remains attentive to the needs and experiences of inhabitants (Weinthal 2011).

While environmental social science has challenged and contributed to design in many ways, well-designed places often remain exclusive, as a privileged class of people often controls the design process. The way in which architecture engages with the power of capitalism continues to be an important issue; many designers and scholars are rethinking this relationship (Awan et al. 2011; Bell et al. 2008; Fisher 2006; Lavin 2011; Thorpe 2012) and how to create meaningful places for people. With increasing pressure for socially and environmentally sustainable responses to our sociospatial conditions, new possibilities are emerging. Developing alternatives depends upon a rich understanding of people, place, and space. Perspectives like those outlined in this volume can enrich the work of designers and architects, and invigorate the discourse in ways that are more socially and environmentally responsible.


Jen Jack Gieseking, geographer and environmental psychologist

Environmental psychology emerged in the context of the civil rights, feminist, lesbian and gay, peace, anti-nuclear, and environmental movements during the 1960s. Each of these movements afforded instances of recognition and ways of multiplying identities and perspectives, and places and experiences. These emerging relationships and spaces have been addressed by revived theoretical approaches, including Marxism and pragmatism, while other critical feminist, racial, and queer perspectives helped develop new theoretical and methodological approaches. Environmental social science has adopted these theories and methodologies because they are able to work across disciplines and support efforts towards social and spatial justice. Social justice, based on principles of equality and human dignity, is sought through research and activism to effect structural changes, as well as allow for agency in everyday decisions and practices.

In this vein, Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich (1981) write, “feminist answers can best be found by movement toward all points of stress and difficulty.” Feminism, one core theoretical foundation to environmental social science, argues that the personal is political. Bridging critical race and feminist theory, Kimberlé Crenshaw (1996) calls for recognizing the multiple, intersectional identities of human beings, including gender, class, race, and so on. In her contributions to theorizing space through a feminist, queer, and critical race lens, Gloria Anzaldúa (1987) presents the concept of the borderlands that calls for an intentional crossing and mixing of identities and borders. Queer theory situates pleasure and politics side-by-side to understand practices and processes, and offers ways of being that refuse the common binary distinctions posed in much social theory. The work of queering heralds and makes room for difference, both socially and spatially, by providing recognition and consideration for alternative perspectives that break away from norms (see Sommeila and Wolfe 1997). These frameworks draw upon marginalized perspectives to critique and rework conventional hegemonic narratives, practices, and structures.

Feminist, critical race, queer, and other theories addressing disability and postcolonial perspectives are useful for and embedded in the interdisciplinary work of environmental social science because they engage mutuality, voice, and active listening to different standpoints, all of which are helpful in understanding relations between people and place more fully. Through these theories and methods, the assumed qualities of our environments and our behaviors within them come into question and allow for variation and sustained acceptance of difference. In this volume, the work of scholars such as Melissa Wright, Rob Imrie, Don Mitchell, Susan Ruddick, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and Alice Friedman highlights how the political is imbricated in the everyday social, economic, and psychological lives of all people ranging from contexts of industrial factory floors to the lives of the homeless in public parks, from state prisons to homes that enact the social and physical feelings of imprisonment upon women and the disabled. Feminist practices ask and encourage us to (re)claim and write our own multiple histories and spaces. In building theory from experience, spatializing feminist thought allows for the recognition of terrain that gets overlooked or is marked as unimportant. For example, thinking critically about home, and the heavy work involved in social reproduction, points to how social productions of space and time may be altered to refuse politics that hide or limit human capacity (Hayden 1980).

Comparatively, the implication of queer theoretical perspectives on environmental social science has just begun. A relatively new theoretical approach, queering destabilizes assumptions and privileges of secure heteronormative models of study and everyday life, and challenges other normative models and conventions such as those associated with gender, race, ownership, hierarchy, and authorship. In this vein, Michel Foucault (1990) politicizes and acknowledges the flux and instability of lives, spaces, cultures, and histories, and recognizes the powerful role of space in shaping what we think of the usual or the norm. A number of scholars in this volume implicitly or explicitly discuss difference, such as Judith Jack Halberstam, Iris Marion Young, and George Chauncey, as a mode of recognizing and accepting others. Others point out the binary ways of framing difference that they find impossible to hold as distinct, such as Geraldine Pratt and Victoria Rosner’s discussion of the interdependent concepts and experiences of the global and the intimate, thereby queering the purported extremes of everyday life. Troubling the way we label and produce spaces affords the creation of thick, deep understandings of the unrecorded histories and geographies of people’s lives and experiences.

These approaches extend beyond the purely theoretical to inform epistemological and methodological frameworks as well. A feminist epistemology recognizes that knowledge is co- constructed from various standpoints and experiences, while critical race and queer methods and methodologies recognize the partiality and incompleteness of knowledge. The participatory, problem-solving, and agentic orientation of environmental psychology likewise acknowledges these limits, having developed from efforts to do research beyond the lab and in the context of everyday lives and places. Environmental psychologists emphasize working with research participants rather than studying about them, and recent work has advanced the understanding and use of participatory action research (PAR) designs. Even in its model-based studies—which are performed to enhance reasonable and healthy behavior—the field of environmental psychology, like feminist, critical race, and queer perspectives, orients itself in a contextualized approach to solving real-world issues.

Other methods developed at the intersection of different disciplines have also found a home in the cross-disciplinary field of environmental social science. Employed primarily by psychologists and geographers, mental mapping is the representation of an individual or group’s cognitive understanding of place captured through drawing or labeling a map (see Section 2). Architects and psychologists have honed methods of environmental behavior mapping (Bakos et al. 1978; Zeisel 2006), which involve systematic observations to trace activity patterns in place over time, whether focused on the physical characteristics of a site, or the activities of an individual or group. Similarly, transect walks involve accompanying an individual or group on a specific path to record their experiences, thoughts, and behaviors moving through space. Post-occupancy evaluation is used to determine if a building’s architectural program is successful based on its use (Preiser et al. 1988), and involves interviews and careful examination of building elements and human activity well after construction is complete. The ever-increasing prominence of critical uses of geographic information systems (GIS) by scholars such as Matthew W. Wilson, Sarah Elwood, Rob Kitchin, Martin Dodge, John Seley, Mei-Po Kwan, and Craig Dalton, as well as the digital expansion of geoweb technologies and methodologies, allow for more innovative and participatory analyses. These methods address the material and imagined qualities of space often referenced in this volume, and afford the ability to perform deep and wide-ranging studies of people and places.

The strength of the field of environmental social science comes not only from its interdisciplinary breadth and depth, but also from the wide array of methods it employs to build theories and articulate human–environment relationships. Developing these approaches from feminist, queer, critical race, and other marginalized perspectives increases the potential for radical engagement and social change. Linking the political, personal, and pleasurable, feminist and queer theories and methods use a contextual approach to give voice and depth to people, place, and space.


The readings in this volume draw from a variety of fields, including geography, urban studies, sociology, cultural studies, psychology, architecture and design, anthropology, planning, and environmental studies. Drawing on a diverse selection of classic and cutting-edge readings, the editors worked collaboratively to prepare excerpts of approximately 3,000 words that highlight key theoretical contributions and important examples or data from the research. We have tried to bring these fields into conversation and offer readers different ways to enter and make sense of the wide- ranging scholarship on the meaning and experience of place and space. At the same time, this reader frames key issues within and across disciplines through the way in which the sections are organized. It situates theories and studies of space and place in conversation with one another in order to clarify the perspective of particular disciplines while revealing common ground and cross-fertilizations among them. Each of the twelve broad topical sections of the book has an introduction by the editors to orient readers, introduce key ideas, and navigate the concerns raised across—and in the spaces between—the included readings. The organization of the volume flows from an overview of the processes that animate the relationship between people and their environments to an examination of the key material social practices and settings that illuminate this relationship.

A Road-map to the Selections Ahead

The first four sections of the book situate the reader in larger frameworks of the study of people, space, and place. We begin with “Diverse Conceptions of the Relationships between People, Place, and Space” to introduce some of the varying approaches useful for understanding the relationship between people, place, and space. Through the various lenses of the authors we find different entry points, a range of scales, and distinct ways of examining how space and place are created and re- created through the actions and meanings of people. In “Human Perception and Environmental Experience,” we refute the false dualism between what is “out there” in the world and what is “in” the human brain or body. Through mental maps, city walks, and personal space, this section explores how perception and experience mutually define human and environment. The section on “Place and Identity” reworks common conceptualizations of how place and identity are formed, and illuminates the myriad ways they co-produce one another. “Power, Subjectivity, and Space” describes how power operates in particular places and through particular bodies and situations. By looking at different situations and forms of power in action, these readings present a complex portrayal of power, subjectivity, agency, and change.

The next four sections focus on particular sites and forms of space and place. “Meanings of Home” dives into how different concepts of home are derived or constructed, as well as ways in which the experience of home is denied or inhibited.”This section looks at a range of home environments, including accommodations for disabled people, public housing, and childhood homes. Next, “‘Public’ and ‘Private'” takes up how public and private are intertwined, each helping to form the other. As international movements grow to combat inequalities and injustices, public space and private rights are often at the heart of these inquiries and contentious debates. Public space haunts what is at stake in the representation of democracy and community in the social life and economic ownership of public spaces (see Low and Smith 2005). “The Urban Experience” brings to light how cities afford difference and anonymity, leading to justice and injustice, growth or limitation. More than half of the world’s population will soon live in cities, suggesting the importance of learning from and enhancing the urban experience for all. In “Landscape: Nature and Culture,” the selections address how landscape is produced through the everywhere and ongoing interaction of culture and nature. In this sense, we may understand landscape to indicate an environment that has been modified, enhanced, or exploited through human activity, and begin to question how we experience and cultivate our relation to the environment.

In the final four sections, we take up relatively new theoretical-practical approaches to people, space, and place that may be used to rethink our situations and work towards change. In “The Social Production of Space and Time” we highlight not only how people produce and are produced by various understandings and structures of space and time, but also how these productions affect how we live. The selections in “Shifting Perspectives: Optics for Revealing Change and Reworking Space” ask a common question: what are the ways in which we can see our world again and anew? This leads to thinking about how space can be a mechanism to mask or reveal unjust conditions. Studies of space and place can shift our point of view or “optics” in order to unveil hidden ideologies that structure our everyday lives. “The Spatial Imagination” challenges and re-imagines how we understand and represent our place in the world, and exposes how our imagination of the world does not always match up with the world we experience. These ideas help us to take notice of and mind the gaps between how we envision, produce, and experience spaces and places. In our final section of readings, “Democratic Prospects and Possibilities,” we bring together selections that envision and look critically at constructions of more democratic, equal, and just environments, in order to offer insights into the ways in which spaces and places can become open to transformation.

Beyond the Book:

In addition to the selected excerpts and introductory texts, we have also included a brief list of suggested readings for each section to guide readers to additional resources in their area(s) of concern.

At, the editors and a series of expert invited guests whose research develops from an environmental social science perspective are continually updating lists for recommended readings on the twelve sections of this book as well as a series of additional topics. Drawing from experts’ work on mapping and resistance to the production of digital place and space, from international perspectives on housing to young people and ecology, a catalog of Further Recommended Reading Lists may be found at the end of this volume with summaries and selected citations on our online site. Other recommendations will continue to be developed and shared via the website, and these lists and citations are easily downloadable. We hope these lists may be of help to the student, instructor, and interested reader as they expand their own understanding of environmental social science. Readers are welcome to add their contributions to these lists as well by commenting on each list and being in dialog with our group of experts.

Our hope is that a new generation of scholarship and activism will recognize the important spatial and temporal aspects of this scholarship, and be able to draw fruitfully upon the contributions of thinkers that have come before. We call special attention to the critical work needed to help confront inequalities and injustices. What in this book can best inform you to help you deal with these issues? What will you read in this book today to help you understand what lies ahead for us and the rest of the world?

Our hope is that a new generation of scholarship and activism will recognize the important spatial and temporal aspects of this scholarship, and be able to draw fruitfully upon the contributions of thinkers that have come before. We call special attention to the critical work needed to help confront inequalities and injustices. What in this book can best inform you to help you deal with these issues? What will you read in this book today to help you understand what lies ahead for us and the rest of the world?

New York City and Philadelphia, July 2013


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