Saturday, November 09, 2013

Spaces and places

We were walking past a church with scaffolding on its front steps when he asked, “Do you find it boring here?” That caught me by surprise but I replied with a simple no. I was also too distracted by how cold I was due to the strong wind.

“You don’t find it boring here?” Again, I shook my head and said no with a tinge of curiosity. However, in my mind, I expanded on my reply, “Sydney is huge and has so much character. There are many events throughout the year and there are many different places to go for food. Why would I find it boring?”

“But you prefer it back home?” Hm, what was he trying to ask me? I raised an eyebrow.

“That’s different! I like it back home not because of the place, it’s the people.”

Although the importance of place has been emphasized across a number of fields, such as philosophy, human and cultural geography and education, we rarely stop to consider what we mean when we speak of place. However, from this brief exchange, I realised that I assign different meanings to places due to the emotional bond I share with the people who are there. Without that bond, these places would just exist as spaces.

It is true when they say that it is through concepts (and practices) of place and space that we seek to understand and locate ourselves in the world. A place is not simply “a room, a garden or a city”. It is not merely a “space of some sort”. Place is “space which people have made meaningful” (Cresswell, 2005, p. 7) and in my case, meaningful because of the emotional attachment.

It is the experiences occurring in place that make it differ conceptually from space. Moreover, one person’s experience of a place might be very different from another’s, thus producing unique attachments, memories and meanings. Sydney would just be Sydney if not for friends here who go out of their way to care for me in times of need. Uni would just be uni if not for colleagues who provide help and encouragement to work hard for that dreaded graduation gown and mushroom-looking floppy hat. The sense of belongingness and the camaraderie are the ingredients that transform space into place, as these friends and colleagues assist in locating myself in the world, in my life.I find that if I am very much myself in a space with a person (or many people), it becomes a place to me. Some of these people may even find a special place in me somewhere.

So no, I do not find it boring here and I have the people here to thank for that, including the person who asked the question. “It’s not the place, it’s the people.”

_________________________

References and further reading:

Cresswell, T. (2005). Place: A short introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.

Miles, R. (2008). Rural-Regional sustainability through revitalising the commons: A case study. Paper presented in a symposium ('Education and Rural-Regional Sustainability') at the Annual Conference of the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE), Brisbane, QLD, Nov 31 - Dec 4, 2008.

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