Place, a short introduction

Place a Short Introduction

Tim Cresswell, (2004) Place, a short introduction, Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, ISBN: 978-1-4051-0671-9.

Summary / Overview

Cresswell writes:

  • Defining place is both simple and complicated (subjective) both geographic and everyday life.
  • In everyday language: “Would you like to come to my place.  “This is a nice place.” “London is a nice place.”  “My place is not your place.”  “She put him in his place.”  “A place for everything and everything in its place.”
  • Place is a space that people have made meaningful.
  • John Agnew (1987) outlined 3 fundamental aspects of place as a meaningful location:-

1. Location – “where should I place this?”
2. Locale – A material setting for social relations.
3. Sense of place – subjective, emotional attachments, both real and imaginary as used in literature for a novel.

Space & Place

  • Space has area and volume.
    Place have space between them.
  • Yi-Fu Tuan (1977) likened space to movement and place to pauses / stops along the way.
  • By naming newly discovered areas or ‘space’ Explorers gave meaning to these found spaces; thus turning them into places.
  • Space and place are both viewed subjectively by different people and cultures.  Example: It was observed by the first explorers of Canada that the Indians knew all the bays and beaches for beaching a canoe and fishing giving them names but nothing of the mountains or giving them identity. This was because the Indians never went too the mountains and therefore ignored them as unimportant the bays and beaches however were important to their way of life and connected them with their gods and even hidden dangers.  The Indians paddled complicated routes rather than directly from A to B as they saw the sea not as an empty space as the Europeans saw it just to cross but as a number of places in association with their beliefs and considered dangers.

Place & Landscape

  • Place is something that is regarded from within.  Within a community or a location that can either be familiar or not.
  • Landscape is a view from outside. ‘A view from a hill.’
  • Landscape is a framed view as a picture on a wall or as an impression in ones imagination.
  • In some circumstances a place can become a landscape, if one is removed from it then one can quickly forget the qualities of life that made it a place and returning  to it later the loss that familiarity makes you an an outsider and so you find yourself ‘looking from the hill’ upon a familiar landscape.

Place as a way of understanding

  • Place is often associated in writing for a smallish area, this can be a village or neighbourhood up to a city, but is not often for as small as a corner of a room or as large as on a global scale.
  • However, there is no set rules; so place as a definitive meaning is obscure.
  • Place is a way of seeing, knowing and understanding our world.
  • We see attachments and connections between people and place.
  • In the word ‘place’, we see meaning and experience.
  • The idea of place can be an act of resistance against a rationalisation of the world, a way of seeing more space than place.
  • The idea of place can be a way of thinking of an area as a rich and complicated interplay of people and environment – As a place – is to free us from thinking of it as only facts and figures.
  • By referring to a location by name adds meaning to it and can even add moral meaning to it for example a location as just co-ordinates taken from a map can be easily bombed with ignorance were as a location with a name adds meaning, it becomes a place a city a place with people, families, children we have now added morality to its meaning.
  • However, place can also be used for negative thoughts ideas and seeing such as bigotry, racism, exclusion, etc.  Place has become an aspect of how we choose to think and therefore view and what we choose to emphasise and to designate as unimportant.
  • The majority of writing about place focuses on the realm of meaning and experience.
  • Place at basic level is space invested in meaning in the context of power.

Chapter 2.

  • Traces the development of place as a concept.
  • It also traces the appropriation of the term by cultural geography and the linking of place to politics.
  • Places are socially constructed.
  • It examines recent developments in the concept such as the notion of increasing placelessness through the effects of time-space compression.
  • A progressive sense of place.
  • A phenomenological view of place and the associated emergence of ‘non-representational theory’ and the idea of place as practice.

Chapter 3.

  • Cresswell illustrates accounts of place through examples of the towns of Guildford, Kilburn and Stoke Newington from various view points.  To reveal just how complicated the idea of place is through these town’s complicated relationships, both to the past and to other places near and far.
  • The underlining message regarding these view points is that different people understand place differently from one another.

Chapter 4.

  • Cresswell explores some of the many ways in which conception of place is used in research.
  • Being informed by place is more than simply writing about this place or that place, as it involves considering the implications of the idea of place for whatever the reason it is being researched for.  He gives as examples: Researching for the construction of memory would be different to the world of the homeless.
  • Cresswell argues that by looking at research in ‘the creation of place’ in a mobile world, places of memory and places to live, it becomes clear that place itself has a unique and pervasive power.
  • Acts of place-creation are political and contested.
  • Cresswell examined the rule of place in the constitution of the normal and the pathological.  (The ‘in-place’ and the ‘out-place’).
  • How various conceptions of place; and place at home play an active role in constitution of the normal, the natural and the appropriate.
  • How deviation from the expected relationship between place and practice led to labels of abnormality and inappropriateness.
  • Place is used to construct ‘the taken for granted’ world.
  • The homeless are not simply without a roof but people who are evaluated as being in the wrong place (the city, the country, outside, in public).
  • Refugees are not simply seen as moving to escape persecution but people who are constituted by their displacement.
  • Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals are seen as ‘out of place’ because they disturb the typical heteronormative character of many of the places that we belong to.
  • Places are produced by the people that constitute ‘society’ but at the same time they are key to the production of relations between people.
  • Place is right at the centre of humanity.


Agnew, J. (1987) The United States in the World Economy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Tuan, YiFu. (1977) Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.


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