Performing identity and place-imaging

PLATT VIsualby Louise Platt*

The research community within the IPM is constantly challenging how we think about place and what place means. I am concerned about people (and even their non-human companions!) in places. I have long struggled, as many academics have, with the idea of place-making and the queasy notion of wading into communities and suggesting that these places can be ‘better’. My own PhD research examined communities how they shape their own identities through drawing or resisting place-imaging projects. By spending time with community groups and undertaking participant observation at official and unofficial Liverpool Capital of Culture events (both during and after 2008) I was able to understand how local people performed identities which related to their sense of belonging to their neighbourhoods and the wider city. It considered the balance between creative improvisation and the constraints of social and cultural norms in forming identities.

More recently I have examined informal creative practices of women in local craft and knitting groups and how the discourse of creative place-making needs to be careful to not exploit everyday creatives (i.e. those engaged in immaterial labour of making for pleasure) in shaping identities of place (paper in review). The research highlights the importance of the collective but not in terms of organizing for a ‘greater good’ per se, more for the pleasure of the activity. I argue that the groups demonstrate a lack of engagement with the wider market, instead demonstrate an element of self-valorisation. Whilst urban place-makers are more recently concerned with developing hubs of creative industries, the role that groups which are not producing a ‘profitable product’ should not be underestimated or exploited.

In light of the past work I have undertaken, I would call for us to reimagine place-making as place-treasuring. People treasure the places they live, and whilst they will acknowledge improvements that need to be made, or social issues to remedy; as the saying goes, one person’s trash is another’s treasure. This is not advocating a ‘bottom up’ rather than ‘top-down’ approach per se, but more of a question of pausing and asking, what glimmers of joy exist in these places that are unseen by outsiders? The dog walkers move through our city parks in ways that are negotiated with their equally sentient companion animal, without thought of the landscape and urban planner’s ideas of what makes a good green space (paper also in review). Similarly, the friendships formed in the knitting group take precedence over the call to create public art which might have a wider impact on the way people see place, but is not part of how the knitters see it. These everyday leisure activities expose the unique ways that people treasure their place.

My current work is examining the Manchester and Salford Whit Walks in the post-secular urban experience. Within this there will be examination of the working class identities of the participants who place strong emphasis on the importance of the Walks in maintaining their heritage and identity in places which are experiencing processes of gentrification and renewal.

I hope that I can continue to work on projects that explore places from the perspective of people going about their everyday leisure lives. To see what they treasure about place and to not assume it needs ‘re-making’.


*Dr. Louise Platt
Senior Lecturer in Festivals and Events Management
http://www.mundaneleisure.co.uk
Executive Committee of the Leisure Studies Association (www.leisurestudies.org)

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