Can Places Think?

Ares Kalandides place agency intentionalityby Ares Kalandides

The short answer is, of course, that they can’t. Places – even if we think of them as formed through social relations and not as mere physical locations – simply can’t think. They’re not human; they’re not even animal. Social relations are not just the sum of individual actions, but rather a much more complex outcome of human interaction. So, if places can’t think, why do we keep reading academic papers where London “intends to show” something or Berlin “aspires to be” whatever? As I have written before, this figure of speech is metaphorical: places are personified and given agency to avoid more complex phrasing. I firmly believe this is not only wrong, but can lead to risky oversimplifications.


“Place is generative, but it has no agency and certainly no intentionality.”

It is not that we cannot understand places as political actors in themselves. Cities and countries in a sense are actors in many cases. Berlin plays a particular role in European politics and London in world finance. However, I’d rather conceptualise that as a generative capacity of place. As geographers since the 1970s were able to show, space (and place) is an outcome of social relations, but is also capable of producing new ones. Berlin is the outcome of physical space and its interactions with social relations in that particular location over time. However this particular juxtaposition of those particular social relations in that particular location is not only an outcome, but can generate new relations, as different elements interact again in ever changing constellations. So, places are outcomes, but they are also processes and generative of new social relations. But places don’t have agency, and certainly no intentionality.

The way we use language is not without consequences for the ‘real world’. It is both a sign of how we think, but more than this, it can form thinking. Thinking of place as having agency can lead to dangerous localisms and nationalisms. When you keep reading of the UK demanding a “hard Brexit”, you will tend to believe that the whole country is caught in a fight against Europe. But what about the 48% who voted to remain? Do they also demand hard Brexit? And will other Europeans now start seeing a hard Brexiter every single Brit? When you read that “Germany demands more cuts from Greece in the Eurozone crisis”, do you really believe that it reflects the actions of every German instead of those of particular groups and their interests? It is a very easy next step to turn “the Greeks against the Germans” and vice versa. The UK vs. Europe or Germany vs. Greece are not only innocent oversimplifications. They are clearly rhetorical devices meant to conceal group (including class) interests.

“The way we use language is not without consequences for the ‘real world'”.

So what can be done about it? How can we express something similar without falling into the trap of the personification of Place? There are several ways this can be done: You can choose to avoid the use of a specific subject in the clause or – even better in my opinion – you can choose to name the agent. For example: Certainly not all Berliners want their home to become a world city, but many surely do. So, instead of “Berlin aspires to become a world city” rather choose “There is the intention to turn Berlin into a world city” or better still “The current government [or whoever it is] intends to position Berlin as a world city”. The latter makes agency transparent and shows the power relations in Place. Only by naming the powerful agents behind particular choices, can you conceive of ways of dealing with them. If we keep on ascribing agency to places, or even worse, ascribing intentionality to them, we risk masking the real power games behind Place.

 

Can you make authentic places?

We often experience places as authentic when they correspond to the image we have of them in our minds. ©Photo by Aimilia Ioannidis.

by Ares Kalandides*

Destination marketing is obsessed with place authenticity and for good reasons. Tourists, it is said, want to experience the ‘real thing’. What is that real thing? What are authentic places? We know that some places feel more ‘real’ than others, but what does that feeling mean? Is place authenticity the same as the ‘sense of place’?

Imagine the following situation: You are walking in the mountains, maybe wandering through a beautiful forest with no one around. You enjoy the sounds of the forest animals, the smell of the damp earth. The light through the trees makes you dreamy. You enjoy the solitude, that feeling that you are into some kind of discovery of nature and of yourself.

“There are things that give us the feeling that places are authentic, but when examined closely they are somehow flawed.”

Behind the trees you discover a small well-designed kiosk. As you approach a very friendly person greets you: “Would you like some information about the other sights in the area?” Suddenly you are not in the discovery of nature any longer. That very friendly greeting makes you feel that you had been duped. What you thought was an untouched forest was in fact part of the packaged local sights. Continue reading “Can you make authentic places?”

Developing capacity and capability in rural Albania

Dr Heather Skinner, Chair of the IPM’s Responsible Tourism SIG, has recently returned from 2 weeks teaching in Albania. Heather is one of a number of international academics that contribute to delivering the formal classroom based theory sessions for the BA Business and Economics at the Faculty of Business and Technology at Nehemiah Gateway University in rural Buçimas, a small town in the Pogradec Municipality in the Korçë region of Albania, located around 130 km from the nation’s capital, Tiranë.


by Heather Skinner

Albania, like many former communist countries across the European continent, has found that it is not always easy to overturn the impact of centralization to both education and to the economy, or to turn around educational concepts that have been ingrained over many years of a communist regime.

“Regional development becomes critical for a country where almost 60% of its population live in rural areas, where almost half are engaged in only small-scale subsistence based agricultural activities.”

This makes it difficult for the nation to reap the economic benefits of the creation of a growing liberalized free-market economy, particularly underpinned by forward looking entrepreneurial business and management programmes within an adaptive and supportive HE infrastructure. Continue reading “Developing capacity and capability in rural Albania”

Will Orkney be overcome by Tourism?

by Prof. Harold Goodwin*

How does a small archipelago cope with becoming Britain’s most successful cruise destination? In 2011 there were 36,000 cruise passengers, last year there were close to 100,000, projected to hit 141 ships and 126,000 arrivals this year – a three and a half-fold increase in numbers. In 2018 the first 5,000 berth ships are due to arrive. Inevitably, just as in Venice, the cruise liners overshadow the islands and swamp the honeypot sites. Continue reading “Will Orkney be overcome by Tourism?”

An Itinerant Sense of Place

Sense of Place

by Ares Kalandides*

Place is an important category in the construction of our individual and social identities. We develop a sense of place both by projecting ourselves onto places and identifying with them in myriad ways. We may, for example, use place names to identify ourselves (“I live in Berlin”, “I am from Greece”); we may be more or less attached to particular places, as they become markers of who we are (“I am a new Berliner”).

By Place, I do not only mean the “bricks and mortar” of a locality, but rather the interaction between the physicality and the social relations that come together in a particular locus. Place attachment then is with people and their cultures, with their food, language and behaviour – as much as with public spaces, landscapes or buildings. It is easier to feel responsible for a place we are attached to, rather than for places we just pass through in the course of our lives. Tourists often behave differently at home than when they travel, although place attachment and responsibility may not be the only reason behind it (throwing away behavioural norms as part of the travel experience or the relative anonymity and lack of social control may be other explanations).

“It is easier to feel responsible for a place we are attached to, rather than for places we just pass through in the course of our lives.”

In a world where many people (though by no means all) move constantly, is there still such a thing as place responsibility and indeed the space for place-based politics? Or as Doreen Massey put it back in 1991, is there a “global sense of place”? Continue reading “An Itinerant Sense of Place”

The problem with participation in urban development

Participation process in Berlin-Wedding with Ares Kalandides

by Ares Kalandides

I recently had the opportunity to coordinate two workshops that included participation in urban development one in the town of Agios Nikolaos (Crete, Greece) and only a week later in the district of Wedding in Berlin, Germany. The details were indeed rather different, but the basic idea very much the same. In Crete the goal was to think about the town’s identity and to formulate some visions for its future. In Berlin it was about the future of the place: “What do we imagine our neighbourhood to be in 2020”. Both workshops were thoroughly enjoyable, as I always find working with people on the future of their places a very rewarding process. Continue reading “The problem with participation in urban development”

“Unveiling the sediments of a lost landscape”: William Titley’s Demolition Street

williamtitley-slider

A collection of door knobs. Unclaimed mail. An ironing board. Through recording the evacuation of one Lancashire community, finds Steve Millington, the artist William Titley has made permanent a series of internal displacements, and the exposed the true meaning of “placelessness”…

by Dr Steve Millington

Yi Fun Tuan established the term “topophilia” in the 1970s. An awkward word, but it describes an emotion we all share, a deep attachment to place. We might express this through love for one’s country or perhaps through civic pride, but our strongest bonds are to ordinary places connecting our everyday habits and routines, what we might call home.

Home is perhaps the most important place in our lives. Beyond basic human needs of shelter and security, home is ideally a place where we can escape, be ourselves, find comfort, rest, experiment, create, laugh, dance, without too much concern about what others might think. Here we build and maintain the social relations necessary to support a sense of belonging considered essential for well-being and happiness. We only have to imagine the plight of millions of refugees who have had to leave their homes, neighbourhoods, the places where they were born, schooled, worked, ate, played, to realise how our lives might quickly untangle into a precarious state. Feeling ‘out of place’, feeling that you don’t belong can be soul destroying. Continue reading ““Unveiling the sediments of a lost landscape”: William Titley’s Demolition Street”

Town Centre Management in Roeselare West Flanders, Belgium

by Prof Simon Quin

Roeselare in West Flanders, Belgium, is a small city that is beginning to change rapidly. With a population of some 60,000, a catchment of around 200,000, and a reputation as a retail destination, Roeselare is typical of many locations across Europe that are having to address disruptive change in retail. In 2007, they adopted a plan that sought to achieve a balance between town centre and edge of centre retailing. A centre management team was set up in 2009 but it wasn’t until 2015 that the real challenges of retail change were addressed. Although retail vacancy remained moderate, at some 8.4% of the 400 units in the centre, there was a realisation that more radical things had to be done to maintain a sustainable retail offer. Continue reading “Town Centre Management in Roeselare West Flanders, Belgium”

Remembering Greg Ashworth

Mihalis Kavaratzis (left) with Erik Braun (centre) and Greg Ashworth.
Mihalis Kavaratzis (left) with Erik Braun (centre) and Greg Ashworth.

by Mihalis Kavaratzis

We were meeting in a pub in Groningen over beers – that’s where we always met, over dinner and drinks, never in an office.

“When’s the big party?” he asked.

“What party?” I asked back.

“Your defence party.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Book a date for your party! Book the restaurant and order food and drinks. Then you can start planning backwards and you’ll find out what you have to do tomorrow…” Continue reading “Remembering Greg Ashworth”

Places and figures of speech: metaphor, metonymy and synecdoche

 

figures of speech metaphor metonymy Ares Kalandides

by Ares Kalandides

This image, which appeared on TIP’s (Berlin city magazine) Facebook page on 29th July 2016, depicts a map of Berlin, where boroughs have been replaced by types of fast food. I find the map very funny, but also an interesting case to think about place-related connotations. Before I get into that, let me explain what is what (starting from the outer left and then moving clockwise). Spandau: “SPANDAU”; Reinickendorf: “Currywurst (West)”; Pankow: “Vegetarian Spring Roll”; Lichtenberg: “Nr 131”; Marzahn-Hellersdorf: “Pelmeni”; Treptow-Köpenick: “Currywurst (East)”; Neukölln: “Döner & Schawarma”; Tempelhof-Schöneberg: “Foccacia & Co”; Steglitz-Zehlendorf: “We don’t serve fast food”; Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf: “Crunchy rolls with Tête de moine from Butter Lindner”; Mitte: “Sushi & Sashimi”; Mitte: “Bio-Burger”. Continue reading “Places and figures of speech: metaphor, metonymy and synecdoche”