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.

 

Reflections on the 4th Corfu Symposium on Managing & Marketing Places

Corfu Symposium Institute of Place Management Ares Kalandides
Photographer: Ian Southerin – Location Photography

By Heather Skinner*

The 4th Corfu Symposium on Managing & Marketing Places took place 24-27 April 2017 at the Mayor Mon Repos Palace Art Hotel. The Institute of Place Management (IPM) now organises the Symposium, and has once again provided formal accreditation for the event. The Symposium focuses on both theory and practice, on both knowledge production and its impact, and this is unusual at academic events. The IPM’s links with the Journal of Place Management and Development (JPMD) with its focus on communicating with academics, practitioners, policy makers and local government, is also a driving factor behind the balance between academic and practitioner input into this event, and a special issue of the JPMD (Volume 10 Number 2) has been devoted to a selection of papers from our past events related to the Special Issue theme of Responsible Tourism and Place Making.

Continue reading “Reflections on the 4th Corfu Symposium on Managing & Marketing Places”

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?”

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”

The experts are dead: Long live the experts.

Journal of Place Management and Development

by Dominic Medway and Cathy Parker

Journal of Place Management and Development, Issue 9.3: Editorial

On June 24th this year Dominic Medway wrote on his Twitter feed: “@PlaceManagement Places are ultimately made, unmade, defined and redefined by people before institutions. We’ve seen that today”. This was of course referring to the result of the so-called ‘Brexit’ referendum on whether the United Kingdom should leave the EU. The pollsters and the City of London seemed reasonably confident that the outcome of the vote, on June 23rd 2016, would be to ‘remain’, but it seemed both these institutional bodies hugely underestimated the power of the voters to exercise their democratic right to chart an alternative future. Continue reading “The experts are dead: Long live the experts.”

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”

Places don’t have DNAs – living organisms do

Ares Kalandides "place identity" "Place DNA"
Original uploader was Richard Wheeler (Zephyris) at en.wikipedia – Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here., GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2117121

by Ares Kalandides

I recently came upon a very interesting (and in my opinion also very useful) document, the World Towns Framework, which begins with the following: “We shall support the unique characteristics of each town and urban district, the ‘place DNA’, to engage communities, businesses and institutions in driving forward their future, and to address the plural and distinctive set of challenges facing these unique places.”

There are several issues I could raise here (e.g. does each town really have unique characteristics or is it the blend of characteristics that is unique? are communities, business and institutions players of the same level or are they different types of categories?), but today I’d like to ponder only the ‘place DNA’. It is an expression that bothers me and always has.  Continue reading “Places don’t have DNAs – living organisms do”

Meet the IPM: Interview with Dr Ares Kalandides

Ares KalandidesAres Kalandides is Senior Fellow and Director of the Institute of Place Management as well as founder and CEO of the Berlin-based consultancy Inpolis. He has consulted place managers around the world, and implemented various projects in many different locations. He is an Adjunct Professor at New York University in Berlin, and a guest lecturer at the Technical University and the Hertie School of Governance – both in Berlin. Ares has a degree in French studies and holds a PhD in urban and regional planning from the School of Architecture at the National Technical University of Athens. His current research includes: migration, citizenship and identity; participatory methods in urban development; urban social policy; and local economic development. His most recent publications are on practices of solidarity in crisis-stricken Athens. Continue reading “Meet the IPM: Interview with Dr Ares Kalandides”

Communities of exclusion: Some thoughts on the concept of community

IMG_5226

by Ares Kalandides

A bizarre piece of news caught my attention recently: A Kosovarian family was allegedly denied citizenship in Switzerland, not for failing to comply with the formal requirements, but for not adapting to the local norms. The transgressions (according to the article) were that the family wore tracksuits instead of jeans and that they did not greet people in passing. If this is true, it sheds a strange light on the very concept of community, which thus appears inward-looking, conservative and exclusive.

Indeed, I find it increasingly difficult to think of the concept in other terms and I believe we should be careful if we want to use it in any meaningful way. Community, the way I understand it, is first of all a group of people who share something – an idea, a common feature or a place[1].  Place in particular is generally entangled in a strong imagery of belonging (communities are groups of people linked to each other through their belonging to a place), though we can clearly think of non place-based communities (internationalism was founded on exactly this idea).   I see several problems related to the above.

Continue reading “Communities of exclusion: Some thoughts on the concept of community”