He is an emeritus professor of the University of Toronto , where he served from to as Chair of the Division of Social Sciences at the Scarborough campus. From to Relph was Associate Principal responsible for the expansion and redevelopment of that campus, and served again as Chair of Social Sciences from to Relph now lives in Victoria, British Columbia. Relph has written many academic articles and book chapters that investigate the phenomenological and experiential foundations of geography, and others that elaborate sense of place and the ways experiences of place are currently being transformed. Place and Placelessness was reassessed and updated at a conference organized by Rob Freestone and Edgar Liu of the University of New South Wales that resulted in the publication of Place and Placelessness Revisited edited by Freestone and Liu in

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Content uploaded by David Seamon Author content All content in this area was uploaded by David Seamon Content may be subject to copyright. Hubbard, R. Vallentine, eds. Astronomy has the heavens, History has time, and Geography has place. Beginning in the early s, geographers such as Yi-Fu Tuan , Anne Buttimer , and Edward Relph , , grew dissatisfied with what they felt was a philosophically and experientially anemic definition of place.

In the early s, Relph was a doctoral student at the University of Toronto, working on his dissertation concerning the relationship between Canadian national identity and the symbolic landscapes of the Canadian Shield, especially those represented by lakes and forests Relph As his project progressed, he became dissatisfied with the lack of philosophical sophistication given to the definition of place.

Relph found this supposed conceptual pillar of the discipline to be superficial and incomplete, especially in terms of the importance of place in ordinary human life. How could one study place attachment, sense of place, or place identity without a clear understanding of the depth and complexity of place as it is experienced and fashioned by real people in real places?

Eventually, Relph scrapped his Canadian Shield study and shifted focus to a broader look at the nature and meaning of place as it plays an integral part in the lives of human beings.

Phenomenology is the interpretive study of human experience. The aim is to examine and to clarify human situations, events, meanings, and experiences as they are known in everyday life but typically unnoticed beneath the level of conscious awareness Seamon To uncover the obvious, we must step back from any taken-for-granted attitudes and assumptions, whether in the realm of everyday experience or in the realm of conceptual perspectives and explanations, including the scientific.

In Place and Placelessness, Relph steps back to call into question the taken-for-granted nature of place and its significance as an inescapable dimension of human life and experience. Relph begins Place and Placelessness with a review of space and its relationship to place. He argues that space is not a void or an isometric plane or a kind of container that holds places. Instead, he contends that, to study the relationship of space to a more experientially-based understanding of place, space too must be explored in terms of how people experience it.

On one hand, he identifies modes of spatial experience that are instinctive, bodily, and immediate—for example, what he calls pragmatic space, perceptual space, and existential space. On the other hand, he identifies modes of spatial experience that are more cerebral, ideal, and intangible—for example, planning space, cognitive space, and abstract space. Relph describes how each of these modes of space-as- experienced has varying intensities in everyday life. Although the spatial modes that Relph identifies may each play a particular role in everyday experience, Relph emphasizes that in reality these modes are not mutually exclusive but all part and parcel of human spatial experience as it is a lived, indivisible whole.

For example, he explains that cognitive conceptions of space understood through maps may help to form our perceptual knowledge, which in turn may color our day-to-day spatial encounters as we move through real-world places. Many geographers speak of both concepts but ultimately treat the two as separate or give few indications as to how they are related existentially and conceptually.

For Relph, the unique quality of place is its power to order and to focus human intentions, experiences, and actions spatially.

Relph thus sees space and place as dialectically structured in human environmental experience, since our understanding of space is related to the places we inhabit, which in turn derive meaning from their spatial context. He argues that, without a thorough understanding of place as it has human significance, one would find it difficult to describe why a particular place is special and impossible to know how to repair existing places in need of mending. In short, before we can properly prescribe, we must first learn how to accurately describe—a central aim of phenomenological research.

If places are to be more thoroughly understood, one needs a language whereby we can identify particular place experiences in terms of the intensity of meaning and intention that a person and place hold for each other. For Relph, the crux of this lived intensity is identity with place, which he defines through the concept of insideness—the degree of attachment, involvement, and concern that a person or group has for a particular place. If a person feels inside a place, he or she is here rather than there, safe rather than threatened, enclosed rather than exposed, at ease rather than stressed.

Relph suggests that the more profoundly inside a place a person feels, the stronger will be his or her identity with that place. On the other hand, a person can be separate or alienated from place, and this mode of place experi- ence is what Relph calls outsideness.

Here, people feel some sort of lived division or separation between themselves and world—for example, the feeling of homesickness in a new place. The crucial phenomenological point is that outsideness and insideness constitute a fundamental dialectic in human life and that, through varying combinations and intensities of outsideness and insideness, different places take on different identities for different individuals and groups, and human experience takes on different qualities of feeling, meaning, ambience, and action.

The strongest sense of place experience is what Relph calls existential insideness—a situation of deep, unself-conscious immersion in place and the experience most people know when they are at home in their own community and region. The opposite of existential insideness is what he labels existential outsideness—a sense of strangeness and alienation, such as that often felt by newcomers to a place or by people who, having been away from their birth place, return to feel strangers because the place is no longer what it was when they knew it earlier.

In his book, Relph discusses seven modes of insideness and outsideness no doubt there are more grounded in various levels of experiential involvement and meaning. The value of these modes, particularly for self-awareness, is that they apply to specific place experiences yet provide a conceptual structure in which to understand those experiences in broader, more explicit terms.

Placelessness In the last half of the book, Relph examines ways in which places may be experienced authentically or inauthentically terms borrowed from phenomenological and existential philosophy. Individuals and groups may create a sense of place either unself-consciously or deliberately. Thus, because of constant use, a nondescript urban neighborhood can be as authentic a place as Hellenic Athens or the Gothic cathedrals—the latter both examples, for Relph, of places generated con- sciously.

Relph suggests that, in general, placelessness arises from kitsch—an uncritical acceptance of mass values, or technique—the overriding concern with efficiency as an end in itself. In addition, thinkers from a broad range of conceptual perspectives—from positivist and neo- Marxist to post-structuralist and social-constructivist—have drawn on the idea of place, though understanding it in different ways and using it for different theoretical and practical ends Creswell ; Seamon Scholarly interest in Place and Placelessness has steadily increased over the years.

In the first ten years, there was an average of some twelve citations per year; since then, references have steadily increased to thirty-six entries in Geographers have cited the book most since entries , though scholars in environmental studies also demonstrate strong interest entries. In addition, the book has been cited by researchers in psychology forty-three times , sociology forty-two , urban studies thirty , planning twenty-one , health ten , and anthropology nine.

Seamon considers how, through experienced dimensions like body, feelings, and thinking, the quality of insideness is expressed geographically and environmentally. A second study illustrating the conceptual potential of Place and Placelessness is landscape architect V. Making use of in- depth interviews with the five families, she demonstrates how place is prior to involuntary displacement with the result that this experience can be understood existentially as a forced journey marked by eight stages— 1 becoming uneasy, 2 struggling to stay, 3 having to accept, 4 securing a settlement, 5 searching for the new, 6 starting over, 7 unsettling reminders, and 8 wanting to resettle.

The essentialist claim has been brought forth especially by Marxists e. This criticism misunderstands the basic phenomenological recognition that there are different dimensions of human experience and existence that all must be incorporated in a thorough understanding of human and societal phenomena.

A Lack of Conceptual Sophistication? Especially through the continuum of insideness and outsideness, he provides a language that allows for a precise designation of the particular experience of a particular person or group in relation to the particular place in which they find themselves.

Relph also provides a terminology for describing how and why the same place can be experienced differently by different individuals e.

Too often, researchers lose sight of the need to move outside lifeworld descriptions and terminology, and the result is confusion or murkiness as to the exact phenomenon they are attempting to understand. For example, in feminist and cultural-studies research that focuses on negative and traumatic images of place e. Too often, the post-structural and social-constructivist conclusion is to call into question the entire concept of home and place and to suggest that they might be nostalgic, essentialist notions that need vigorous societal and political modification—perhaps even substitution—in postmodern society.

Through his lived language of place, we can say more exactly that domestic violence, whether in regard to women or men, is a situation where a place that typically fosters the strongest kind of existential insideness has become, paradoxically, a place of overwhelming existential outsideness.

The lived result must be profoundly destructive. The short-term phenomenological question is how these victims can be helped to regain existential insideness. The longer-term question is what qualities.


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