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Literature, Place & Space

“Place: a short introduction”, Tim Cresswell (2004)

Chapter One: Defining Place

So far the majority of literature that I have read has been directly related to Mikhail Bakhtin, the carnival and the carnivalesque and I now feel that I need to start researching the concept of place with relation to the research project. The lectures have provided a brief overview of place and space and other concepts related to them, such as the Situationists and Futurism, but in order to grasp the more complex elements of this concept, I believe I need to go back to basics in order to fully comprehend each concept with relation to Venice.

I have begun reading ‘Place: a short introduction’ by Tim Cresswell in order to build a foundation of knowledge, and from the opening chapter there are many points made that aid me in my research.

Firstly, Cresswell (2004) begins by defining different variations of place and discusses how the general concept of place differs with relation to geography and social life. It is then discussed how place is used in everyday speech, such as when an individual says “would you like to come round to my place?”; this instantly personalises the space in question and becomes personal to the individual. It gives a sense of exclusivity and privatisation that a public place, such as a public museum or park, does not have. It also draws on the way individuals identify their space; when an individual initiates a question like the one above, it becomes apparent that ‘my’ place is not ‘your’ place, reinforcing how a place becomes privatised. Cresswell (2004) then discusses how places are identified in a general kind of way, such as when an individual makes reference to a place they have been on holiday and discusses how nice that place is.

Then an interesting point is made as Cresswell mentions how place can be used to reinforce a social hierarchy and the example that he gives is when a person says “I was put in my place”, following a confrontation with an individual. I find this interesting as place has now moved from a physical item to an abstract one; social hierarchies are abstract and are not physical – social hierarchies cannot be touched and are an abstract status quo. I find it interesting as it appears that I have been quite ignorant with regards to place as I obviously thought about it in its most simplistic and physical sense and completely disregarded the fact that place can be an abstract concept.

Moving on, Creswell (2004) then mentions how some places can be, at times, “a site without meaning” (2004:2) and how once this site is named and identified, place begins to be approached. Cresswell (2004) uses the example of New York City and explains how many images are provoked when this name is mentioned. He then proceeds to explain how different places within New York City, such as the Lower East Side which many years ago was well known for housing many immigrants. Nowadays, that is not as visible and the history has, to an extent, been replaced by boutiques, bars and restaurants. However, the original concept of that place is still embedded within that district. This leads Creswell to conclude that there can be “many manifestations of place” (2004:3)

This then leads to Creswell to explain how different spaces can be made meaningful by individuals and how people can become attached to certain spaces in a variety of ways. Following this, he then explains how this is the most straightforward and common definition of place – “a meaningful location” (2004:7) Creswell then introduces John Agnew (1987) who outlined three key components of place as a meaningful location, and they are; location, locale and sense of place.

Location simply refers to the general location of a place; for example, Venice is located in Italy, more specifically on a small island separated from mainland Italy and surrounded by water. However, it mainly refers to the idea of ‘where’. Locale is the “material setting for social relations” (2004:7), such as the place that individuals conduct their daily lives. As well a physical and lived-in place, Cresswell also mentions that even imaginary places within novels, such as Hogwarts School in the Harry Potter franchise, have an “imaginary materiality” (2004:7) Cresswell then states that to supplement the above, the place must have some form of connection to individuals so that meaning can be produced and consumed. Finally, sense of place is the “subjective and emotional attachment people have to place” (2004:7) Cresswell then continues to explain how individuals can gather a sense of place from filmic representations of a place; which is precisely what I have gained from watching various representations of Venice  in movies. This point also corresponds with Baudrillard’s notion of hyperreality – contesting that representations of places via the media can never quite live up to the reality of those places, thus becoming ‘hyper real’. With regards to my own research, the only ‘sense of place’ I have is from the representations I have seen; although I have not visited Venice yet, I feel like I know what that place is like because of what has been presented to me within the movies. However, the reality of that place may be completely different.

Cresswell then begins to explain the concept of space, stating that space is viewed as an area without meaning, as something basic and unrelated. However, he then says that once a human invests meaning into a space, they then become attached to it in some way, thus, it then becomes a place. It could be argued that Venice is to me at the minute a space, as I have not invested meaning in it yet, therefore, it cannot be transformed into a place; something solid and concrete. Although the media representations have provided me with a ‘sense of place’, it is not my own constructed meaning, hence it is not constructed personally; I merely take what the films show and regurgitate those mediated meanings. However, once I have visited Venice, I will have experience the space personally, thus enabling me to invest meaning into that space, allowing it to transform into a place.

In the final part of the chapter, Cresswell discusses the idea of place and landscape and begi8ns by stating that the idea of landscape dates back to the emergence of mercantile capitalism in Renaissance Venice and Flanders. Given that this concept originated from Venice, further research should be conducted into this to analyse exactly how it originated and also why it originated as it may have had a direct impact on Venice as a place and space. Cresswell states that landscape refers to “the shape – the material topography – of a piece of land” (2004:11), before stating that “we do not live in landscapes – we look at them” (2004:11) Hence, the material aspect of Venice, such as the buildings, architecture, etc, is constituted as the landscape of Venice; something to be looked at and not lived in. Developing this, Cresswell then states that place is a way of understanding the world. For example, different countries and cultures enable individuals to understand different aspects of the world and use these factors to create their own meanings and understandings of specific places. Taking this into consideration, when I visit Venice, I will immerse myself within Venetian culture in order to understand various elements that need to be analysed for my research project. Following this, I will then create my own meanings of the place, rather than relying on the ‘sense of place’ that I have gained from filmic representations.

To conclude, this chapter has introduced the key concepts of place and space to me. It has enabled me to consider the ways in which meaning is created with relation to place and space and why meaning is created in these ways. It has also enabled me to, already, draw upon my own research into Venice and apply various theoretical concepts to the work I have produced. It has also provided me with a foundation of knowledge that can be developed further by continuing to read further literature on place and space as well as contextualising my own findings when visiting Venice.

Cresswell, T. (2004) Place: a short introduction. Blackwell Publishing Ltd:Oxford

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