Environmental & Architectural
Seeing Familiar Things in New Ways
Until her retirement in 2002, Boschetti
was Associate Editor of
EAP and an Associate Professor of Interior Design in the School of Human
Environmental Sciences at East Carolina University in Greenville, North
Carolina. She now lives in her native state of Arkansas.
In reading Relph's reflections on Place and Placelessness [see Relph's essay in "selected readings"], I wonder if he really doesn't realize how important the book has been to the development of the place concept? He criticizes the book as simplistic, but I believe it was seminal, fueling the work of many researchers who used his organizing conceptual framework. Here, I include my own research, for which Relph's ideas provided conceptual clarification and structure, especially his discussion of the different modes of insideness and outsideness (Boschetti 1984, 1990, 1993).
Also, simplicity is not necessarily negative. Often, it is the clarity that simplicity brings to one's perception and understanding of phenomena that allows one to move beyond confusion and to see old things in new ways. This is how breakthroughs in thinking and theory development push human efforts forward.
Some postmodern problems are not the fault of conceptualizing place as positive and placelessness as negative but the reverse: Understanding place and placelessness as a lived-dialectic helps to interpret problems in a way that doesn't judge the world but generates understanding from a personal perspective so that solutions can have "hands-on" meaning.
We have to remember that "place" can have different dimensions of meaning for different people; nevertheless, that places have meaning for people is a universal truth. What appears to be "placelessness" to an outsider may, in fact, be a place with meaning for the insider.
While new technologies are changing the world at a dramatic pace, I do not think these developments excuse the human need for satisfying a feeling of being "at home" in the world, though the manifestations of this satisfaction may take on new forms and occur through new situations and experiences.
I also think that creation of place is a personal process, not something that can be accomplished by the group or society for the individual; and that we are constantly recreating place as we move from one place to another, whether it be our home, work place or temporary places experienced in transit. This is not to deny that groups may have a communal sense of place or that community can convey a sense of place for its members.
Yet it is not the domain of society to create places for people but to make it possible‑-through policy and design‑-for people to create their own places. Or, to put the point another way, it is society's responsibility neither to prevent people from creating places nor to create placelessness inadvertently through ignorance or lack of care.
It is very difficult to think about these ideas devoid of personal values and even ideological persuasions. I remember the notion, "thesis begets antithesis, which in turn leads to synthesis." In this light, the best new ideas interpret and integrate rather than reject those from the past, moving the whole forward in transcendent fashion.
From the perspective of 20 years since Relph's book, we may be now at the point of antithesis; the potential exists for a new synthesis to crystalize. It is to Relph's credit that his ideas have been powerful enough to generate antithesis, making possible the emergence of new ways to think about place.
Boschetti, M., 1984. The Older Person's Emotional Attachment to the Physical Environment of the Residential Setting. Doctoral dissertation, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
_____, 1990. Reflection on Home: Implications for Housing Design for Elderly Persons. Housing and Society, 17 (3):57-65.
_____, 1993. Staying in Place: Farm Homes and Family Heritage. Housing and Society, 20 (2):45-60.
Relph, E., 1976. Place and Placelessness. London: Pion.