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Why Sense of Place is Valid in Human Geography

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Place is a fundamental concept in Human Geography. It is where humans exist – thriving or surviving – and discover their identity, finding out where they belong. It is an indisputable fact that everyone has their own sense of place, and this essay reveals a relevant topic to better understand the concept.

According to critics such as Agnew, ‘Place’ the word – as used in the realm of Human Geography – comprises three aspects. These are: Location, referring to the physical coordinates of a place; Locale referring to the ‘setting for social interaction’ – which has arguably become more mobile and less fixed by coordinates as globalisation has taken hold – and a ‘Sense of Place’ defined as the emotional attachment felt between human and place. Unravelling the importance of place in Human Geography is complex. ‘Place’ is a physical location where humans interact and build communities – which in turn engender emotional attachment, creating Agnew’s ‘sense of place.’ However, if a physical location has negative qualities such as frequently experiencing war, or it has a hostile climate – a poor standard of living may ensue. This may then disrupt social interaction, erode community feeling and destroy emotional connections between people and place: Agnew’s ‘sense of place.’

This situation – loss of ‘sense of place’ – is typically seen in rural areas across the globe, where sparsely populated areas lack social interaction. However, Tuan said: ‘Attachment to place can also emerge, paradoxically, from experiencing nature’s intransigence’, implying that farmers in remote areas may still feel ‘sense of place’ due to their connectedness, and perhaps counterintuitively, their battle with nature. This suggests that wherever humans live, ‘place’ as defined by Agnew may be found – hence reinforcing its importance to Human Geography. Locale, as an aspect of place, refers to its dynamism: As people and ideas interact and move through, the locale of place reconfigures. Globalisation – the interconnectedness of places due to the sharing of people and ideas – has accelerated over the past two hundred years and consequently more traditionally fixed locations have become locales. The location of South Korea, for example, is a country in Asia; Its locale however comprises quantifiable objects such as buildings and infrastructure like the Seoul-Pusan motorway, built there to improve transportation links to other places.

South Korea has recently developed into an industrialised country because of a global shift in economic activity, but the’ sense of place’ it has managed to retain may be due to large family-run businesses known as Chaebols and their underlying belief of Confucianism – a traditional work ethic. The people work hard for a better standard of living which in turn contributes to a positive sense of place and how they perceive their country. However, Massey’s theory of place would counter this analysis. She would argue that place is determined by movement through it which can be positive or negative. She sees place as a mosaic with boundaries representing borders of different countries, regions or states with the character of these bordered places changing when people or ideas enter, rather than influenced by longstanding ideas such as cultural beliefs.

In this modern, capitalist world, people and companies pursue profit and this in turn, retracts place as defined by Agnew because community isn’t important. Commerce takes precedence and humans lose sense of place. This is unchecked capitalism. For example, a housing company may lose interest in creating communities for people to call home, with extra green space and instead focus on profit. Tourist locations also share the need to profit, an example being Benidorm. This was a small fishing village where residents were part of a community with income coming from fishing. Benidorm has now become a large-scale seaside resort, eroding community and with it the traditional sense of place. And although a new ‘sense of place’ may appear with the tourists, it will have different roots and be born out of different experiences of place.

In conclusion, place is not just a physical location but a feeling and an experience. This ranges from small scale examples where a person’s home acquires ‘sense of place’ for them through community and social interaction, all the way to how a city’s sense of place can evolve due to large geographical processes such as globalisation and tourism, place is a critical concept in the study of Human Geography. References


  • Amin, A. (2002). Spatialities of globalisation. Environment and Planning, 385-399.
  • Amsden, A. H. (1989). Asia’s next giant . New York: Oxford University Press.
  • J.A.Agnew. (1987). The geographical mediation of state and society. Place and Politics .
  • Massey, D. (1994). Space, Place and Gender. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota press.
  • The Importance of Place and Connectedness. (2002). In N. R. Council, Community and quality of life (pp. 55-75). Washington.D.C: National Academy Press.

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