Symposium Abstract

As noted in the seminal text by Altman and Low (1992), place attachments are the emotional bonds that people have with places in their lives. These connections are a powerful aspect of human life that inform our sense of identity, create meaning, facilitate community and influence action. Since that landmark book, there have been considerable advancements in place attachment theory and research that have expanded our understanding of the phenomenon beyond the more conventional conceptualization of attachments as positive affective ties to residential places. Current research on place attachments demonstrates that they are, in fact, multi-valenced, complex and dynamic relationships that we have with a variety of places at different scales (Manzo & Devine-Wright, 2013). In an era of increasing change and uncertainty, the dynamism and dialectical nature of place attachments become even clearer. Place attachments have bearings on such diverse issues as rootedness and alienation, placemaking and displacement, mobility and migration, intergroup conflict, civic engagement, social/public housing, urban development, natural resource management and global climate change (Manzo and Devine-Wright, 2013). It is not surprising, then, that scholarly understandings of place attachment now reflect a plurality of theoretical frameworks, methods of inquiry and applications. This reveals not only the maturity and vitality of the discourse, but also the political and socially constructed nature of place attachments.

Such a dynamic approach to place attachments is commensurate with the conference theme of designing research and policies for changing lifestyles and communities for several reasons. First, a flexible and dynamic approach to understanding the way we connect to place is essential for helping people adapt to change. Second, a solid understanding of the complexities of place attachments is crucial for considering the full implication of what it means to transition to a sustainable society. Third, if we are to consider sustainability in all of its facets – environmental, economic and social –then we must take place attachments into account as a fundamental aspect of the social dimension of sustainability because it is those connections to place that will enable us to achieve and sustain communities we care about.

This symposium draws together leading scholars of place attachment to discuss the current research, and application of this important phenomenon. In doing so this symposium seeks to address ways of bringing together research, policy and practice, and promote multi-disciplinary approaches and critical thinking. This symposium consists of five papers that each describe empirical explorations of a key aspects of place attachment, from its impact on politically contested public space, to understanding how it informs conflicts over renewable energy sources, to its potential role in reducing ethnic bias in changing neighborhoods, to how it informs pro-environmental action and how it is complicated by poverty, neighborhood change and displacement.

Key words: place attachment, environmental change, social sustainability, place memory,

Individual Papers for Symposium

Individual Paper Title #1: “Place attachment discourse in politically contested public spaces: A case study in Barcelona”

Urban regeneration programs entailing deep transformations of significant areas of a city (e.g. old neighborhoods with high symbolic value) often meet the opposition of groups of local inhabitants. Social contestation and political resistance to such programs may be grounded on arguments involving unwelcome alterations of community-shared meanings of the urban environment, or a sense of threat or lack of responsiveness to well-established people-place bonds. In this frame, place discourse and talk about human-environment relations becomes an ideologically strategic arena to warrant and undermine conflicting political projects of urban change. In this presentation we draw on a case-study of an urban conflict over the development of a public space in Barcelona to illustrate in particular the rhetorical uses of place attachment talk as a politically-driven practice. Our aim is however theoretical, namely outlining a discursive perspective on human-environment relations. Accordingly, we first introduce some conceptual and methodological principles of discursive psychology, and then exemplify these principles by discussing some recent environmental psychological research that has been influenced by the so-called ‘discursive turn.’ Finally, we underline the more specific implications of discursive psychology for understanding place attachment dynamics, using empirical data from our case study. The central argument is that rather than treating attachment as a deep-seated, internalized, emotional affinity that individuals experience towards particular places, discursive research treats it as a phenomenon that is linguistically constructed as individuals, together, formulate the everyday meanings of person-in-place relationships. By shifting analytic attention away from the internal experiences of the socially isolated individual and towards the practices through which individuals jointly warrant, contest and transform human-environment relationships, we believe that discursive research can significantly enrich people-place studies. Finally, we mention some potential limitations of the discursive approach and directions for further research.

Keywords: urban regeneration, public space, place attachment, discursive approach

Individual Paper Title #2: “Essentialising places: understanding the strategic role of discursive constructions within siting conflict”

Large-scale renewable energy and associated technologies (RET), such as high voltage power lines (HVPL), often meet opposition from the local communities living nearby. Research has suggested that one of the main aspects that might contribute to this is the fact that RET are represented as industrial and urban, and thus, as having a different essence from rural landscapes, where they are usually deployed and which are represented as natural and unspoilt. However, this ‘hypothesis’ of landscape essentialisation shaping people’s responses to RET has not been explicitly examined. By drawing upon research from Social Psychology and Human Geography on essentialisation, we will examine if and how landscape essentialisation plays a role in people’s responses to RET. Namely, by examining it as a rhetorical construction that can be strategically used to negotiate and legitimize given relations with place and associated responses to RET.

Focus groups (N=8) were conducted in the UK with members of local communities to be affected by the construction of HVPLs that will connect to new low carbon energy technologies. Analyses show that participants present British rural landscapes in general – i.e. the British countryside - and HVPL as having two different essences, which justifies opposition to those infrastructures. However, analyses also show that essentialisation of the British countryside is strategically used. Namely, participants also present the countryside in the place where they live as having more of the essence of the British countryside than other areas of the UK. In turn, this allows them to legitimize claims that whereas HVPL are ‘out of place’ in the British countryside in general, they are more so in the place where they live.

The implications of these results for the definition of acceptable locations for RET and for research on people-place relations and responses to place change, will be discussed.

Keywords: essentialisation, place attachment, responses to renewable energy and associated technologies, discursive approach

Individual Paper Title #3: “Place attachment and place memory: On the role of place attachment in reducing ethnic bias in collective memory of places”

Due to territorial changes in the post-war Eastern and Central Europe numerous cities located on these territories changed their state belonging and – consequently – their populations. Most of the previously multicultural cities are now ethnically homogeneous. As a result of the post-war migrations and of the political censorship imposed by the communist regimes on memory of pre-war times, we observe at present a “collective amnesia” – unawareness of the cities’ pre-war history and a strong Historical Ethnic Bias – overestimation of the role of own nation in the history of residence places and neglect of the role of their previous inhabitants.

The studies carried out in several cities and towns revealed a powerful Ethnic Bias and a number of factors contributing to its reduction. In this presentation I will focus on the role played by attachment to residential places. I will show that place attachment through its different forms has a direct and indirect positive impact on the open-minded attitude towards the multicultural character of residence places. I will also discuss the complex relationships that exist between place attachment and two different forms of national identity: attachment to the country and glorification of the country.

Key words: place memory, historical ethnic bias, place attachment, national identity

Individual Paper Title #4: “Relations between place attachment, community identity and pro-environmental actions”

Place attachment has been conceptualized within people-environment studies mainly as an outcome of human’s transactions with their habitats. In this presentation we will review and discuss psychological research focused on the consequences of place attachment, and similar constructs such as place and community identity, for environmental quality and sustainability. We will present studies from the literature and recent empirical findings suggesting either a positive or a negative link between place attachment and pro-environmental behaviour, and the possible moderators of this relationship. The psychological and contextual factors (e.g., direct economic interest, public participation, trust in institutions) that can turn place-attached individuals and groups into either pro- or anti-environmental actors will be discussed and illustrated through examples from recent empirical works. The possible mediating mechanism operating in these two opposite paths will be also illustrated. We will refer to factors such as civic engagement and social cohesion in the pattern linking attachment and identity to pro-environmental outcomes, or to factors such as inter-group bias and NIMBYism (Not in My Backyard) in the pattern linking attachment and identity to anti-environmental outcomes. The theoretical and practical implications of these studies will be discussed.

Keywords: place attachment, pro-environmental behavior, community identity

Individual Paper Title #5: “Place Attachments and Resiliency: Lessons from the Experience of Displacement”

At a time of global financial crisis, urban restructuring programs in Western Europe and the U.S. have radically altered the landscape of affordable housing by demolishing much of its social/public housing stock. But what of the people who occupy this housing? While research has studied some of the impacts of such redevelopment programs on residents, it focuses more on economic impacts and does not adequately address the lived experience of place and the place attachments of displaced residents. This paper brings the literature on place attachment into the discussion of urban restructuring programs and synthesizes the results of several empirical studies conducted in the US by the author and colleagues to provide a more complete picture of the impacts of these programs on poor people. In doing so, this paper demonstrates how place attachments are complicated by poverty and power dynamics, and formed through socio-political processes – i.e. the interplay of policy and rhetoric with the active processes of meaning making among residents who are required to relocate. The paper concludes with a discussion of how place attachments can challenge the normative socio-spatial order put forward by contemporary urban restructuring programs.

While the research summarized in this paper takes place in the context of public housing redevelopment in the US, there are important lessons to be learned that could broaden place attachment theory and enable it to be more reflective of the socio-political realities of people’s lives. This paper underscores the need for a dynamic perspective on place attachments that properly reflects their socially constructed nature. This essential if place attachment research is to reflect the full complement of people’s experiences of place, enable a more socially inclusive research agenda to ensure, and to inform socially just urban change.

Keywords: urban restructuring programs, place attachment, neighborhood change, displacement