Power and Place: Risking the survival of one culture at the expense of another.
As part of my three year studies here, I am required to develop a thesis. Over this past semester I have begun the exploration of the idea of the interaction of government and its power over ‘place’. This brief write up is a quick commentary on some of my readings thus far.
A very brief explanation of the concept of ‘place’ is need first. Today we find it very easy, one could almost say fashionable, to identify oneself with where they are from. Over the past few decades, regionalism has become a large topic of discussion. This has not always been so. It wasn’t until the 15th and 16th century that people began to develop this concept of place. It was further developed in the 17th and 18th century during the age of enlightenment.
Many areas of study developed interest in place (or even landscape) throughout the ensuring centuries. Architects, landscape architects, sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, writers, artists, and geographers began exploring this abstract concept of place.
With the onset of postmodernism and views proposed by constructivists, people have begun to define ‘place’ as a phenomenon which is the product of peoples need to assign meaning to objects. These ‘places’ serve as cultural symbols which convey meaning and reflect “the self-definitions of the people within a particular cultural context” (Greider and Garkovich, p. 1). These places are important as they help convey the identity of these communities. ‘Places’ help communities say three things: who we were, who we are, and who we hope to be. (Greider and Garkovich, p. 2)
Communities work together and at odds with each other to define the meaning of place. These meanings are negotiated. One belief is that “reality is socially defined.” (As quoted in Greider and Garkovich, p. 20) In part, I agree with this proposal. However, this operates under a flawed presupposition. Personally, I don’t believe that all things are subjective to one’s interpretation. Many other cultures do not either. For instance, many Native American cultures would disagree that their reality of place is a social construct of their will, but rather the will of their maker. Many cultures epistemologies express similar stories.
Moving on. Many cultures have differing views of place and how landscape has come to symbolize these views. It is these competing views which cause people to come to heads and results in the disfranchisement and/or displacement of one of those cultures. Typically, the culture with the least amount of power suffers.
Some examples of conflicting views of place are:
*TVA (The Tennessee Valley Authority and New Deal construction of hydroelectric dams.)
*Narmada River, India (Dam projects)
*The National Park Service of the United States
*Lafayette Park (Detroit, MI)
*Central Park (Seneca Village)
*James White Parkway (Knoxville, TN)
*Market Square (Knoxville, TN)
*Many Olympic arenas (most recently China)
In a roundabout way these happenings and more are in some ways displays of power. I don’t mean that they are punitive measurements taken on people groups but rather it is believed that the greater good or that economic success is the best goal. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case.
The topic of ‘place’ is a very politically charged topic. Many sociologists are exploring this topic in depth. Place is a very current topic in the design industry, as mentioned before. How can we as designers create objects and places which speak to people’s past, present, and future?
So the question exists still, and most likely will for some time, how do we balance conflicting views of place so that everyone wins? Is it even possible to have a win/win situation?
For more readings on this topic please check out the following writings:
Donald Kunze, “The Idea of Place,” Thought and Place (New York: Peter Lang, 1987):
Greider, T. & Garkovich, L., 1994. Landscapes: The Social Construction of Nature and
the Environment. Rural Sociological Society, Lexington. 1-24.
Yung, L., Freimund, W., & Belsky, J., 2003. The Politics of Place: Understanding
Meaning, Common Ground, and Political Difference on the Rocky Mountain
Front. Society of American Foresters, Bethesda. 855-866
*This writing is only a representation of collected thoughts and does not seek to exist as a professionally edited article.