Defining Place

Fundamentally, we humans are a “place-loving and place-making” species, observed Alastair Bonnett, professor of Social Geography at Newcastle University, in his 2014 book Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies. “Place” – we inhabit it and need it and create it. But what does the term mean? How should we define it? Tim Cresswell (@CresswellTim), a human geographer by training and currently a professor at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut explored the concept in detail in his wide-ranging study Place: An Introduction, first published in 2004 and re-issued in 2014. This rich inter-disciplinary discussion includes topics such as landscape, mobility, sexuality and memory.

Place: An Introduction by Tim Cresswell (2015, Wiley Blackwell)

In the following paragraph from the introduction, Cresswell highlights the many different ways in which the word “place” is used in everyday speech. The referent could be physical or psychological in nature:

Think of the ways place is used in everyday speech. “Would you like to come round to my place?” This suggests ownership or some kind of connection between a person and a particular location or building. It also suggests a notion of privacy and belonging. “My place” is not “your place” – you and I have different places. “Brisbane is a nice place.” Here “place” is referring to a city in a common sense kind of way and the fact that it is nice suggests something of the way it looks and what it is like to be there. “She put me in my place” refers to more of a sense of position in a social hierarchy. “A place for everything and everything in its place” is another well-known phrase that suggests that there are particular orderings of things in the world that have a socio-geographical basis. Place is everywhere. This makes it different from other terms in geography like “territory,” which announces itself as a specialized term, or “landscape” which is not a word that permeates through our everyday encounters.


“She put me in my place.” (Photo: Pixabay)


How does mere space turn into “place”? Cresswell gives a good example: one’s moving into a room at a college accommodation. When you first step in, all you see is an area of floor and a volume of air, with some rudimentary pieces of furniture. This space has a history. A former owner has scribbled their name on the desk or spilled some coffee that is now a stain on the carpet. To this room, which is haunted by past inhabitation:

You add your possessions, rearrange the furniture within the limits of the space, put your own posters on the wall, arrange a few books purposefully on the desk. Thus space is turned into place. Your place.


“Thus space is turned into place.” (Photo: Dorm room by User “Daniel Borman”, CC BY 2.0, Flickr


Learn more in this fascinating video in which Tim Cresswell discusses the role of movement in the modern age:


Image Credit:

Featured: Pixabay (edited)



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