Notes from a #PopUpSeminar on Discourses of Place

The inspiration for a Pop-Up Seminar came after Gareth Morris attended a Pop-Up Tea Party/underground tea room. He saw no reason why academics and similar interested parties couldn’t borrow the model and make it work for them. Earlier this year, a group of people interested in spaces and places met at the University of Salford’s MediaCityUK campus for a Pop-Up Seminar on Discourses of Place. This post covers who we are, what we talked about, and what we plan to do next.  I post them now as we are planning to met again soon and it would be great if you would like to join us.

About Us

Jenna Condie – Lecturer in Psychology and Postgraduate Researcher at the University of Salford. (Stood in for Gareth Morris who had the best excuse for not being able to attend the Pop-Up Seminar ever – the early arrival of his twins. Congratulations Gareth).
Interests include: discursive psychology, living alongside railways, how people construct places as disruptive within their talk, enterprising places, the role of community events, online places, social media, social housing.

Angelina Brotherhood –Public Health Researcher at Liverpool John Moores University, Postgraduate Researcher at the University of Vienna, Austria.
Interests include: spaces and places and how people relate to them, micro-spaces, different relationships to space, mapping places symbolically, non-places, heterotopias, private-public spaces (do people think in these categories?), urban sociology, health promotion.

Kim Foale – Postgraduate Researcher at the University of Salford, web developer at Off The Grid, Community manager for The Border House.
Interests include: soundscapes, the sociology of acoustics, gender and embodiment, grounded theory, sound diaries, the concept of the ‘expert listener’, feminist analyses of gaming, virtual worlds and social media.

Ann Kolodziejski – Senior Lecturer and Postgraduate Researcher at The University of Bolton.
Interests include: qualitative research, sense of place, human ecology (interdisciplinary), ordinary landscapes, workshop methods as a way for people to explore their places, KETSO, sensory walks, local planning.

Sarah Longlands – Full time ESRC Postgraduate Researcher at the University of Glasgow.
Interests include: place & growth, economic development strategies, development policies (e.g. regeneration), language used to reinforce growth in place and how this impacts upon decision making in planning.

Bret Shah – Radio Presenter on 6townsradio, Love Stoke Project, Blogger, Tutor.
Interests include: understanding why people are negative about places, positivity, optimism, health, well-being and happiness, what happens when we talk 100% positively about place.

Laura McGrath – Lecturer and Postgraduate researcher at The University of East London.
Interests include: space in service users experiences of community mental health care, living in ‘the community’ with distress, mapping methods, narratives of distress, reduced availability of community mental health care spaces.

Our discussions
We talked about a whole host of different topics and issues around place. Here is a summary of the main themes that emerged from our Pop-Up Seminar.

Space and Place – what’s the difference?

  • What space and place are, and how they differ from one another, became almost an overarching theme for our discussions and something that we kept coming back to throughout the seminar.
  • Space is social in that it provides meaning for people. Space can be anywhere e.g. virtual spaces. Place is a geographical location with its meaning and value constructed in language and how we talk about places.
  • We talked about how policies about place construct places as if they are space, which acts to ‘neutralise’ place-talk and position places in certain ways. E.g. the ‘can do’ discourses of Milton Keynes– do people in Milton Keynes feel like it’s a ‘can do’ place?
  • Discourses such as ‘growth’, ‘sustainability’ appear the credible and safe options for constructing places in policy and planning. Sarah will explore such discourses in her PhD.

People need a space to talk about place

  • Places are complex and dynamic so we need to talk about them.
  • One of the problems Bret faced in branding ‘lovestoke’ was that Stoke-on-Trent is divided into six towns or territories. How can people be united as one place that they are all passionate about?
  • Identifying with a place contributes to feeling part of an area and in turn people can be defensive when ‘outsiders’ have a negative perception about their place.
  • On the other hand, do places have such important implications for our identity? Is it ok or acceptable to be negative about place?
  • Could identities of place be a class issue? If you have other things to construct your identity around (e.g. work, hobbies, etc), place as a part of your identity might play a lesser role.
  • In Ann’s workshops with residents of ‘deprived’ areas, there were complex interpretations of places. Participants in Ann’s research welcomed the chance to explore place. Perhaps, we don’t get chance to talk about places enough.
  • In modern times, it seems we have more choice about where to live (particular adults with income) yet people stay where they are and are negative about it e.g. ‘living in a dump’.
  • Belonging to an identity can feel like a space, or provide a cultural identity e.g. belonging to an LGBT community can feel like a place.
  • Our words determine our realities, and we choose words for all the different places that exist. For example, not everyone refers to home as ‘home’.

Marketing and Place

  • Love Stoke started when Bret ventured onto Twitter, chose two words he liked ‘Love’ and ‘Stoke’, put them together, and created ‘LoveStoke’. Within a few days, Bret started receiving abuse to the Twitter account with residents of Stoke being very negative about their place. Bret was completely independent of the local council but received complaints about bins not being collected and so on. He decided to be 100% positive about Stoke through the account to show Stoke in a positive light.
  • We questioned whether love can change a city, which brought us to the high profile ‘ILoveMCR’ campaign and the dialogue around the August riots last year. The ‘I’ in ‘ILOVEMCR’ was something Bret wanted to avoid with his Love Stoke project.
  • Considering the amount of ‘I love [insert any place here]’ campaigns that have arisen from the original ‘I love New York’ campaign, we felt that residents living places that use such campaigns might not relate to them as they say little about a place’s identity or uniqueness. Place marketing strategies for a range of different places all appear to be similar.
  • Having said that, we talked about when particular aspects of places are overemphasised to create places, which attracts tourists and visitors. The examples we talked about were Vienna with its history (Angelina), Belfast with the Titanic (Sarah), Huddersfield/Holmfirth with Last of the Sumer Wine (Jenna).

Media Representations of Places

  • We briefly talked about the reach of media in constructing places.
  • The ‘expert’ on places is the person on TV, not the people who live there.
  • Are local people not trusted enough to represent their place in the media?
  • Bret’s LoveStoke social media activity was discussed as a ‘channel’ for local people to voice their opinion and experiences about their place, albeit negatively at first.
  • Virtual and ‘real’ spaces and places
  • Facebook changing & privacy. Augmented reality.
  • Twitter – not ‘mapping’ the real world like Facebook is.
  • For some, community is now online and spread geographically and thus not dependent upon a physical location.
  • “The world has shrunk” in that there is no time or place for exploring. Car restricts mobility through spaces and surroundings. Can explore online.

Community and neighbourhood – who are we doing it for?

  • We talked a lot about the utopia of community. In Laura’s research, community is seen as the preferred space for people with mental health issues (‘distress’) as opposed to institutions. Yet being distressed in the community is difficult and challenging.
  • Everyone is different – there are people who like to get involved in ‘the community’ and those who don’t. Those who don’t could be seen as ‘the enemies of neighbourhood’ in the policy and strive towards creating a communities and neighbourhoods.
  • Who you are (e.g. age, ethnicity, gender etc) impacts upon whether you ‘belong’ to a community.
  • In Ann’s research, people reminisced about their childhood and the freedom they had to explore places. In adulthood, movement in place is restricted, unless you’ve got a dog!

What’s next?
We did plan to meet again, somewhere, somehow!  Today, Angelina suggested we meet soon so I’ve put these notes up as a way to get thinking about what we want to do, what topic/s to focus on, where to meet, and also to enable new people to join us.  Any thoughts, comments, suggestions are much appreciated.  See you soon.