Sunday, May 15, 2005

Thinking About Place: Reading Notes, Pt. 1

Tuan, Yi-Fu. “Rootedness Versus Sense of Place.” (1980) Cultural Geography: Critical Concepts in the Social Sciences. Vol. 1. eds. Nigel Thrift and Susan Whatmore. NY: Routledge, 2004: 263-271.

Australian aborigines maintain their awareness of place not so much with material fabrications as with words and gestures—with the stories they tell and the rituals they perform. The power of words is further illustrated in the settlement of a new land. Explorers conjure places out of the wilderness by simply naming certain peaks and rivers. When the farmers and traders move in, they enter an already baptized world. The city is a built environment, full of places. Still, the reality of these places in individual minds lacks stability. City people are constantly “making” and “unmaking” places by talking about them. A network of gossip can elevate one shop to prominence and consign another to oblivion. A shop is only a shop when it has customers; in a sense, a place is its reputation.
Gestures, either alone or in association with speech and the making of things, create place. For example, when an explorer names a mountain he may at the same time put a cross on it: the ritual words for place-making are reinforced by a ritual gesture. Certain places are sacred because of the sacred objects . . . in them. . . . Words and gestures are ephemeral compared with objects. Yet, not only do objects themselves vary greatly in durability, but their role in sustaining a sense of place may not depend on their permanence. Consider the Mbona cult of southern Malawi and the adjacent areas of Mozambique. The shrine at the cult center is a hut made of highly perishable material. It has to be rebuilt on the average once every five years. What unifies the far-flung members of the Mbona cult and gives the cult center its special aura is not the shrine but the act of building it—not so much the final material product as the cooperative effort anf gesture. (Tuan, 267)

In the most literal sense, we create places with sticks and stones. A built object organizes, transforming it into place. This object may be a piece of sculpture. A jar put on a hill, the poet Wallace Stevens says, can tame the surrounding space, which rises up to the jar and no longer seems wild. The object my be an ordinary house or a monument such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, a warehouse or a striking office building such as the Trasnamerica skyscraper in San Francisco. (Tuan, 267-268 Thivai—oppressive humanism in the sense that this is a view that sees “place” as only defined by human usage and marking—it is only perceived and meaningful for humans, all else is “wild” and unrealized spaces. Tuan seems to pull back, or refine, this strong humanism in later works, perhaps from criticism?)

Nast, Heidi J. and Steve Pile. “Introduction MakingPlacesBodies.” Cultural Geography: Critical Concepts in the Social Sciences. Vol. 1. eds. Nigel Thrift and Susan Whatmore. NY: Routledge, 2004: 317-334.

. . . the impression that the individual is located in a body and that being in a body is also about being in a place warrants further scrutiny. It turns out that our universals—the body, the body in place, being in place—are actually unique, specific, singular. Paradoxically, then, at the same time that we all have bodies, none of us has the same body as everyone else; conversely, at the same time as we live in a particular place, no place is completely isolated from everyone else (even Robinson Crusoe’s island was connected to other parts of the world—just not very often!)
Our bodies are unique, yet everyone else has a body too. If our bodies and places are unique, then this implies that only we can experience the world in the way we do—but, since other people have bodies and can live in the same places, our experiences cannot after all be unique. The argument is moving in circles. Both bodies and places need to be freed from the logic that says that they are either universal or unique. Instead, it would be better to think of the ways in which bodies and places are understood, how they are made and how they are interrelated, one to the other—because this is how we live our lives—through places, through the body. (Nast and Pile, 317)

For {Thivai—Gilian in Feminism and Geography} Rose, the body is placed “geopolitically”: its location is marked by its position with specific historical and geographical circumstances. It matters, to Rich, that she is a citizen of the United States of America. At the time of writing, she was arguing that the Cold War was reaching new heights, as American foreign (and domestic) politics was dominated by the fear of a communist take-over, prompting insidious interventions in central America and beyond. Meanwhile, black politics at home made Rich acutely aware of her whiteness, while in Nazi Germany she would not have been whit enough. For Rich, it is not enough to assert some kind of universal feminist struggle, but to recognize the specificities of women’s struggles in their situatedness, their location in history, on the map. (Nast and Pile, 318)

Bit by bit, bodies become relational, territorialized in specific ways. Indeed, places themselves might be said to be exactly the same: the, too, are made-up out of relationships between, within and beyond them; territorialized through scales, borders, geography, geopolitics. Bodies and places, then, are made-up through the production of their spatial registers, through relations of power. Bodies and places are woven together through intricate webs of social and spatial relations that are made by, and make, embodied subjects. (Nast and Pile, 320)

Rich, Adrienne. “Notes Toward a Politics of Location.” Blood, Bread and Poetry. London: Virago Press, 1984: 210-231.

I need to understand how a place on the map is also a place in history within which as a woman, a Jew, a lesbian, a feminist I am created and trying to create. (Rich, 212; see also Nast and Pile, 318)

Dubin, Steven C. Displays of Power: Memory and Amnesia in the American Museum. NY: New York University Press, 1999.

Museums are important venues in which a society can identify itself and present itself publicly. Museums solidify culture, endow it with a tangibility, in a way few other things do . . . . Museums have always featured displays of power. (Dubin, 3)

Goss, Jon. “Once-Upon-A-Time In the Commodity World: An Unofficial Guide to Mall of America.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 89.1 (1999): 45-75.

Long ago, the land beneath the Mall of America was home to golden fields of grain and lush pastures. It then became home field to thousands of cheering fans as the site of a major sports complex, Metropolitan Stadium. Since Mall of America opened its doors, the site welcomes over 40 million visitors each year. (Mall of America Souvenir Book, 1996: 3 quoted in Goss, 50)

Pynchon, Thomas. Gravity’s Rainbow. NY: Bantam, 1974.

In a corporate state, a place must be made for innocence, and its many uses. In developing an official version of innocence, the culture of childhood has proven invaluable. Games, fairy-tales, legends from history, all the paraphernalia of make-believe can be adapted and even embodied in a physical place. (Pynchon, 488)

Cook, Ian and Philip Crang. “The World on a Plate: Culinary Culture, Displacement and Geographical Knowledges.” (1996) Cultural Geography: Critical Concepts in the Social Sciences. Vol. 1. eds. Nigel Thrift and Susan Whatmore. NY: Routledge, 2004: 463-484.

We follow Daniel Miller (1987 {Thivai—Material Culture and Mass Consumption}) in understanding material culture as involving processes in which cultural life is objectified, in which objects are constructed as social forms, and hence in which cultural artifacts have to be understood in relationship to their social and spatial contexts. (Cook and Crang, 463)

As we have said, this reconstitution involves a double commodity fetish. In the first fetishization, consumed commodities and their valuations are divorced for and by consumers from the social relations of their production and provision through the construction of ignorances about the biographies and geographies of what we consume. (Cook and Crang, 466)

And in a similar vein, but speaking to our subject matter more closely, David Harvey reflects on his own eating habits and talks about how ‘we can in practice consume our meal without the slightest knowledge of the intricate geography of production and the myriad social relations embedded in the system that puts it on our table’. He considers the grapes that ‘sit upon the supermarket shelves mute’ and emphasizes how, as consumers, ‘we cannot see the fingerprints of exploitation on them or tell immediately what part of the world they come from’ (Harvey, 1990: 422-3). In turn, Robert Sack’s geographical analysis of contemporary consumer worlds further develops Harvey’s suggestion that consumer ignorances are spatially as well as socially constructed, arguing that commodity fetishism is forged through the increasingly distanciated spatialities of commodity systems:
. . . the consumer’s world attempts to create the impression that it has little or no connection to the production cycle and its places. It hides or disguises these extremely important connections. (Sack, 1993: 103-4)
Indeed for Sack this hiding of and ignorance about these connections is the fundamental reason for the amorality of contemporary consumer cultures, in that ‘moral agents . . . must be responsible and that means know the consequences of their actions’ whereas ignorance of social connections ‘promote[s] irresponsibility, which is immoral’ (Sack, 1993: 22-3). (Cook and Crang, 466-467 {Thivai—Harvey is from “Between Space and Time: Reflections on the Geographical Imagination.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 80: 418-434 and Sack is from Place, Modernity and the Consumer’s World. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkin’s University Press. Also important, Rebecca Solnit’s “The Silence of the Lambswool Cardigan”; Barbara Kingsolver’s “Lily’s Chickens”; Eric Schlosser’s Reefer Madness; and Michel Pollan’s Botany of Desire})

. . . foods do not simply come from places, organically growing out of them, but also make places as symbolic constructs, being deployed in the discursive construction of various imaginative geographies. (Cook and Crang, 471 {Thivai—think of the foods that define certain European countries and where they were originally from, such as British tea (India), Italian pasta (China), etc… what (relational) geographies have been un-imagined in our identification of these places with these foods? Once again Michel Pollan is a key thinker on this subject, especially in helping us to think the world “pomocentrically.”} )

Cultural circuits’ representational politics produce and deploy varying kinds of geographical knowledge about food commodities. Schematically we can consider three that may be constructed for and by food consumers, concerning: settings (the contexts in which they can and should be used); biographies (how they move about the food system); and origins (where foods come from). Geographical knowledges about settings evaluate the appropriate uses of foods and contexts for their consumption. This involves knowledge about the resources needed for domestic preparation, such as recipes and kitchen tools, and judgments on the appropriate physical and social environments for consumption. Knowledges concerning the biographies of foods’ production and distribution (i.e. knowledges about how foods have been made and how they have reached consumers), whilst more generally apparent, are stressed most explicitly in various ‘ethical’ food products, whether those be fair-trade products such as Café Direct, or meat products that are ‘animal friendly’. Knowledges about ‘origins’ can take varying forms. They might construct geographies of specific places or regions of product origin, construction often associated with meanings of tradition and authenticity. A highly codified example are the ‘geographical indications’ attached to various agricultural products—including appellations d’origine (which specify the locally distinctive character of production) as well as more general indications of source… And/or they might involve constructed geographies much more loosely expressive of cultural differences; examples include ‘foreign’ foods, or, increasingly commonly, ‘exotic’ and ‘ethnic’ foods, and their apparent opposite, ‘everyday’ and ‘familiar foods’ … . (Cook and Crang, 474 {Thivai—perhaps also how supposedly ‘foreign’ or ‘ethnic’ foods are pale imitations of a poorly understood source, for example, meat-heavy Americanized versions of Asian foods or the popular Mexican foods that are actually Texan or Californian})

No comments: