Issue 172, October 2022 – Thinking Place: Materiality, Atmospheres and Spaces of Belonging

The Bridge (1930), Dorrit Black, Art Gallery of South Australia

Issue 172, October 2022

Thinking Place: Materiality, Atmospheres and Spaces of Belonging

Guest Editors: Eduardo de la Fuente, Margaret Gibson, Michael James Walsh and Magdalena Szypielewicz

This special issue examines the dynamic and double-sided nature of thinking place (for example that place is both a set of physical characteristics such as climate, topography, the natural and built environment, and the moods, narratives and practices generated by such contexts). The articles highlight, in varying degrees, the importance of ‘materiality’, ‘atmospheres’ and ‘spaces of belonging’ to the shaping of place and the social relations experienced via place. Since the post-humanist turn, thinking about place has become finely attuned to the environmental habitations, sonics, rhythms, forms and atmospheres that are always more-than-human agents. Shifting into registers of affective experience, thinking place can open up towards the murmuring of the world and forms of vital life and atmospherics beckoning and exceeding representational capture.


Introduction to thinking place: Materiality, atmospheres and spaces of belonging

Eduardo de la Fuente, Margaret Gibson, Michael James Walsh, Magdalena Szypielewicz

This introduction positions the special issue by highlighting the inherent relationality of place as well as how place is not just an object of analysis but something that shapes thinking, writing and experiences of the world. We reflect on why sociology has found it somewhat more difficult than its social science counterparts to give place the centrality it merits, and discuss whether this reflects a problem with dealing with questions of ‘scale’ and thinking the ‘in-betweenness’ of place. We assess important formulations of place in recent place theories, including non-essentialist framings of place such as ‘progressive’ and as ‘assemblage’. We make a case for seeing the articles in this special issue (and Thesis Eleven’s own long history of publishing writing on the topic of place) as resonating with the themes of place as materiality, atmospheres and spaces of belonging.

The affective and sensory potencies of urban stone: Textures and colours, commemoration and geologic convivialities [Open Access]

Tim Edensor

In drawing out how human lives are always already inextricably entangled with the non-human elements of the world, this paper explores how stone, as a constituent of urban materiality, provokes a wealth of emotional, sensory and affective impacts in the experience of place. The paper discusses how the sonic, tactile and visual qualities of stone contribute to the sensory and affective experience of places, shape the symbolic meanings and affective impacts of diverse memorials, and trigger a powerful sense of geological conviviality.

Socio-spatialities and affective atmospheres of COVID-19: A visual essay

Deborah Lupton

The COVID-19 crisis has generated an intensity of feeling globally, as people’s everyday spatial and embodied practices have been continually disrupted and fraught with anxiety and uncertainty. In this visual essay, I present and engage with smartphone photographs of public spaces in the Australian cities of Canberra and Sydney that I have accumulated as a ‘COVID Life’ archive. The photographs record my everyday experiences in and through spaces I inhabited and through which I moved. I have selected some of the images and provide a reflective analysis that draws on the concept of affective atmospheres to consider the sociomaterialities and spatialities evident in the images. I describe how the assemblages of people, things, place and space featured in these images generated a range of thoughts and feelings: both in the moment of capturing the images and in reviewing them at a later time as part of an archive of COVID memorialisation.

Memorials to murdered women: A study of the dynamics of claiming, marking and making place in publics of commemoration

Margaret Gibson and Kelly Burstow

This paper examines the emergence and trajectory of a vernacular femicide memorial tree at Mount Gravatt (Meanjin/Brisbane) which is juxtaposed with established and regulated official commemorative placemaking practices in this social geography. The paper explores the implicit rules about marking gender in official publics of commemoration, arguing that they perform or conversely risk a doubling of women’s invisibility through assimilation into symbols and aesthetic conventions of seemingly settled history and settled subjects. They can become barely noticeable for the kinds of messages they may seek to publicly speak and breakthrough in encounter. Conventional commemoration of violence against women also risks positioning women as ‘victims’ by not unsettling that position through passive, familiar and assimilationist design forms and narrative tropes. Importantly, memorials that address violence against women and intimate femicide should contest ‘active forgetting’ by insisting that this is a public facing, collective issue of responsibility against resistant effacements, disavowal, and sequestration into the private sphere and personal life.

Ketch Yorlye Daun Paradise: Sense of place, heritage and belonging in Norfolk Island’s Kingston and Arthur’s Vale Historic Area [Open Access]

Zelmarie Cantillon and Sarah Baker

Senses of place are strongly intertwined with senses of heritage and cultural identity. Heritage places are distinctive not only for their tangible dimensions, but also the intangible qualities which give them meaning. The conservation of heritage places, however, has often emphasised the materiality of place rather than its symbolic significance. This article explores issues surrounding sense of place and heritage management through a focus on the former site of the Paradise Hotel in Norfolk Island’s Kingston and Arthur’s Vale Historic Area. Drawing on interviews and a zine co-created with Norfolk Island residents, the article unpacks various ways participants articulate connections to the Paradise via their memories and recollections of the past as well as their present interpretation of and engagement with the site. Through a localised case study, the article provides insight into transnational challenges for the relationship between sense of place, heritage value and heritage management and interpretation.

Lifestyle migration in place: Notes from the field

Nick Osbaldiston and Caitlin Buckle

In this paper we seek to examine the quest for a better way of life through migration, known as lifestyle migration, by positioning place as the a priori condition through which this experience happens. Following the work of Malpas, we argue that lifestyle migration literature has often positioned place in the background, failing to notice how an individual’s style of life is enacted through place and because of it. In order to understand the lifestyle in these migrations, place must be taken seriously as a grounding theoretical and empirical topic for investigation. Using a topographical approach, we propose using the metaphorical concept of ‘survey marks’ which are designed to understand the different components of place which make up the whole. We set out three of these in our interrogation of empirical research of lifestyle migrants in Tasmania and on the Sunshine Coast in Australia to illustrate the importance of place in this research.

The sonic framing of place: Microsociology, urban atmospheres and quiet hour shopping

Eduardo de la Fuente and Michael James Walsh

In this article we examine the sonic framing of place. Our theoretical approach combines Goffman’s microsociology (and its sociology of music/sound studies off-shoots) with an account of sound in the urban atmospheres literature. Drawing on the work of French urban sociologist Jean-Paul Thibaud and associated work on sound in urban environments by the CRESSON research centre, we propose that sound frames activity in particular ways, including by infusing self and space with a certain tone, and by rendering places more or less hospitable. In the latter part of the article, we examine Quiet Hour shopping as a case study in the sonic constitution and transformation of places. We conclude by reflecting on whether the social and cultural theoretical analysis of sound has suffered from a ‘noise bias’, and whether the ‘resonances’ of public places is a new frontier in both sociological research and in the politics of cities.

Places of belonging, loneliness and lockdown

Adrian Franklin and Bruce Tranter

We report new data from a survey of loneliness in Australia during the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020–21, in order to identify those age groups most at risk of increased loneliness. Counter-intuitively, proportionately fewer elderly Australians experienced increased loneliness as a result of lockdowns, as compared with 44% of those aged 19–29 and 31% of those aged 40–49. To explain this pattern, we investigated how lockdowns disturbed the complex connections between types of place affordance and the age-specific cultural scripts that normally give rise to a sense of belonging. For younger age groups, such scripts demand their identification with future orientations and a sense of belonging tied to the more distant and wide-ranging places of career advance, meeting, play, and pleasure that lockdown inhibited. By contrast, older retired cohorts were more inclined to frame their sense of belonging in the past through the maintenance of community connections and closer place-bonds of their locality, cultural places of memory and return that they were more happily confined to during lockdowns.

C.W. Mills’ notion of the ‘social milieu’ and its relevance for contemporary society

Keith Jacobs and Jeff Malpas

In Mills’ sociological analysis, a central notion is the ‘social milieu’ which encapsulates ‘the social setting of a person that is directly open to his personal experience’. For Mills, sociology should entail an investigation of the set of relations and practices that are a feature of human experience. Understanding the significance of Mills’ approach, we argue, requires grasping the way the notion of ‘milieu’ or ‘setting’ itself draws upon spatial and topological notions – notions that have become prominent in much contemporary sociological thinking. From this perspective, Mills’ work turns out to be relevant as a corrective, both to the undue emphasis on empirical particularity that is evident in some contemporary sociology and to what Mills viewed as ‘abstract’ theorisation. A large part of the relevance of Mills’ work for contemporary sociological problems and challenges is thus to be found in the way his emphasis on situation (or ‘place’), as given through the idea of ‘milieu’, allows a more complex and encompassing approach.

Places We Been

Peter Beilharz and Trevor Hogan

In response to the wonderful work of the editors and contributors to this special issue, we offer some combined reflections on the importance of place to the Thesis Eleven project, broadly defined, and including the textbooks that grew out of this field. We return to the impact and influence of two major intellectual resources in the work and thinking of Bernard Smith and George Seddon. These mavericks helped us to think our own sense of place, and to engage with the other places that we encountered and also sometimes think of as home. Place here nestles with movement as central conceptual coordinates.

Book reviews

Book reviews: Rethinking Dwelling: Heidegger, Place, Architecture

John Lechte

Book review: Life Takes Place: Phenomenology, Lifeworlds and Place Making

Nick Osbaldiston

Book review: Imaginative Possession: Learning to Live in the Antipodes

Eduardo de la Fuente

Book review: A Sociology of Place in Australia: Farming, Change and Lived Experience

Belinda Probert

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