Geography Identity and Place
by
Marco Antonsich
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 December 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0030

Introduction

The relationship between identity and place is one of the most recurrent themes in geography. Yet there seems to be no agreement on what the key works are within this large scholarship. Each geographer seems to have his or her own answer. This article, therefore, aims to incorporate the richness and diversity of this scholarship, without claiming any ultimate, comprehensive overview. Instead, it suggests where to look further in order to understand the ways in which place intervenes in the reproduction of individual and collective identities and, more generally, how place and identity are mutually constituted. The article follows somewhat a loose chronological order, rather than focusing on specific places (the home, the city, the region, the nation, etc.). After a brief overview on the subject, the article opens with the phenomenological literature, which explores the intimate, unique link between an individual and a place. This is followed by works in environmental psychology, a branch of literature that has offered important insights into the relationship between identity and place, but which is little known in geography. The rise of post-structuralist, postcolonial, and feminist scholarship in the early 1990s has led to a shift in the geographical literature from identity to difference. Geographers have since engaged more frequently with gender, sexual, racial, and class differences, among others, by investigating how they are constituted in relation to places. Finally, the article discusses key works that explore the impact of globalization, broadly understood, on place-based identities, focusing specifically on transnational, diasporic, and cosmopolitan identities and their relationship to places.

General Overviews

Rose 1995 is a very approachable introduction to the link between identity and place, suitable for an undergraduate level. Paasi 1996 is an investigation of the ways in which national territories and people’s identities are constructed through the demarcation and enforcement of political boundaries. McDowell 1997 is a reader that provides a broad, although somewhat dated overview of the mutual constitution of places and people. Sack 1997 offers a genealogy of place, largely imbued with a phenomenological approach, which illustrates how the relationship between people and places varies in the passage from premodern to modern societies. Cresswell 2004 is an authoritative introduction to the notion of place that also intersects issues of subject formation. Massey 2005 is one of the most cited geographical texts; it does not address directly the relationship between identity and place, but offers a philosophical and theoretical framework to reflect on how space-time, place, identity, and difference are all co-constituted. Taylor 2010 offers both a theoretical overview of the relationship between place and identity and an empirical account of how this relationship plays out in women’s lives. Jones and Garde-Hansen 2012 is an edited collection that explores the dynamics of identity, place, and becoming by attending to the relationship between geography and (individual) memory in a rather interdisciplinary fashion.

  • Cresswell, Tim. Place: A Short Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

    E-mail Citation »

    Despite the title, the books offers a comprehensive introduction to the notion of place, how it is implicated in processes of identity formation, and how it also intervenes to normalize and naturalize identity. The final chapter contains a list of useful resources for students.

  • Jones, Owain, and Joanne Garde-Hansen, eds. Geography and Memory. Explorations in Identity, Place and Becoming. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137284075E-mail Citation »

    Through academic, literary, artistic, and therapeutic approaches, the book offers a variegated introduction to the importance of personal memories in subject formation, attending to what the editors call geographies of memories and memories of geographies.

  • Massey, Doreen. For Space. London and Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2005.

    E-mail Citation »

    A compelling argument for thinking of space as an open, relational, and ongoing production, providing the necessary condition for the formation and transformation of identity and difference.

  • McDowell, Linda, ed. Undoing Place?: A Geographical Reader. London: Arnold, 1997.

    E-mail Citation »

    This reader introduces the student to how collective and personal identities are shaped through their relations with place. Multiple scales (home, locality, region, and nation) are analyzed through perspectives of gender, race, class, and age, although the focus is mainly on United Kingdom and the United States.

  • Paasi, Anssi. Territories, Boundaries and Consciousness: The Changing Geographies of the Finnish-Russian Border. Chichester, UK: John Wiley, 1996.

    E-mail Citation »

    A key reading for understanding the construction of identity of places and place-identities, based on a detailed account of the Finno-Russian border(land).

  • Rose, Gillian. “Place and Identity: A Sense of Place.” In A Place in the World. Edited by Doreen Massey and Pat Jess, 87–132. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

    E-mail Citation »

    The link between place and identity is analyzed, in a very accessible way, according to three different registers: identification with a place; identification against a place (the construction of “we” vs. “them”); and non-identification with places (feelings of displacement or estrangement).

  • Sack, Robert David. Homo Geographicus: A Framework for Action, Awareness, and Moral Concern. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

    E-mail Citation »

    A book that explores, in philosophical and historical terms, the geographical embeddedness of the Self, suggesting how human life happens in the dialectical relations between “thick” (cultural) and “thin” (functional) places.

  • Taylor, Stephanie. Narratives of Identity and Place. London: Routledge, 2010.

    E-mail Citation »

    The book provides a theoretical introduction to the relationship between identity and place from psychological, sociological, and geographical perspectives. Although the empirical focus is on how women’s identities are constructed in and through places, the book proves useful to the study of identity formation more generally.

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