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Why use place as a conceptual framework?

Concepts of place

Children, like all of us, are embedded in their local places, wherever they may be and however interpenetrated by global flows of knowledge, materials and virtual connections. Place offers a common language across the various constituencies (children, teachers, families, policy makers, businesses) that participate in sustainability initiatives in schools and communities. As a conceptual framework, place provides a bridge between the local and global, real and representational, indigenous and non-indigenous, and different disciplinary approaches. Place itself is theorised in different ways according to the perspective of each person. Children have their own theories of place, as in Clayton's story and drawing. Rather than defining and delimiting what place means, we ask what can place enable in our thinking and empirical research? We draw on a range of understandings of place in the individual chapters in this book including 'thinking through Country', 'place as region', a 'global sense of place' and 'place as assemblage of more-than-human worlds'.

Place has been described as 'an unwindable spiral of material form and interpretative understandings or experiences' (Gieryn, 2000, p. 471). This shapes the way for us to examine both the real and the representational, and more importantly, the movement or passage between them. Both Massey (2005) and Martusewicz (2005) elaborate this idea further. Massey (2005, p. 131) proposes a 'global sense of place' as 'open, woven together out of ongoing stories, as a moment within power geometries, as a particular constellation within wider topographies of space and as in process, unfinished business'. Martusewicz (2005, p. 333) materialises this idea in her study of children in Detroit: 'For the kids in Detroit the commons include streets, sidewalks, parks and the empty lots, as well as language, practices, traditions and relationships held in common'. In focusing on children's sense of place within the post-industrial global context of Detroit, the researcher draws on a profound childhood memory of place to think about this relationship between the land itself, the body of the child and the production of representation in the form of a painting:

The stream and the surrounding fields, the water, my paints, my little girl's hand and eye and my translation in memory are all engaged in and part of this difference producing circuit. The lay of the land itself, creating the shores and the flow of the stream ... are also part of this dynamic generative system and cannot be separated from the possibility that a painting would emerge there or my words here.

(Martusewicz, 2005, p. 339)

Place in this passage is realised as an assemblage of actors and actions that together produce this moment. The water acts, the paints produce, along with the little girl's hand and eye, all generative within this moment. The place and its representations (in the painting and the later writing) cannot be separated, they are all part of this moment of layered childhood memories that is distinctly posthuman in its approach. 'Traditional [Western] ways of thinking about place' are critiqued as 'intently human-centric' (Duhn, 2012b, p. 102). A posthuman approach to place seeks to enact a broader vision of the human species as a part of the natural world. Place in this sense includes all of the elements of the world and its living creatures in continual dynamic processes of shaping each other. Bodies and materiality, languages and representation, emerge simultaneously with the elements of the world. Place, then, is 'a social, material and discursive field that can intensify and transform living bodies' (Duhn, 2012b, p. 103). Studies of human relations with other species in densely populated built environments confirm that place understood in this way is as relevant to urban, rural and wilderness locations. Two miles from the centre of Birmingham, UK, for example, the endangered water vole thrives, leading to the conclusion that 'urban living spaces involve much more than human worlds and are often prime sites for human and nonhuman ecologies' (Hinchliffe, Kearnes, Degen, & Whatmore, 2005, p. 643). In this research, water voles produce their own marks as part of 'the pictures and written texts woven together with the traces, tracks and mammals to form a complex of writings' in which place is produced as a social, material and discursive field (Hinchliffe, et al., 2005, p. 648). This particular approach to place informs the different methods that we take up in this book.

 
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