Social settings, spatial arrangements, and territories

The mundane world is, of course, experienced in and through our engagement with material spaces, and through those engagements social settings are made. In this way, social settings are embodied and emplaced and unavoidably implicated in interaction, communication, and the accomplishment of meaning. As stated by Goffman (1964: 133), the “substratum of a gesture derives from the maker’s body, the form of the gesture can be intimately determined by the microecological orbit in which the speaker finds himself ”, so the “immediate environment” must be introduced to the analysis of interaction “in some systematic way”. With exceptions, more attention has been devoted to the actors and their actions than to the props and scenery they use to bring oft the performance. This has produced a “not so much ‘disembodied,’ but ‘dematerialized’ understanding of conduct and action” (vom Lehn et al., 2001: 208). Several interactionist studies have, however, demonstrated ways to systematically and sustainedly address the co-constitutive organisation of action, space, and movement.

Social settings and a sense of place

In keeping with Herbert Blumer’s key tenets, some interactionist studies have considered how spaces are imbued with meaning and become meaningful in and through people’s engagement with a given setting. Although often in unacknowledged manner, interactionist concepts were enrolled in much of the interdisciplinary writings on place and landscape in the early 2000s. My own doctoral research described how competing framings of place in a regenerated exindustrial waterfront — and tensions and contradictions between the ‘smooth narrative’ of tourism and consumption, and local histories of labour, race relations, and exclusion — were managed in ‘commonsense topographies’ (Smith, 2013; also Borer, 2010). Interactionist-informed urban ethnographies have described the ways in which people form attachments to place and how spatial imaginaries impact upon perceptions of self, group and category, and place within society (e.g. Whyte, 1943; Liebow, 1967 [2003]; Duneier, 1999; Anderson, 2004; Duck, 2015). Phillip Vannini’s ethnographic studies of engagements with landscape similarly draw out the ways in which spaces are made meaningful in and through people’s mundane comings and goings as the stuff of place itself. In Ferry Tales, for example, Vannini (2012) vividly illustrates how a relational sense of place is developed in people’s relationship to the ferry and their travel between the island and the mainland. Centring on the concept of performance in the constitution of place, Vannini develops an intimate description of performance as a practical engagement and fluid metaphor for describing life lived on the move. Vannini’s ethnographies demonstrate the ways in which people’s doings do not just play out across cartographic space but are space and place as realised in the mundane circulations of everyday life.

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