November 30, 2015
A place called "home" - A still elusive phenomenon?
It was the spring of 1989. I was an excited graduate student heading to Black Mountain, North Carolina for
EDRA's 20th conference, and my first EDRA. Intrigued by issues of place attachment, identity and how people find a place for themselves in the world, I came to the conference to give a presentation on gender issues and housing. And while armed with insights from my remarkable faculty mentors Susan Saegert, Leanne Rivlin, Maxine Wolfe and Hal Proshansky, I was also eager to hear from those researchers at EDRA whose work had been informing my thinking - Irv Altman, David Seamon, Dan Stokols, Gary Evans, Amos Rapoport, Henry Sanoff - as well as feminist scholars like Arza Churchman, Sherry Ahrentzen, Roberta Feldman, Kathy Anthony, Lynda Schneekloth and Karen Franck. Arriving there and hearing so many wonderful talks, I was not disappointed. This was EDRA, the conference theme was Changing Paradigms, and I was inspired.
1989 was also the year that the USSR pulled out of Afghanistan, there were free elections in Poland, pro-democracy protesters clashed with Chinese military forces in Tiananmen Square, and de Klerk, South Africa's Prime Minister at the time, began dismantling apartheid. As Time magazine put it, 1989 was "one of those years that the world shifted on its pivot" and one of those changes included an end to "the idea that the international system is driven solely by state action."[i]
Fast forward to 2015, and we see even more clearly the ripple effects of the international system in today's current events, reminding us of how interconnected we really are, and how elusive finding one's place in the world continues to be. As we bring the year 2015 to a close, Afghanistan remains in the news and we bear witness to a tragic migrant crisis spurred by rising numbers of refugees from Syria, Kosovo, East Africa and Afghanistan. In the deepening environmental crisis, some even talk about climate change refugees. Like many, I am drawn to the news with both curiosity and sadness. As I write this, the world is not only more interconnected, but it seems more in flux.
Here in my own corner of the world - Seattle, Washington - we are experiencing unprecedented growth and change. Just last year, Seattle was identified as the country's fastest growing city, although it has relinquished that role to Austin, Denver, Fort Worth and other cities. These dynamics threaten many already marginalized communities, usually poor communities of color, with displacement. The everyday struggles for belonging and urban space continue both here and abroad. I witness this in my own work when I listen to residents of public housing sites that are being demolished to make room for new mixed income developments.
Living and working on matters of place in this context sometimes make we wonder whether belonging and stability are even attainable in contemporary society. Have our paradigms shifted that much that these are no longer relevant? Yet, at the same time, these events also renew my conviction of the value and contribution of research on the lived experience of place and the effort for people to secure a place for themselves in the world. Research on people-place inter-relationships is essential to advocate for those who seem to be increasingly written out of belonging precisely through place and the land.[ii]
As I write this from my office at the University of Washington I am well aware of, and humbled by, my privilege. It is all very much related to place and position. I am an educated, middle class white woman living in a developed country, working in a tenured position in the academy. And unlike my newcomer status at EDRA twenty-six years ago, I now have the privilege of sharing these musings as a member of the Board of Directors, having been entrusted by EDRA members with the responsibility of this position, and further honored by my Board colleagues to serve as your Chair-Elect.
For me, EDRA has been a place of belonging as I puzzle out, among like-minded colleagues, the nuances of the human endeavor to find, make and/or claim a right to space in various ways. I so hope that EDRA can also be that place for you, and especially for our emerging scholars. As I conclude these musings, I think of the values of the EDRA founders who came together - in North Carolina no less - determined to use their knowledge and skills to make the world a better place. I like to believe that we still hold those values at EDRA and those who share them can find a home here today.
November 30, 2015
[i] Elliott, M. (June 18, 2009). "Shifting on its Pivot" Time Magazine. Accessed online at http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1902809_1902810,00.html
[ii] See Setten, G. & Brown, K. (2013). "Landscape and Social Justice." In Howard, P, Thompson, I. and E. Waterton (Eds.). The Routledge Companion to Landscape Studies. (pps.243-252). Hoboken: Taylor and Francis. See also Schein, R.H. (2009). "Belonging through land/scape" Environment and Planning A, 41, 811-826
Lynne C. Manzo, PhD is an environmental psychologist, Associate Professor for the Department of Landscape Architecture in the College of Built Environments and an Adjunct Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Washington. She currently serves as Chair-Elect of the EDRA Board of Directors, chairs the Program Committee and is a member of the Finance Committee.