Connecting People and Place: Sense of Place and Local Action

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Ann Kolodziejski


The relevance of places to people has been questioned in recent times, as the world has become increasingly globalised and people more mobile. The aim of this research was to explore the relationship between sense of place and people's behaviour in 'ordinary', everyday places. This contrasts with much prior research, which has focused on 'special' places, such as national parks and impressive landscapes in order to investigate the components of sense of place. Most people do not live in such places, but inhabit ordinary places in (sub) urban contexts. The research questions were: How does sense of place manifest in an ordinary, everyday landscape? In what ways can social learning impact upon the dynamics of sense of place? Can a more salient sense of place affect people's attitudes towards and behaviour within their local area? Using an action research approach, pre- and post-interviews and three workshops to create a sustainable future vision at a neighbourhood level of scale, and the town as a whole, were held with fourteen residents of East Bolton, in the North West of England. The activities were designed to facilitate interaction between the participants, so that meanings attributed to places could be shared and discussed. This approach allowed participants to see familiar places in new ways and to share perspectives. The key themes that emerged from this research were: the importance of childhood places; the impact of mobility - both physical and social mobility; the interdependence of places at various scales; and also self-efficacy and people's ability to influence their surroundings. A key finding was that sense of place can be made more salient for people in 'ordinary' landscapes, particularly if people are given direct experience of their places and opportunities to share and reflect on their perceptions relating to place. Social learning, however, takes time and requires resources to create opportunities to influence the salience of sense of place.The findings point to the value of promoting social learning through engagement activities. Planners, regeneration project officers and citizen groups could utilise sense of place as an organising principle to explore place meanings and as a catalyst for stimulating local action. Participants found it more difficult to discuss sense of place at the neighbourhood level of scale than the town level of scale, partly owing to their differing conception of boundaries and lack of awareness of the neighbourhood beyond the home. This has implications for implementing the localism agenda, suggesting that local action and visioning needs to be situated within activities nested at a range of scales in order to be most effective. The drive towards localism may lead to more self-organising and activism emerging from outside of the formal planning system and becoming a force for collective place shaping. Thus, the benefits of developing a more salient sense of place may also have impacts in less formal ways, such as greater interest and involvement in neighbourhood affairs and increased capacity-building, from which community action could potentially emerge.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date31 Dec 2014