* A Global Sense of Place * by Doreen Massey (1991)

Reference: Massey, D., 1991, “A global sense of place” Marxism Today (38) 24-29


What is the context in which Massey is writing?

Massey is writing in response to what she calls the effects of time-space compression (the simultaneous spreading out and concentration of space and time) on our notions of place.

The central concerns which Massey addresses in this article are:

How can we rethink our views of place so that they are progressive and outward looking?

How can we maintain identity if there are no boundaries, no fixity, no difference?

How can we hold onto the rootedness of ‘place’ without being defensive and reactionary?

What is Massey’s central argument?

Massey argues that the idea that places have a single ‘essential’ identity based on a bounded history of a territorial place is flawed. Place as rooted in a locality or a territorially based community is often romanticised and we should question the value of considering place in this way: “place and locality are a foci for a form of romanticised escapism from the real business of the world” (p.26). In her view, if place seen in these terms becomes a static, dead object whilst time is seen as a progressive, socially produced, relational process.

She argues that there is a desire for fixity and boundaries from otherness as a form of protecting identities from the flux changes and influences of the outside world. However this denies the fact that the ‘other’ is already within. Not only this, but what has always constituted that place has been the influences of the ‘other’ the global. All the relations that have passed through that place are what makes its constantly evolving identity.

“If one moves in from the satellite towards the globe, holding all those networks of social relations and movements and communications in one’s head, then each ‘place’ can be seen as a particular, unique, point of their intersection. It is, indeed, a meeting place. Instead then, of thinking of places as areas with boundaries around, they can be imagined as articulated moments in networks of social relations and understandings, but where a large proportion of those relations, experiences and understandings are constructed on a far larger scale than what we happen to define for that moment as the place itself, whether that be a street, or a region or even a continent. And this in turn allows a sense of place which is extroverted, which includes a consciousness of its links with the wider world, which integrates in a positive way the global and the local.”  (p.28)

Massey talks about the political implications of the ‘space of places’ in relation to ‘the space of flows’ (see Castells). Her central concern is the politics of mobility: “mobility and control over mobility both reflects and reinforces power” (p.25). In other words the power of some mobility can weaken the mobility of others. Take social mobility for example: by increasing university fees, this is enabling richer students to access education and as a consequence it is limiting the power of poorer students to access a good education. Massey used the term power geometries to define the idea of power in relation to flows.

Another thing to note is our ‘geographies of responsibility’ – although the local is often seen as the victim of global forces, it is within local places that global actions take place. In other words, the local is responsible for the global.

What are the critiques of Massey’s call for a ‘global sense of place’?

What are the implications of this ‘networked’ view of space on our notions of place? Can a sense of place exist without the idea of territory?

To what extent does Massey’s idea of a global sense of place encompass the potential of the term in geographical thinking (the essay question)?

These issues were addressed in one of our seminars on Massey. Notes from the seminar are below.

Thinking Space seminar 3: Doreen Massey, 20th October, 2011

What constitutes a place other than it’s networks?

Two directions:

1. The relationship between places and wider connections in politics:

  • it is in the wider connections which created meaning – the politics of openness
  • is there something important about places that Massey misses?
  • Perhaps the subject itself is the site of dynamism – affect, experience

2. Other sources of openness in the politics of place:

  • where does the story of constructing identities around connections leave place-based meaning?
  • Meaning is grounded – psychoanalysis, experiences, meaningful attachments, these are what create places – not necessarily connections with external places/ difference.

–       Nichols talks about moments of collective organizing

–       Escobar – talks about where we are now, the here and now, place is what matters to us, not abstract spaces

–       Massey argues that all meaning is relational – all constructed through constantly changing networks and connections. Meaning is constructed through openness.

–       However there are internal subjective processes that provide meaning that are being ignored.

–       For Massey, flows exist at all scales: even the transference from emotion to language is a flow of discourse on the smallest scale.

–       But can looking inwardly create the development of ideas too or does it always require stimulation from external influences? We then talked in a small group about the notion of ‘affect’ which I think is all a load of meaningless…

Other sources of openness…

–       Affecture, emotional, historical/ temporal, subjectivity

–       Even if you reduce the transnational movement of individuals they will always be located in a place which will affect their views

–       I think identity is defined by difference, difference is defined by boundaries. Therefore is identity defined by boundaries? (problem of induction)

–       Politics is based on identity and difference

–       Does openness destroy identity? – openness can create no difference so does it mean you lose identity? Is it actually producing homogeneity rather than heterogeneity?

–       We seem to have an inherent affectual need for identity

A politics of openness vs. defensive space…

–       Massey argues that place is provided with politics by linking up with the other and therefore creating multiplicity.

–       Another view is that place is a site of particularity – with its own meaning and identity which is separate from networks. They have their own resources e.g. social capital (and the place itself becomes a resource)

Key question…

What are the things/ social processes that we need to pay attention to? What makes a place other than its networks? What constitutes a place?

Openness creates more defensive space: the distant is present even without connections through proximity (see John Allen).

[ Further reading ]

Interview with Massey in 2009

Featherstone, D. (2003), Spatialities of transnational resistance to globalization: the maps of grievance of the Inter-Continental Caravan. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 28: 404–421.

Featherstone, D. (2005), Towards the Relational Construction of Militant Particularisms: Or Why the Geographies of Past Struggles Matter for Resistance to Neoliberal Globalisation. Antipode, 37: 250–271

Massey, D., 1993, “Power-geometry and a progressive sense of place” in Mapping the futures: local cultures, global change Eds Bird, J., Curtis, B., Putnam, T. and Tickner, L. (Routledge, London).

Massey, D., 2004, “Geographies of responsibility” Geographiska Annaler B 86 5-18

Massey, D., 2005 For space (Sage, London) (more philosophically nuanced defence of this approach)

Massey, D. and Jess, P. 1995. A Place in the World? Oxford: Oxford University Press. (an accessible introduction to this approach)

Urban Studies, 1997, 34, 2, 355-66(review of A Place in the World?)

Mayer, M., 2008, “To what end do we theorize sociospatial relations?” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 26 414-419

Swyngedouw, E. 2004. Globalisation or ‘Glocalisation’? Networks, Territories and Rescaling. Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 17, 1: 25-48.

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