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Places: Relationships and connections

The impact of relationships and connections on people and place

The way that people interact with places is in part due to their connections to the place and their relationship with it. We have seen so far that there are MANY factors that affect the way that people relate to places and form their connections with those places. Some of our place connections are superficial and fleeting, we do not form strong connections with them. For example, passing through a hub airport like Dubai will probably not create a strong connection for many people, the shops are very similar to or the same as those found elsewhere in the world and the time spent there is short. Our homes, where we spend a lot of time and create lots of memories will provide a strong connection and deeper relationships.

Factors affecting relationships with places

Globalisation and Localisation of place

These 2 factors are having a profound impact upon the way that people interact with, form relationships with and connect to places.

Globalisation

The modern era has really been characterised by globalisation. Globalisation is the process by which the world's local and regional economies, societies, and cultures have become integrated together through a global network of communication, transportation and trade. This includes societal integration through migration. This process undoubtedly has a major impact upon places and the way we experience them.

Features of globalisation

Globalisation and place

Some people could argue that globalisation has made local places less important as the huge global economic, political and technological changes that have occurred since World War Two have eroded many local factors such as culture and language. In this argument, the idea of homogenous places comes about, those places that lack distinct character and are of the same or a similar kind or nature. This has been compounded by the spread of chain stores such as Subway or Starbucks resulting in what is known in the UK as “clone towns”. A clone town is one that is dominated by chain stores rather than independent stores. Think about your local out of town shopping centre, how distinct is it from any other?

The Geography of Nowhere

James Kunstler talked about the “Geography of nowhere” where the use of the motorcar and development of identical shopping malls has resulted in urban areas sprawling out that have no sense of community of character, hence no sense of place. Placelessness is another term used to describe these suburbanising areas. 'The future will require us to build better places,' Kunstler says, 'or the future will belong to other people in other societies.' Places need meaning, identity and for people to have connections with them.1

A non-place or placelessness

is essentially no sense of place, for it involves no awareness of the deep and symbolic significances of places and no appreciation of their identities. It is merely an attitude which is socially convenient and acceptable – an uncritically accepted stereotype…that can be adopted without real involvement” (Relph 1976)

An inauthentic attitude towards places is transmitted through a number of processes, or perhaps more accurately “media” which directly or indirectly encourage placelessness, that is a weakening of the identity of places to the point that they not only look alike but feel alike and offer the same bland possibilities for experience” (Relph 1976)

A global sense of place

Doreen Massey

ABOVE: Doreen Massey in Madrid by DarkMoMo / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Doreen_Massey.jpg

Doreen Massey is a well-known social and economic Geographer. She wrote about a “global sense of place” in which it is hard to envisage places as static entities.

She stated - “Much of what is written about space, place and postmodern times emphasizes a new phase in what Marx once called 'the annihilation of space by time'. The process is argued, or - more usually - asserted, to have gained a new momentum, to have reached a new stage. It is a phenomenon which has been called 'time-space compression'. And the general acceptance that something of the sort is going on the marked by the almost obligatory use in the literature of terms and phrases such as speed-up, global village, overcoming spatial barriers, the disruption of horizons, and so forth. One of the results of this is an increasing uncertainty about what we mean by 'places' and how we relate to them. How, in the face of all this movement and intermixing, can we retain any sense of a local place and its particularity? An (idealized) notion of an era when places were (supposedly) inhabited by coherent and homogeneous communities is set against the current fragmentation and disruption.2

This quote contains some key ideas about how globalisation relates to place;

  1. Time-space compression refers to the set of processes that cause the relative distances between places (i.e. as measured in terms of travel time or cost) to contract, effectively making such places grow “closer.” Over the past 30 years, we have seen unprecedented improvements in transport technology including better air transport technology and how we move merchandise. Add onto this digital communication technology (video calls etc.) and the world is a “smaller” place.
  2. The idea of a global village – this is the metaphoric shrinking of the world into a village with electronic media in particular. This has major impacts on economics and societies and has been observed in many protest movements throughout the world such as the Arab Spring of 2010. It has also been tied in with the spreading of western ideas through social media, known as westernisation. In this idea, people can be mentally connected without being physically near or connected.
  3. Impact on PLACES - these processes now directly impact on our places, and they are increasingly under the pressure of globalising forces in many ways such as;
  • Demographically – as migration changes the composition of societies in places
  • Economically – as global shift in industry and a move to post-industrial societies in HICs causes unemployment in deindustrialising areas and growth in areas of research and development
  • Socially and culturally – as people are more exposed to more cultures, languages, music, food and ideas than ever before
  • Environmentally – as products and waste move globally this can impact upon places, such as plastics pollution

Massey finishes her argument with “It is a sense of place, an understanding of 'its character', which can only be constructed by linking that place to places beyond. A progressive sense of place would recognize that, without being threatened by it. What we need, it seems to me, is a global sense of the local, a global sense of place.”2 So, in order for places to survive in a globalised world for Massey those places need to link with the outside world and develop not just a local sense of place but also a global sense of place. Global sense of place Massey’s concept of a global sense of place illuminates the ways in which places are being made and remade in the age of globalisation and accelerated mobility of people and things. Some people worry that globalisation is eroding places, reducing once-distinctive places to uniform suburbs and ‘clone towns’ dominated by chain stores.3 Massey argues, instead, that connections can lead to an endless series of specificities, each contributing to the ‘accumulated history of a place’. From this perspective, places are being reshaped, rather than simply eroded, through local and distant connections.

Impacts of globalisation on Places

Steel Works Redcar

Many people have been made to feel powerless by the forces of globalisation. Consider the 3,000 workers made redundant from the Steel plant in Redcar North East England. The plant was closed in 2015 after 99 years of production, victims of falling world steel prices, a Thai owner, SSI, unwilling to help the plant in difficult times and a lack of government support for the plant. They have been supported by an £80million government support package, but one year later 60% of those that had found work were on vastly reduced wages. An immediate place impact was that the Town’s major department store, Beales, closed due to lack of custom. Another is that people have to move away or travel to find work.4 In 2018 a £200million plan from South Tees Development Corporation (STDC) was approved to bring the steel works site under their control. The plans are to clean up the site, decontaminate it and bring it back into industrial use.5

What impact will this have on the future of Redcar as a place?

Another worry is that large multinational corporations can make decisions that massively affect places, such as Nissan’s decision to manufacture in Sunderland of Mondelez International shutting down the Cadbury factory near Bristol and relocating to Poland. These decisions are global and out of local control. The last concern is that paces become homogenised (to make uniform or similar), it is argued that globalization is making places increasingly similar through economic and communication forces. This is most clear on the high street where we face the same shops or chains – clone towns.

 

Glocalisation

There have been numerous protest movements against the forces of globalisation. People have organised mass movements against the forces of globalisation including a major event in 1999 in Seattle when there were huge violent protests against the World Trade Organisation. This became known as the Battle in Seattle. In less controversial terms many local places resist the imposition of globalisation through resisting big corporations such as Costa in Totnes. Many international firms as a result have resorted to glocalisation. This is a combination of the words "globalisation" and "localisation", used to describe a product or service that is developed and distributed globally, but is also adjusted to accommodate the user or consumer in a local market. McDonalds is good example of this as it operates in 120 countries with almost 37,000 restaurants. According to Glocalizationmarketing “to match local dietary and religious requirements in India McDonalds do not provide beef and pork. Instead they have McAloo Tikki (with a patty made out of potatoes which is very popular filling food in India, peas, and spices.) and the Chicken Maharaja Mac (with 2 grilled chicken patties and is topped with onions, tomatoes, cheese and something similar to chipotle mayonnaise).”6

McDonalds map

Countries with McDonald's restaurants, showing their first year with its first restaurant by Szyslak, derived from the work of User:Astrokey44 and User:Hexagon1 / Public domain at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:McDonaldsWorldLocations.svg

NEXT TOPIC - Local Places: Relationships and connections

 

References

1. The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape – James Kunsler, Simon & Schuster, 1993

2. A Global Sense of Place – by Doreen Massey From Space, Place and Gender. Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1994.

3. Tim Cresswell (2014), Place: An Introduction. Wiley.

4. The Financial Times, Redcar struggles to recover one year after site closure accessed at https://www.ft.com/content/8c02c6b2-8e77-11e6-8df8-d3778b55a923

5. Ian MacNeal (2017) 'A hotbed of industry': Details of 25-year plan to create 20,000 jobs on Teesside revealed, The Evening Gazette accessed 12th May 2020 at https://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/south-tees-ssi-site-plans-13775089

6. Glocalizationmarketing – MacDonald’s Glocalization, accessed 12th May 2020 at https://glocalizationmarketing.wordpress.com/2012/05/06/mcdonalds-glocalisation-burgers-without-beef/

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