Teaching Place, “Placing” the Learner: Understanding the Geographies of Place


In this paper, I underscore the importance of “placing” the learner, or allowing them to engage in place-based learning activities to understand the concept of place. This is in support of arguments that hold place as open and fluid. Such a view of place is particularly relevant in this globalized age where transnationality characterizes many of our social relations. I draw on a place-based class activity that I did with my AAG10D (Singapore in Asia) students at the National Institute of Education (NIE) in Singapore in 2016 to emphasize the importance of place-based activities and their implications for understanding the geography of place. We focused on two translocal places in Singapore - Clarke Quay and Lucky Plaza - which are widely held as places for, respectively, expatriates and low-waged migrant workers. Such an activity allows students to experience the social interactions and processes that make up a place, and to recognize that place is not simply a location of things nor a container of human activities. Finally, I suggest that placing learners equips geography students with basic disciplinary knowledge that challenges them to think about being-in-the-world, which is what (human) geography is about.


Place is a core concept in geography. Geographers argue that place is a social construction (Lambert & Morgan, 2010), a product of social relations that span the globe (Massey, 1994, 2005). For Cresswell (2008), place gives us the ability to read and influence our understanding of various social and cultural issues. Therefore, place matters not only because it helps us frame our understanding of the world in a certain way but also because it challenges us to think about the ways we relate with each other and produce places in the process.  Given the centrality of place in geography, it is therefore important to pay attention to the ways place is (or can be) taught in classrooms not only for its own sake but more importantly, for the ways it can shape our student’s involvement in society. Lambert and Morgan (2010), for example, attend to the challenges of teaching place and suggest the evaluation of the geographical imagination that informs teaching in classrooms. Similarly, Bishop (2004) highlights the significance of place-based education and shares how local oral heritage interviews or fieldtrips to a protected wetland have taught her students a sense of community and place stewardship.


An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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