Teaching Place, “Placing” the Learner: Understanding the Geographies of Place, pp. 2 of 8

This paper aims to encourage an engagement with place by being “in-place.” I join the chorus of voices that argue for place-based education (e.g. Baldwin, Block, Cooke, Crawford, Naqvi, Ratsoy, Templeman, & Waldichuk, 2013; Bishop, 2004; Kirkby, 2014) but I extend existing arguments by suggesting that “placing” learners is particularly important in teaching about translocal and “worldly” places. Translocal[i] and worldly places are situated sites that are characterized by a social landscape that reflects transnationality. Worldly places are often found in world cities and are draped with worlding practices or “projects that attempt to establish or break established horizons or urban standards in and beyond a particular city” (Ong, 2011, p. 4). 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 “placing” learners, or allowing them to engage in place-based learning activities in order to help them understand the concept of place. In this activity, students were asked to work on a group-based poster project that aimed to help them interpret particular landscapes and analyze the geographies of particular places. Such an activity required students to conceive of place as fluid and contested (Massey, 1994). I discuss this class project and their implications for understanding the geographies of place in detail in the penultimate section of the paper. Before this, I elucidate the conceptualizations of place in geography; I outline this in the subsequent section. I conclude by underscoring the importance of “placing” learners in teaching place in particular and geography in general.

Understanding Place

Tracing the definitions of place in geography reveals complicated, if not contested, conceptualizations by geographers over time and space (Cresswell, 2004; Hutchinson, 2012). Globalization, along with the increasing and unrelenting crisscrossing of migrants, has heightened the debates on the meanings of place and the implications of various conceptualizations on the social relations of people across spaces over time. Arguing against conceptions of place as static and closed, Massey (1994, 2005) has long asserted the need for a global sense of place. She maintains that place must 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” (Massey, 1994, p. 66). Such a view of place has been influential in interrogating geographical specificity that has been a recurrent theme in the expansive literature on transnationalism. This means that a place may be constituted through the movements of people, ideas, practices and values. Put differently, place is (re)produced as it relates to other places through various place-making practices and activities of emplaced individuals and institutions. For example, Chang and Huang (2005, 2008, 2010), in their studies on waterfront developments in Singapore, have highlighted the contested reproduction of the Singapore River through various worldly transformations pursued by the state. The creation of such a worldly landscape involved, among others, the hiring of “starchitects” or world-renown architects to design the waterfront as well as bringing in international signature events and activities. These worldly pursuits, as Chang and Huang have emphasized, are not unquestioned, as various stakeholders have expressed varying degrees of support or opposition in different ways.

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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