Places and Spaces: Theories of Placemaking for Anthropology

Researchers often refer to space as a physical location, while place refers to a more specifically designated portion of space. The Project for Public Spaces describes placemaking as the interplay of how humans intentionally and collectively manipulate their environment, and how the environment shapes community. Placemaking is how humans define their space.

In defining space, political geographer John A. Agnew asserts that the three criteria necessary in designating a place include:

(1) The physical location of a specific place

(2) The locale, or shape of a place as defined by physical or cultural barriers, and

(3) the sense of place, or meaning to the people who use it (Agnew, 1987).

Sociologist Émile Durkheim studied the intangible designations of space through notions of the sacred and profane. To Durkheim, cultures specifically designate sacred places and objects which hold specifically separate meaning. Those places and objects which are not sacred he designates as profane, not in a forbidden sense, but as the commonplace necessary to create a separation for sacredness (Durkheim, 1912).

Doreen Massey, a human geographer suggests both space and time that come together in place, thus refuting the notion that places can be statically defined (Massey, 1991). It is apparent, that in defining a space, a holistic approach to examining the physical space of a community along with all economic, cultural, historic and political influences.


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