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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Wednesday, January 19, 2005
    Knowing our place
    I've been reading John Inge's A Christian Theology of Place this week, and it's fascinating for all sorts of reasons, not least that it's one of very few works on the subject of place. Not even the geographers, it seems, have paid attention to it. Which seems as fundamental an error as a Liverpool defender's sidefoot into his own net (though not as hilarious).

    The tide is turning, though, in favour of place being taken seriously, investigated creatively. Because despite all the noise about new technology rendering locations irrelevant, that is just one side of a complex phenomenon which points us back towards the importance of place. Inge quotes Edward Casey:

    ...the cataclysmic effects of two world wars, which have acted to undermine any secure sense of place (in fact, to destroy it altogether in the case of a radical non-place like Auschwitz); the forced migrations of entire peoples, along with the continual drifting on the part of many individuals, suggesting that the world is nothing but a scene of endless displacement...

    Displacement is, of course, all wrapped up with the importance of place to us. Elsewhere, Walter Brueggemann is concerned to address what he regards as a pervasive aspect of contemporary culture: the sense of being lost, displaced, and homeless. "The yearning to belong somewhere, to have a home, to be in a safe place, is a deep and moving pursuit," he writes. It is experienced by people from all sectors of society and even those who appear to be well rooted and belonging can experience profound dislocation.

    "The fact is," Inge insists, "that there is no such thing as a physical geography of anywhere divorced from its human geography, and even more so the other way around. Relph suggests that places are thus basic elements in the ordering of our experiences of the world. Tuan uses the word topophilia as the title for one of his books, a word which means, literally, 'place-love'. [This appreciation of place] develops very early, and ... this means that feelings and ideas concerning place are extremely complex in adult human beings growing, as they do, out of life's unique and shared experiences."

    There's a lot in this. Why else would Blogger profiles and the like cite Location as a key identifier of a person (mine, by the way, reads, Liverpool : in but not of the : United Kingdom).

    Here's an interesting exercise - consider the places which meant something to you as a child... and after a while, consider what they might mean now...