Framing: To what extent can a shared sense of place help build a resilient community that can withstand disaster?
In the face of climate change and a world composed of increasing natural disasters, building resilient communities with strong networks of people and resources could be the difference between a community that thrives and one that dissolves. Resilient communities are networks of people that 1) can undergo change but still retain the same structure and function; 2) are capable of self organization; and 3) build and increase the capacity to learn and adapt (Carpenter et al. 2001). Geographer Doreen Massey (1994) describes place as networks of social relations and understandings, and argues that to understand place we must link it to places beyond, creating a “global sense of place” (1991). The study of place has suggested that place “provides a profound centre of human existence to which people have deep emotional and psychological ties and is part of complex processes through which individuals and groups define themselves” (Convery et al 2012).
I will situate my research in Lyttelton, New Zealand to both expand my understanding of place by linking my own experiences with another place, and use Lyttelton as a case study for identifying important aspects of place and community identity. I plan to examine Lyttelton’s utopian and dystopian qualities to determine which quality is most influential in creating a shared identity.
Although I don’t believe complete utopias of perfection or dystopias of destruction exist, I do believe in utopian ideals that people strive to reach. There are a few definitions of utopias circulating around the scholarly sphere, so to clarify my idea of utopianism I will refer to Honderich’s definition of utopianism from the Oxford Companion to Philosophy: “Critical and creative thinking projecting alternative social worlds that would realize the best possible way of being … Utopian thinking invariably contains criticism of the status quo.” Utopianism is a way to imagine and construct an ideal future based off of the realities of current society. Dystopias are often defined as the opposite of utopias, and tend to refer to an unpleasant place in which there is chaos and disorder.
Now I will explain my reasoning for thinking of Lyttelton as possessing the qualities of both. Lyttelton is the port town of Christchurch, the largest city on New Zealand’s South Island. In 2011, Christchurch experienced a devastating earthquake with an epicenter just below the hills of Lyttelton, which killed 185 people, injured thousands of others, and forced thousands to relocate. In this way, Lyttelton of 2011 was a dystopia. Houses were destroyed, people were displaced, the town’s main street was left in shambles, and the community was left without a supermarket for two years. At the same time, Lyttelton is also home to Project Lyttelton, a community association that practices many aspects of geographer David Pepper’s 1991 description of transgressive utopias such as “micro-credit and saving, local food distribution schemes, [and] community-owned businesses” as well as social capital, a waste minimization plan, and numerous festivals to bring community members together. As Sargisson (2000a and 2000b) and Stillman (2000) argue, “utopianism must therefore sharpen our critique of existing society, and create ‘free spaces’ in which we can carry out thought and practical experiments, working out the effects of enacting our utopian principles.” Lyttelton utilizes utopian ideals to make change, and Project Lyttelton’s founders constantly re-evaluate how the programs are going in order to create new projects to fulfill community needs.
The purpose of this project is to determine whether utopias or dystopias create a more rooted sense of place, and I will carry out this project in the situated context of Lyttelton, New Zealand since it has the unique attributes of both a utopia and dystopia.
- What are utopian/dystopian qualities of sense of place as expressed by Lyttelton community members?
- How has this sense of place evolved since the 2011 earthquake?
* This is not possible to carry out during ENVS 400 but I will do this research this summer.
The main focus of my project is to assess the most important aspects of Lyttelton community members’ sense of place. In semistructured interviews that I will either voice record (with permission) or take detailed notes, I will ask Lyttelton community members questions about their sense of place such as who they think holds power, how have power relations changed since the earthquake, and what voices aren’t being heard. Other questions like these will be informed by unstandardized preliminary interviews that I will conduct when I arrive so I will be informed on what important factors I will need to ask about. In these preliminary interviews, I will ask general guiding questions of the participants and adapt any further questions based off of the responses I get. These interviews will help me situate myself in the community and I will get a better idea of people’s general senses of place. From there, I will determine how utopias and dystopias inform their sense of place by categorizing the responses in an SPSS factor analysis. The methodologies I will be using include surveys, semistructured and unstandardized interviews, and mental mapping.
Carpenter, Steve, Brian Walker, J. Marty Anderies, and Nick Abel. 2001. “From Metaphor to Measurement: Resilience of What to What?”. Ecosystems 4 (8). Springer: 765–81. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3659056.
Convery, Ian., Corsane, Gerard, and Davis, Peter. Making Sense of Place Multidisciplinary Perspectives. Heritage Matters Series ; v. 7. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2012.
Gutsche, Robert E. “News Place-making: Applying ‘mental Mapping’ to Explore the Journalistic Interpretive Community.” Visual Communication 13, no. 4 (2014): 487-510.
Honderich, E. (1995) Oxford Companion to Philosophy (Oxford University Press).
Massey, Doreen. Space, Place, and Gender. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994.
Pepper, David. “Utopianism and Environmentalism.” Environmental Politics 14, no. 1 (February 2005): 3–22. doi:10.1080/0964401042000310150.
Sargisson, L. (2000a) Green utopias of self and others, in: B. Goodwin (Ed.) The Philosophy of Utopia, special issue of Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 3(2–3), pp.140–156.
Sargisson, L. (2000b) Utopian Bodies and the Politics of Transgression (London: Routledge).
Stillman, P. (2000) ‘Nothing is, but what it is not’: utopias as a practical political philosophy, in: B. Goodwin (Ed.) The Philosophy of Utopia, special issue of Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 3(2–3), pp.9–24.