Place and Mobility

January 8, 2016 § 7 Comments

I’m reading a bit about theories of place right now.  And I’m struck by geographers who bemoan the mobility of the world we live, as it degrades place in their eyes. It makes our connections to place inauthentic and not real.  We spend all this time in what they call un-places: airports, highways, trains, cars, waiting rooms.  And we move around, we travel, we relocate.  All of this, they say, is degrading the idea of place, which is a location we are attached to and inhabit in an authentic manner.

I see where these kinds of geographers come from. I have spent a fair amount of my adult life in un-places.  I have moved around a lot.  In my adult life, I have lived in Vancouver, Ottawa, Vancouver again, Ottawa again, Montreal, Western Massachusetts, Boston, and now, Alabama.  If I were to count the number of flats I have called home, I would probably get dizzy.

And yet, I have a strong connection to place.  I am writing this in my living room, which is the room I occupy the most (at least whilst awake and conscious) in my home.  It is my favourite room and it is carefully curated to make it a comfortable, inviting place for me.  It is indeed a place. And yet, I have only lived here for six months.  In fact, today is six months sine I moved into this house.  I have a similar connection to the small college town I live in.  And the same goes for my university campus.

So am I different than the people these geographers imagine flitting about the world in all these un-places, experiencing inauthentic connections to their locales?  Am I fooled into an inauthentic connection to my places? I don’t think so.  And I think I am like most people.  Place can be a transferrable idea, it can be mobile.  Our place is not necessarily sterile.  It seems to me that a lot of these geographers are also overlooking the things that make a place a place: our belongings, our personal relationships to those who surround us, or own selves and our orientation to the world.

Sure, place is mobile in our world, but that does not mean that place is becoming irrelevant as these geographers seem to be saying.  Rather, it means that place is mobile.  Place is by nature a mutable space.  Someone else called this house home before me. This house has been here since 1948.  But that doesn’t mean that this is any less a place to me.

Olympic Geography

February 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

I have seen a fair amount of Olympic critiques from the American left in the past week or so, or, well, since the Olympics began.  And aside from what you’d expect, about Russia’s horrendous human rights records, Putin’s disgusting homophobia, another trend has been criticising the Winter Olympics as essentially a party for wealthy northern nations.  Comparisons are made between the Winter and Summer Olympics and where athletes are from, and the size of the delegations and the like.  Aside from large northern sporting nations (the US, Russia), the geographic distribution of competing nations in the Summer Olympics is necessarily much larger than for the winter variety.  Of course, the Summer Olympics is also a much larger event than the winter variety.

But I have a fundamental problem with this critique.  The Sochi Winter Olympics medal standings right now is topped by the Netherlands and the USA, followed by Russia, Norway, and Canada.  In Vancouver in 2010, the standings went: United States, Canada, Germany, Norway, and Austria.  In contrast, in London in 2012, the standings went like this: United States, China, Britain, Russia, South Korea.  Four years earlier in Beijing: United States, China, Russia, Britain, Australia.

In both winter and summer Olympics, the medal standings are dominated by the USA and Russia (with the exception of Vancouver 2010).  The other nations in the top five vary.  In the winter, it is the Dutch, Norwegians, Canadians, Germans, Swiss, and Austrians.  In the summer, the other nations are: China, Britain, South Korea, and Australia.  All are wealthy northern nations, depending on how you want to classify China and Russia, who are at the very least at the BRICS level of emerging economic powerhouses.  There are no poor nations from the Global South.  In other words, both summer and winter Olympics are dominated by wealthy northern nations (ok, Australia’s in the South, but you get the point).

Of course, there is still the simple fact that there are athletes from the Global South in the Summer Olympics, and not the Winter Olympics (aside from token representation, such as Jamaican bobsledders and the three Indians in Sochi).  But this is also simply a reflection of geography. Winter sports are played in cold, northern nations.  And the alpine sporting disciplines that feature at the Olympics tend not to be TV ratings champions outside of Olympic years.  In other words, of course the Norwegians are going to ski and skate and the Jamaicans are going to play soccer and do track.

So what to make of this American leftist critique of the Winter Olympics? From what I’ve read, it seems this is simply a case of “We Are the World,” and it’s more an American critique of American chauvinism at the Olympics. Yet, those who make this critique are wonderfully un-self aware that they are just as chauvinistic as the chauvinism they are criticising. Ain’t life grand?

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