chapter  8
30 Pages

Place and power

In previous chapters we have looked at the idea that people's relationships with the places they use and pass through can be usefully illuminated by focusing on the cultural and social values which are inscribed in those places. Ideas from human geographers about the importance of place in consolidating people's identities have been draw n on to explore the way in which places act as signification systems, in the process of construc ting part icular sets of meanings or myths. Implicit in these ideas is the assertion that people's relationships with their surroundings are shaped by the relationships that they have with other people, and, consequently, that their cultural identity can (to some extent) be 'read off' from the places that they occupy (and the representations they make of those places). As such, it is apparent that certa in groups - whether defined in terms of their ethnicity, age, gender, sexuality or income - find themselves marginalized in wider systems of space, able to inscribe their values only in certain (and often marginal) locations. This implies that most 'everyday' landscapes can be read as the products of attempts by dominant cultura l groups to inscribe their values into the geographic landscape; in most Western societies, as we have begun to demonstrate, this means that places often reflect the cultural values and interests of white, wealthy, male, bourgeois, heterosexual, ablebodied people. But many geographers suggest that this reading of place, whereby some cultural values are favoured over others, should not be taken for granted, as the 'natural' outcome of peo ple's relationships with one another and the places they occupy. Instead, they have argued that it is the outcome of a complex cultural politics where certain values arc incorpora ted into the mainstream and others are pushed to the margins as a result of the unequal power relations evident in Western societies (see especially Jackson, 1989).