chapter  I
3 Pages

I.6 Space and place


In recent years, the application of spatial theory to historical records has grown in popularity amongst early modern scholars, particularly for those interested in gender, the household and rethinking the binaries of public and private. There are a number of different models and approaches that can underpin a spatial analysis, but those which have been most influential amongst scholars in the humanities generally formulate space in terms of social relationships. This theory tends to draw heavily on the insights of Henri Lefebvre that space is both constituted by and produces social relations, rather than landscape, architecture and similar locations simply being a stage upon which people act.1 To fully understand this claim requires a careful use of language. ‘Space’ for spatial theorists is different from both ‘location’ and ‘place’. ‘Location’ typically refers to a precise set of coordinates on a map or other material position, such as a house or bridge. ‘Place’ generally refers to locations that are named and hold the ‘symbolic and imaginary investments of the population’.2 In some contexts, it can be used interchangeably with location, but whereas ‘location’ may simply be a point on a map, the boundaries of ‘place’ can be more abstract or undefined. Importantly, ‘place’ is a social construction – it requires human engagement with location to come into being. For example, place includes cities and towns, which are named and hold particular associations and meanings for large groups. Place might also include a house that holds the specific meaning of ‘home’ for a particular individual, but not for others. ‘Place’ typically holds significant emotional investments, including providing a sense of belonging, ownership and identity.