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Space, place and identities.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date09/2009
JournalHistory Compass
Number of pages12
Original languageEnglish


Over the last decades, many social scientists have diagnosed a 'disappearance of space' (Paul Virilio). Others, however, have presented persuasive arguments for a 'spatial turn' (Edward W. Soja) that is the demand to recognise space as a key factor for the social sciences and humanities. Following the latter argument, the article shows the importance of space which is not just a neutral box in which history takes its course. On the contrary, humans are always thrown into a historically specific world and thus linked with their environment. They are both being influenced by the world around them and constructing a social understanding of their surroundings, and it is thus the challenge for studies of space and place to situate themselves between the two reductionist positions of spatial voluntarism and spatial determinism. The survey of more theoretical and empirical studies also shows the key importance of human attachment to 'their place' in identity formation, on a local, regional, national and transnational level as well as through qualitative features of landscape such as mountains or plains, rich or sparse vegetation, or the question of access to rivers, lakes and the sea. Such senses of belonging or Heimat are a key aspect of human existence and political action ranging from providing an important sense of community to a dangerous exclusion of alleged 'others'.