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13.30  Landscape, Emotion and Contested Values: An Autoethnographical Case Study in Migration, Place Attachment and the Spirit of Place

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11:00, Samedi 4 Juin 2016 (30 minutes)

When put into the context of cultural heritage, the idea of the emotional value of a landscape can be defined in ICOMOS’s concept of “Spirit of Place.” While this concept has been developed in relation to world heritage sites and cultural landscapes, it has relevance to any landscape that holds the history, memories, and stories of individuals or communities. The spirit of place is defined as the “living, social and spiritual nature” of place and is comprised of “the tangible… and the intangible elements (memories, narratives, written documents, rituals, festivals, traditional knowledge, values, textures, colours, odours, etc.), that is to say the physical and the spiritual elements that give meaning, value, emotion, and mystery to place.” By emphasizing the interplay between tangible and intangible, ICOMOS shows how emotions can be tied to physical landscapes and takes a step toward explaining why we feel attached to certain places. 

ICOMOS argues that those who live in a landscape and understand its spirit are best placed to safeguard its heritage. But with high global migration rates and rapid shifts in the demographics of some communities, the question is whether or not it is reasonable to expect newcomers to understand the spirit of a particular place, or indeed expect the spirit of place to be preserved after they leave. Migration for many is a process of hybridization whereby redefinitions of self are made up of the “there and then” of our pasts and the “here and now” of our present. Developing a sense of belonging in the present environments is an essential part of redefining oneself, but how is this achieved and how is it negotiated within existing community identities and values? Likewise, how is this sense of self affected when past environments are altered? These questions are often discussed in terms of “roots and routes,” and researchers such as Per Gustafson have examined the relationship between mobility and place attachment, and how two seemingly disparate concepts interact to give meaning to place. 

In this paper, I will explore the concept of spirit of place in the context of housing and infrastructure developments in local landscapes, both as a relative newcomer in Edinburgh, Scotland, and as long-lost visitor to my hometown of North Vancouver, Canada. Development of natural landscapes, especially on the edges of growing urban centres, is often upsetting to members of affected communities. Conflicts arise between local residents and developers over the value of a landscape. In a very relative sense, all landscapes hold value. For developers, the value is monetary, and sites for development are chosen based on certain economic factors. But for some local residents, the value of this same landscape lies in its meaning, made up of their individual experiences in the landscape and associated memories. Often the result is that economic gains are made at the expense of local residents’ relationship to the land. This autoethnographic approach will consider how migrants perceive changing local landscapes and give an assessment of how place attachment is affected by migration. Specifically, I will look at how quickly migrants establish place attachments in a new environment and how it is affected by long periods of absence, especially in areas of rapid change and development.

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