The Concept of Place in Teaching

The Concept of Place in Teaching

By Lic. Diana Durán

Amazed and dazzled by the lights and the rhythm of the shopping, we don't even know the neighborhood where it is located. We look at the windows without any sign denouncing the "place" in which we are.

Amazed and dazzled by the lights and the rhythm of the shopping, we don't even know the neighborhood where it is located. We look at the windows without any sign denouncing the "place" in which we are.

It is that we wander through a "no-place", a space empty of content, absent of roots, without geography, or history ... And there are many other "non-places": highways, video games, ATMs, large supermarkets. All of them are spaces of postmodernity: of exchange, of permanent circulation, of massive consumption, many times of environmental deterioration, noise ...

There are also other less postmodern "non-places", but equally resulting from the hegemonic model spread throughout the national territory:

- The cities, towns and flooded areas of our Coast, silent witnesses of the unforeseen and ineffective Argentine environmental and social policies. Before they were places, human settlements; Today they are ruthless mirrors of water that allow the roofs of ranches and hamlets to appear over the ghost towns and their inhabitants resisting the envestment of the water. A symbol of desolation, of no place and also of poverty.

- The territories of the railway branches erected after privatization; before, stations with history that were the head of vital settlements for the rural environment; today, population-expelling areas.

- The cities of deindustrialization: Sierra Grande, San Nicolás and many others. Before vigorous, today devastated.

- Those places that lost their identity due to the realization of some monumental infrastructure work. For example, the valley of the Limay River, where the wild outfall river of Lake Nahuel Huapi drew its torrent between the gallery forests and the ruiniform landscape of the "Enchanted Valley". Currently, in part of its journey, we have "tamed" it with reservoirs that have taken away its scenic beauty, giving it the stillness of the water mirrors, the absence of drowned vegetation, the gray of parched trees, the sadness of aridity. .

Will these spaces without identity be an itinerary towards the end of geography? We are not talking about science - it has a lot to do with the environmental crisis, territorial disintegrations, globalization and regionalization, etc. and does not admit apocalyptic endings. We refer to substantive geography: that of populations and their regions, territories and places.

Current globalization, the so-called global village, undermines the idea of ​​place, of "a territory to which affective value is assigned" and of culture and its links: the local networks on which intangible, ethereal networks are superimposed - by saying of Milton Santos - like the networks of information technology, of instant communications, of hegemonic power. Networks that are transformed into points because there are no links. Different from tributary, secondary, complementary networks - such as those that structure rural roads, non-trunk railways, etc. -, which articulate the territory.

Building the Place

The place is that portion of space where the symbiosis of personal feelings with the symbolic and the collective takes place. In this regard, Entrinkin maintains that "place is not a collection of observable events and objects, it is rather the receptacle of meanings" (Baylli, A., 1979)

The concept of place is linked to individual experience, to the sense of belonging, to the specific location, to the mental map.

The concepts of space and place and their connections are the center of inquiries about cognitive space, a notion that begins to take shape individually as it involves the human body that coexists with space. "It is this relationship that structures and guides conception and behavior in space; perception combined and enriched by thought elaborates its meaning." (Ostuni, 1992).

The place from the geographical point of view describes a spatial location, but also a human experience and it is a space that refers to an identifiable territorial cut on which "we load certain values" (Haggett, 1988).

The place is configured in the image that we perceive of reality that comes from the information received from the "perceptual systems" (visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory) and that passes through multiple psychological, mental and cultural filters.

According to geographers, place is the lived space, the everyday horizon, which has a sense of identity and belonging. It is the place of each one of us. Consequently, for space to be a place it must be transformed into something essential for people and, consequently, it may be significant and valued in teaching.

Marc Augé (1993) defines the place according to anthropologists as those spaces marked and symbolized by human groups, from which an individual and collective identity is extracted. Places are monuments, works of art and cities and - according to our criteria - also natural and cultural landscapes with a strong personality and, finally, regions because they organize space and constitute centers of significance and historical contiguity. The place is defined by its technical density (degree of artificiality), informational density (its propensity to enter into relationship with other places and the concrete realization of those interactions) and communicational density (relationships between men and social groups) as Milton Santos warns (1996), but also due to its cultural density.

The Danger posed by no-place

Mapuche: Mapu (land), che (people). People of the Earth; that's how our aborigines were called (…) "There is no more place in this world for us," said a Chequepan explaining why she had not had children and had stopped weaving. Pellegrini. Geronima (1990)

The experience of no place associates us with a more or less clear perception of the acceleration of history and the shrinking of the planet, key features of contemporary social existence.

On the other hand, what is revealed as important today is not the productive structure but the consumption structure. What characterizes the postmodern city scene today are shopping malls, hamburgers and many other similar "not places" (Galano, 1993). In large and medium-sized cities, where 70% of the population lives in Latin America, national and ethnic symbols are ceasing to be the main referents of identity and social cohesion.
So here a great danger appears that we must identify in geographic education to overcome. In opposition to the humanistic notion of "place", "non-places" proliferate at this end of the century. They are unlocatable, scattered, diffuse spaces. Locations "proper for the accelerated circulation of people and goods (expressways, road junctions, airports), such as the means of transport themselves or the large shopping centers (supermarkets, video games, or even the transit camps of the world's refugees , including environmental refugees such as, for example, those evacuated by the latest floods in Argentina.) "Two complementary but different realities: the spaces created in relation to certain purposes (transport, commerce, leisure) and the relationship that individuals they maintain with those spaces "(Augé, 1993).

Non-places or "placeless" are spaces where there is no identity, no links, no history, and no geography.

The logic of no place is that one never stops, for example, in the case of a highway or in the shopping center where minitourism is practiced by visiting consumer goods, "shops that are staged". Circulation is the characteristic of non-places, quite the opposite of the notion of roots.

The different scales of "no place"

On the local scale
In large metropolises, people experience small enclaves, in their work, consumption or entertainment itineraries. The experience of the urban, solidarity and the sense of belonging are weakened. Consequently, the lack of identity characterizes many of these spaces through: the loss of the street as a community element; the lack of ownership of the city as a whole; identification through the mass media without transfer to other places and without personal exchange.

Faced with this diagnosis, it is possible to say that the territorial awareness of the urban environment has been lost in metropolitan areas and even when neighborhoods or nuclei appear that have their own name, their residents have not achieved the appropriation of that space and it is often difficult to identify the neighborhood except for certain "landmarks" and "itineraries" that distinguish them.

We must reconceptualize urban functions to teach them, which means thinking about the informational city and not restricting its definition to sociodemographic and spatial aspects but also including the cultural, the communicational, the perception and even the imaginary as the "urban imaginary" (García Canclini, 1997) that include myths, fictions, perceptions, mental maps, often sectorized, of the groups that inhabit it, which are intangible signs of identity, forms of evocation, orientation and memory.

On the national scale
I would dare to say that extensive geographic spaces in Argentina have been transformed into "non-places": the flooded coastline and its deterritorialized population, the ghost cities of deindustrialization, forgotten Patagonia, the corridors of abandoned railway lines, deserted environments , deforested lands, polluted and impoverished peripheries of urban agglomerates and certain pockets of the impoverished in the very center of large cities, the "Interior" all conceived in opposition to Buenos Aires, and so on.

The geographical place corresponds to the electoral democratization and the greater recognition of individual rights and the non-place approaches the sociocultural dimension through the worsening of inequality and the precariousness of the majority, the "breaking apart of the social fabric, the destruction of collective identities and the apathy of enormous social aggregates, especially of the popular milieu "(García Canclini, 1997).

The idea that we propose and that we are applying in the teaching of geography in our country is that the concept and experiences of the place have to be recovered through education, and especially from geography as a school discipline, which is inserted with its new approaches in the Latin American curricular transformation processes.

On the supranational regional scale
On another geographical scale there is also no place in Latin America. "The anthology of essays on literature and politics in Latin America and the Caribbean by Arcadio Díaz Quiñones gathered in his book 'La memoria rota' revolves around this fundamental question: the no place, the crossed out subject, the broken memory, the no -identity, forgotten languages, history denied, [the lost geography] as a negative fundamental and constituent condition, center on which a historical identity and a kind of destiny gravitate. The negative situation of absolute marginality of the Caribbean is analyzed, but We could well speak in these same terms of many "places" in Argentina and MERCOSUR.

More exactly, it is about the problem of the absence of the referent, of the liquidation of the referent in Latin American cultural history. It alludes to "the politics of oblivion" ... "The central problem that arises is the non-place of the Caribbean as a stylization of the non-place of Latin America.

The threat of fragmentation is a larger category that encompasses postmodern, transnational and multicultural phenomena of domination and to which a strategy of restoration of memory from ruins must be opposed "(Subirats, 1993).

In this Latin America of the globalization scenarios the issue of identity. How can we refer to the issues of regional integration, complementarity, MERCOSUR, etc., in our geography classes; if we do not delve into the question of the identity of Latin America?

Some reflections on the place and Goegraphic Education.

"It is a question, then, of rethinking how the homogeneous transnationalization of information and entertainment styles can be articulated in an equitable and creative way with the aspirations of continuity of local and national cultures. The problem is to understand how distinctive identities are reorganized. of each town in international processes of intercultural segmentation and hybridization ". (García Canclini, 1997)

The world we knew disappeared: imploded. We have to reconnect with the times to come. But we must do so aware of the dangers of postmodernity and of the essential theoretical reflection on these issues that influence teaching.

The current axiological commitment of geography as a school discipline is to reconstruct the notion of place and assume an ethical stance and "one of conviction that supports us in the practice of teaching" (Ramón Sisti, 1993). It will be necessary to revalue everything that forges identity. The opposite of non-places. "

We must revalue the daily space, since it builds identity: the neighborhood, the street, the cities, the counties, the regions, the countries and with them, local development and sustainable development on a national scale.

A shared idea in the teaching of geography has been to identify the ties that root man to his place. When these ties are deep and affective, they provide stability to individuals and the group. On the contrary, the current trend towards non-places, towards inauthentic, uniform, depersonalized and characterless spaces, produces strong tensions especially in the urban population, but also in vast forgotten rural areas.

One way to reaffirm the place is to propose societies and cultures where not everything is arbitrated by the market. It is necessary to rethink the State as the guarantor of basic human needs and to favor the emergence of multiple initiatives of civil society.

To rebuild the place

In Basic Education, geography should accompany the student in the construction of his mental map, in the closest possible way to reality and in accordance with the psychological evolution of the conceptualization of space, from the lived to the perceived and cognitive space.

The connection between the concepts of space and place has a process of evolution. Consequently, this is the process that must be followed in the first cycles (6 to 12 years) of Basic Education with adequate content and a constructivist conception.

According to these appraisals, the activities carried out in the classroom and in the local environment should be frequent to develop in the student the ability to analyze their spatial images, their urban imaginaries and their feelings towards the city, the neighborhood, the town or the area. rural where you live.

Despite all these benefits of studying the local environment, a "submission to the mandate of the closeness that supposes an impoverishing reduction of the contents and study topics should not be verified." (Capel and Urteaga, 1989). It is about relating the local with the national, the regional and the global in what is called "interplay of scales".

Geography in basic education will develop the child's spatial sense through cognitive or mental maps that are models that are built through experience. This construction of the mental map will be accompanied by the development of the ability to read maps and geographic charts, with observations and field work and with satellite images that allow a global capture of the distant.

In the third cycle of basic education (13 to 15 years), geography will be able to display all its conceptual and procedural baggage in blocks of content that integrate the provincial, national and American reality.

There are a series of questions that are essential to face no-place in the teaching of geography (Estébanez, 1995):
What are the significant experiences we have of places?
How do we experience the sense of belonging to a place?
In what way does our attitude towards places and nature change over time?
How do the bonds of affection or rejection towards places, landscapes and regions arise?
How does space, an abstract concept, become a place, a center of personal or collective significance?

These questions can be hypotheses of significant learning experiences for teachers and students together with field work, awareness with music and videos of the place or places under study, the elaboration of mental or cognitive maps, simulation games, etc.

Despite the rise of environmental problems "there is very little we know about how students represent the environment from a spatial point of view and the work carried out in the classroom aimed at developing in the subject is still very rare. the ability to analyze their images and feelings towards the city, the neighborhood or the town in which they live "(Martín, 1989)
Geography can analyze the knowledge that the child has about places through cognitive or mental maps that are models that are built through experience.
"The cognitive map is a construct that encompasses those processes that make it possible for people to acquire, encode, store, remember and manipulate information about the nature of their spatial environment. They allow spatial representation and environmental perception." (Martín, 1989). This map can provide a key to understanding some of the structures and processes of human behavior in space.

The mind map is a very rich didactic resource in the classroom because it allows us to know how our students perceive geographic space on different scales.
Already in high school it will be necessary to recover the known geographies, to rebuild the notion of place in a postmodern world of "intangible networks" and "global village". It will then be essential to understand the unity of the planet itself and the characteristic diversity of places, since no place can escape the joint process of globalization and fragmentation, individualization and regionalization. As proposed in the new contents of geographic education in Argentina.

As Milton Santos said the territory is something significant of an appropriate extension. It has exclusivity, limit and identity. A one-to-one relationship between man and the environment that creates an identity. It is composed of a multiplicity of places and their links by areas full of content.

The central themes of current geography according to Haggett are (1989): the challenge of the environment, the human ecological response and mosaics, hierarchies and regional tensions. And to study, understand and analyze them, the RECONSTRUCTION of the notion of place in geographical education is central.

* By Lic. Diana Durán
Educambiente Foundation

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