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The changing nature of space and place

The Changing Nature of Space and Place

Dis­cus­sions on “space and place” have evolved in recent years to inform a wider breadth of inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research, going far beyond the basic ques­tion of who lives where.

Dis­cus­sions on “space and place” have evolved in recent years to inform a wider breadth of inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research, going far beyond the basic ques­tion of who lives where. Indeed, spa­tial thinking now plays an inte­gral role in fields ranging from eco­nomics to race, gender, and sex­u­ality studies.

With this in mind, three fel­lows in Northeastern’s Human­i­ties Center pre­sented their research related to “space and place” on Thursday at Renais­sance Park. The event—titled “Home and Away: Mobility, Space, and Place”— rep­re­sented this year’s second install­ment of the Human­i­ties Center’s Space and Place series.

Here are some take­aways from the presentations:

Making it ‘out here’


Len Albright, an assis­tant pro­fessor of soci­ology and public policy, dis­cussed his ongoing book project, for which he studied people in motion. He focused his research on people living in an afford­able housing com­plex in a New Jersey suburb.

Many of the res­i­dents orig­i­nally lived in cities such as Trenton and Newark, according to Albright, and then moved to the sub­urbs for one reason or another. Albright wanted to find out why they moved and how they described their new living expe­ri­ence. An urban soci­ol­o­gist, he spent two years inter­viewing and inter­acting with res­i­dents of Mount Laurel, New Jersey, many of whom described where they were cur­rently living as “out here.”

It was clear this kind of dichotomy of ‘out here’ and ‘there’ was mean­ingful for people, and not just in how they felt about them­selves but how they inter­acted with others,” Albright explained.

He hoped that his research would shed light on how people develop their ideas about where they came from, where they are now, and where they’re headed. “My ques­tion, then, is how place fac­tors into the mobility nar­ra­tive,” Albright noted. “We are talking about people’s sto­ries. People are taking account of their life.”

Removed from home


Emily Artiano, a doc­toral can­di­date in the Eng­lish depart­ment, is cur­rently studying col­o­niza­tion by way of lan­guage, par­tic­u­larly in colo­nial New Eng­land. For her part on Thursday, Artiano dis­cussed a spe­cific chapter of her dis­ser­ta­tion, in which she ana­lyzes the 1618 cap­tivity nar­ra­tive by Mary Row­landson, who was held cap­tive by Native Amer­i­cans for 11 weeks.

Artiano explained that Rowlandson’s text strate­gi­cally uses Algo­nquin words to estab­lish the dif­fer­ences between her own com­mu­nity and the com­mu­nity of her cap­tors. Fur­ther­more, she noted that Native Amer­ican lan­guage plays an inte­gral role in the text, estab­lishing a dis­tinct Native Amer­ican kin­ship net­work in lin­guistic form.

We can see how colo­nial encoun­ters like those described by Rowlandson’s nar­ra­tive pro­duce a mutual need for one another’s lan­guage and lan­guage acts,” Artiano said. “They’re not solely for com­mu­ta­tive pur­poses but also for the pur­pose of under­standing one’s own cul­ture and iden­tity in a con­stantly changing space.”

The phi­los­ophy of forced migrants


Serena Parekh, an asso­ciate pro­fessor of phi­los­ophy, is studying the philo­soph­ical cri­tique of refugee camps and the migra­tion of people in search of a new life due to eco­nomic hard­ship. Her research focuses on forced migrants, those who have been dis­placed by dis­as­ters, con­flict, and development.

The fore­most ques­tion on the minds of human rights philoso­phers, Parekh said, one that the experts have debated since the 1970s, is whether a wealthy nation like the United States has an oblig­a­tion to admit refugees. In Parekh’s view, the dis­cus­sion is too nar­rowly focused on how many people to accept and doesn’t include what hap­pens to those who are jus­ti­fi­ably excluded.

Because we focus so much on reset­tle­ment, the majority of people who are in fact refugees are invis­ible,” said Parekh, noting that 72 mil­lion people were living as forced migrants in 2012. “I also don’t think philoso­phers take seri­ously the unique harm from being state­less or being a refugee.”

-By Joe O’Connell

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