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Making Sense of a Sense of Place

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journal contribution
posted on 2017-05-23, 10:21 authored by Brian Spittles
The term “sense of place” has become a ubiquitous piece of phraseology in contemporary Western culture; however its meanings are as diverse as its use is common. The primary aim of this paper is to clarify more precisely what the term “sense of place” actually means, in response to the driving
thesis that its present multifarious use renders the term so amorphous in meaning, that its power of meaning is lost. First, to corroborate this supposition, examples of the term’s multiple uses are portrayed, including its conflation with the related terms “spirit of place” and genius loci. Next a
genealogical examination of the term ”sense of place” is undertaken, beginning with its roots in the Roman terms genius and genius loci. The historical circumstances relating to the introduction of the term genius into the English language during the 14th century and genius loci during the 18th century are then appraised. The next phase of appraisal is the late 19th century emergence of the terms “sense of place” and “spirit of place” within British and American literature, and their ostensible connections and
conflations with genius and genius loci. Beyond this, a post-1900 linguistic shift is investigated whereby the older terms of genius and genius loci are gradually superseded by sense of place and spirit of place. The final section proposes some practical ramifications in being more precise in the use of
each of these terms and distinct definitions are suggested for each to demonstrate that such clarifying differentiation and precision of meaning is possible.


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