Naturalistic and existential realms of place in Roseau, Dominica

by Niko Lipsanen (2001)
Department of Geography
University of Helsinki


  1 Introduction


Chapters 2 to 6: Theories about place and methods of the research


Chapters 7 to 10: Physical characteristics and urban structure of Roseau


Chapters 11 to 13: Roseau as experienced by people


Chapters 14 and 15: Concluding remarks

16 Discussion


    Appendixes : Places : Dominica : Realms of Roseau : Discussion


16 Discussion

'Place' is a highly complicated concept. It is relatively easy to find at least seemingly contradictories in studies that try to illuminate its multiple dimensions. In this study, for instance, following Archytas I say that 'place is nothing' (Chapter 3.2). On the other hand, in the vein of Heidegger, I assert that 'people make places' (Chapter 5.4). In other words, people are making something but that something is nothing, so actually they are doing nothing. Unavoidably, one has to ask if there is any sense in performing a study which is based on such absurdity?

The complexity of 'place' results of its deep entrenchedness in the human existence. Understanding all the dimensions of 'place' would require understanding of all the dimensions of human ontology. Apparently, both goals are impossible to achieve; and it is better so. Simple concepts are for simple subjects. If one wants to reveal understanding on the most fundamental questions which the humanity faces one cannot be satisfied with the simple ones.

Even if 'place' as a concept is complex, however, that does not justify using it contradictorily. It is just impossible to accept that something would be nothing. So, what are people actually making when they make places? Perhaps 'to make places' is to produce the preconditions for the existence of place (if one can speak about 'existence' in regard to something that does not exist). Since the fundamental ontology of place is connected to human situatedness, making places means that one is making something in respect to which to situate oneself. There is an equivalence relation between humans and places: no places exist without humans and, vice versa, no humans exist without places. Place is a precondition of human existence, and making places is thus to reinforce their placeness.

It is unlikely that my answer would be satisfactory. The question of 'place' comes even more complicated, however, if one tries to relate it to other geographical concepts, such as 'region', 'space', 'landscape', 'territory', to mention but a few. The method of geography to achieve this is, however, to study places in their placeness (and landscapes in their landscapeness, and so on).

I began this study by asking a very general question: 'What kind of place is Roseau?' By asking this question I set myself a goal to understand some basic elements that constitute placeness of place, or more particularily, roseauness of Roseau. This was linked with an even more general goal of understanding human placiality, the placial way how humans dwell on earth.

The metatheory of this study is Entrikin's (1991) theory on the betweenness of place. To study both the realms defined by it I divided the analytical part of this study in two sections, i.e. the naturalistic and the existential. The division is ontologically too strict since it is practically impossible to find or probably even develop any geographically relevant theories that would deal with only either side of the subject. However, methodologically it is convenient since it gives rough outlines for performing the study.

Further division of the analysis into separate layers is a methodological choice, too. It causes some repetition. For instance, the analysis of 'paths' in Chapter 9.2 contains some elements in common with the analysis of streets in Chapter 10.3. They would have even more repetition without lessening the strictness of the method. To make the study illegible the layers are seen rather as viewpoints from which the subject is approached than as strictly defined fields of inquiry.

In conducting the naturalistic analysis, Lynch's (1981) theory of 'performance dimensions' serves as a guideline both for the fieldwork and the analysis of the material. 'Pattern language' of Alexander et alii (1977) was useful for providing several aspects which to observe on the field but, due to the lack of theoretical elements, it has only minor significance in the analytical and synthetical sections of the study.

Also Di Méo's (1991, 1998) theory of 'sociospatial metastructure' served mainly as a guideline for performing interviews. Since it is not actually a theory of studying 'place' but different aspect of 'space', it proved to have minor significance in the analytical section and no significance in the synthetical section of this study.

Synthesis of the placeness is achieved primarily by phenomenological means. Since one of the underlying ideas in this study is to test how different kind of theories can be used together, an evaluation of Roseau as a place in naturalistic vein was performed alongside with the phenomenologically oriented account. Therefore the theories of Lynch (1981) and with lesser significance the one of Alexander et alii (1977) are used in the synthesis, too, even though being rather analytical than synthetical theories.

Naturalistic and existential approaches where thus made to discuss with each other to find out how they contribute to the placeness of Roseau. In finding relations between the empirically enriched concepts of both traditions the narrative-like synthesis proposed in Entrikin's (1991) metatheory proved to be useful alongside with the concepts of 'place' and 'placeness'. It was used to reveal the temporal aspects of placeness which are entrenched in its facticity.

One important aspect of this study are the photographs. The material for this study includes some 800 photographs taken in Roseau during the study period. In the course of listening, reading and re-reading the interwiews performed in Roseau, and when studying the maps and notes which I had written there, the role of photos was to reveal the feeling of being in particular places. 54 of them are reproduced in this study to complement the textual descriptions. They were chosen in order to represent different districts of Roseau and different aspects of them, and give as honest an image of Roseau that is possible by the means of photography.

To sum up, several elements which contribute to the placeness of Roseau or to the lack of it were achieved. However, this was not the final aim of this study. As said in the Introduction and in the Research questions, the purpose of studying place in its placeness was to understand the placiality of human existence. Nevertheless, no significant approaches to achieve this purpose were conducted.

In order to map lived environment I started with the cartographic representation of Di Méos sociospatial metastructure (see Chapter 5.5). The theory of Di Méo involves some injustifiable ontological categories which follow from its structuralist background. It was based, however, on the notion of lived space, and it was relatively easy to remove the additional elements from the theory. The reason why Di Méo's theory was needed at all was its cartographic dimension. However, to avoid the detached abstractness of cognitive mapping I tried to follow Bunkse's (1990) plea for humanistically oriented epistemology. This was attempted by introduction of Heidegger's (1971) 'to-be-in' and Sartre's (1943) 'situation'.

Nevertheless, I was unable to produce any cartographically meaningful maps that would connect the human being to one's place. One reason is probably that the interviews made with Roseauans were not sufficiently detailed to reveal the aspects that reflect one's placiality. On the other hand, human placiality is connected to the features of places. These features are mappable but to map the significance and values that one associates them without lapsing into abstract objectification is a far more challenging task.

The simplest solution to the problem would have been just to remove all mentions considering placiality and concentrate on placeness. Anyway, the question of placiality is a problem that belongs to philosophy. This would have been, however, a denial of the ontological character of geography. As Davis (1993), whom I quoted in the Introduction (see Chapter 1), says, 'In its simplest expression, geography asks humanity's oldest, most fundamental questions'. Even though Davis' book is a popular, not scientific, and Davis himself is a historian, he has grasped the essence of geography in a few lines. The need for geography arouses from the need to know where one is.

Theoretical discussion concerning the aspects of placiality is abundant. One just needs to connect it to world. By means of geography, this could be done by concentrating on very specific places of individual human beings and their placeness. This would probably bring one's home as a place into a central role. Theoretically, the detached viewpoint of naturalistic theories would not make any significant contributions in terms of placiality. Hence, as far as placiality is concerned, the theoretical framework should be more based in phenomenology than the one of this study.

That kind of study would not anymore belong to the tradition of regional geography, however. It begins not with defining the region (or place) which is to be studied but by choosing an individual human being whose places are studied. In this study, I attempted to combine both aspects. If that would be continued, it would probably be fruitful to concentrate on places in smaller scale than that of the whole Roseau. Studying for instance the Old market, the Bay Front, or the Botanical Gardens--places that seem to have different kind of significancies for people who live in Roseau, one could find out more how they contribute to the roseauness of Roseau.

The final words are for Roseau, the beginning of Daniel Thaly's, who was a Dominican planter, poem Clair de lune à minuit (1948, cit. Andre 1995: 27) where he describes a night at Roseau:

Roseau la nuit semble une ville
Des mille et une nuit
Aux parfums des jardins de l'île
Se melent ceux des fruits...

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