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A Community in Transition: a longitudinal study of place attachment and identity processes in the context of an enforced relocation

Speller, GM (2000) A Community in Transition: a longitudinal study of place attachment and identity processes in the context of an enforced relocation Doctoral thesis, University of Surrey.


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This thesis examines the relationship between place and identity; it is concerned with the process of attachment to place and how this process is linked to identity. The study is longitudinal in design and uses both qualitative and quantitative approaches. The context is provided by the enforced relocation of Arkwright Town, a one hundred year old North East Derbyshire mining village, to a near-by site; this research monitors the relocation process over a six year period. This work is framed within the transactional paradigm which assumes that the process of change involves a dynamic confluence of spatial, cultural and temporal aspects and, furthermore, that individuals and groups influence and are influenced by their spatial environment in a way which cannot be described adequately in terms of a direction of causality. It adopts a social constructivist position which accepts that the participants’ ‘reality’ is shaped by the meanings they attribute to their socio-spatial environment; hence the focus of this work is on how participants to this study experienced the socio-psychological changes during and after the relocation. The interview data were analysed using a combination of grounded theory and interpretative phenomenological analysis to identify the meanings which the relocation had for the participants; a range of theoretical concepts from both social and environmental psychology were then used to interpret participants’ experiences. The findings included participants’ accounts of the degree to which their previous behaviour patterns were disrupted and the meanings which those disruptions held for them. They pointed to interruptions of friendship patterns, to changes in previous privacy regulation mechanisms, and highlighted the degree to which participants’ previous socio-spatial schemata had become redundant after the relocation. It is suggested that the reduced visual access in New Arkwright not only diminished a sense of connectedness to others but also restricted an information flow which had been part of the functioning of the community. Participants’ quotations were also used within the framework of Breakwell’s (1986) Identity Process Theory to investigate the degree to which the participants’ identity processes were affected by the changes in the spatial environment, and especially whether the spatial change threatened or enhanced the four principles of identity described in Breakwell’s theory: self esteem, distinctiveness of the self, self efficacy and continuity of the self. Evidence was found for the important role place has in maintaining and enhancing the four principles of identity and that place is, therefore, an important link to identity. The data show that the relative salience of each identity principle can change over time during a situation of major change and in addition, a marked change from collective to individual functioning was identified. Moreover, participants’ accounts suggested that there are five important factors which, when present, facilitate the development of an emotional bond with place. These are here termed aspects of place attachment; they emerged during the pre-relocation interviews and provide a useful extension of Fuhrer & Kaiser’s (1992) work on attachment to home. Further support for these aspects was found during the post-relocation period both in the qualitative and quantitative data. They comprise a sense of security; a sense of autonomy; the desire and ability to engage in appropriation; an optimal level of internal and external stimulation; and place congruence. Thus this thesis uses existing theory to understand better the effect of the relocation on the villagers; it helps develop the link between environmental and social psychological theory through its investigation of how place can be an integral part of identity, and it extends current theory on place attachment through the concept of the five aspects of attachment to place.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Related URLs:
Divisions: Theses
Depositing User: Mr Adam Field
Date Deposited: 27 May 2010 14:10
Last Modified: 23 Sep 2013 18:29

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