Abstract: This review article discusses and critically analyses three theories used to
explain how architecture and the natural and built-physical environment influence a
person's identity. These theories are (1) place-identity theory, (2) social identity theory,
and (3) identity process theory. The place-identity theory has provided important
contributions to the field of psychology and to the social sciences of architecture,
emphasizing the influence of the physical environment on identity and self-perception.
However, there is little empirical research to support the theory and its specific
contributions in relation to other identity theories have not been clarified. Despite the lack
of awareness in mainstream psychology regarding the built environment, the processes
described in social identity theory and identity process theory have been shown to be
useful when explaining the relationship between identity and place. Nevertheless, as
terminology, "place-identity" may be relevant, if seen as a part of other identity
categories. Identity manifests itself on many levels, one of which is place. A new
integrative model of place in built and natural environments is proposed.
Keywords: Place-identity, Social identity, Identity process, Theory
Does place--the built environment with its connotative meanings--have any particular
effect on a person's identity? If so, what kind of effect, and by which mechanisms? Many
factors--genetic, social, and cultural as well as the built environment--combine to shape
identity. The physical built environment is just one among others. When attachment to
place grows, we start to identify ourselves with these places, both at a larger scale
(nation, city, etc.) and at a smaller scale (neighborhood, workplaces, homes, rooms;
Giuliani, 2003). This results in self-concepts that are based in part on place. For
example, people may refer to themselves by describing what country they live in, what
city or town they come from, or if they are a "country" or a "city person." These are more
than social references; they refer to physical places where people live. The places in
which people have lived also influence their environmental preferences and affect the
kind of environment they may seek out or prefer. However, the converse is also true:
places are also influenced by people's identities. People personalize their homes and
workplaces with decorations, so that their houses and gardens reflect and communicate
who they are (Despres, 1991; Csikszentmihalyi & Rochberg-Halton, 1981; Nasar &
Kang, 1999; Rapoport, 1982).
Home and dwelling are very important in most people's lives, and consequently, they are
significant in influencing identity (Relph, 1976). "Home" has therefore been the focus of
important research projects. There has been, however, a tendency to categorize,
describe and explain the same home- and identity-related phenomena in different terms.
"Place attachment" is defined as the feelin
s we develo
laces that are hi
Identity and place: a critical comparison of three
Article from: Architectural Science Review Article date: March 1, 2007 Author:
Hauge, Ashild Lappegard
Page 1 of 15HighBeam Research
familiar to us, ie, places we belong to (Altman & Low, 1992; Gifford, 2002). Giuliani
(2003) has stressed the difficulty of deciding exactly when place attachment becomes
strong enough to be defined as an aspect of identity or "place-identity." Concepts like
"place attachment," "place-identity," and "place identification" are theoretically and
empirically difficult to separate (Speller, 2000). Identity is also a complex term, especially
in interdisciplinary fields. Each discipline has its own definitions, and uses the term
differently according to its own traditions. Even within the same discipline, "identity" may
be seen as a term with indistinct borders (Breakwell, 1986). The identity term may thus
be avoided. Environmental researchers have employed other terms, such as "lifestyle,"
"values" (Ozaki, 2005), "self," "personality" (Sadalla & Sheets, 1993), "social
attributions" (Wilson & MacKenzie, 2000), or "social status" (Nasar, 1989). Sometimes
these terms might be more precise. However, does "identity" include factors like these,
and would it benefit empirical research and theoretical considerations to have a common
term expressing these personal and social aspects? Additionally, what identity theories
might be most suitable to explain the impact of the built and natural environment on
The influence place has on identity in this article is seen as a result of a holistic and
reciprocal interaction between people and their physical environment; people affect
places, and places (and the way places are affected) influence how people see
themselves. While identity theories are the focus of this work, perspectives on place will
be described briefly to introduce the discussion.
In environment-behaviour studies, three identity theories have been used in recent
decades to explain the impact of place on identity: (1) place-identity theory, (2) social
identity theory, and (3) identity process theory. These theories will be described in
relation to place. A discussion of whether "place-identity" is a relevant theory and
concept, and a suggestion for an integrating model follows.
The way the interaction between people and place is understood has implications not
only for the explanation of the environment's influence on identity, but also for the
definition of the interdisciplinary fields of environmental psychology and the
interdisciplinary social sciences of the built environment, for research methods, and for
the development of theories within the field. At the same time, some of the different
theoretical perspectives are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and the use of theory
depends on the type of research (Bell, Greene, Fisher & Baum, 2001; cf. Moore, 1997a).
Environmental psychology has been through a series of developments regarding
different perspectives of place. Theories have been criticized, leading to further research
and development of new theories. Perspectives on place have gone from "physical
determinism", where the environment, dimensions, colors, and shapes were seen as
having direct effects on behavior, to a view of the people-environment relationship as
dynamic and interactive (Franck, 1984). A dynamic and interactive perspective on the
environment includes the social, cultural and psychological meanings of a place, which
can also be expressed in philosophical and poetic forms.
The word "place" does not sound like a typical research term, but instead sounds more
philosophic or poetic (Speller, 2000). This might be a reason why some environment-
behavior researchers have tried to create other terms defining place in their empirical
research, especially when employing quantitative research methods. Barker (1968) uses
the term "behavior settings," described as bounded standing patterns of human and
. This theor
has been criti
ued and further develo
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(1979), who described behavior settings as social constructs developed over time.
Canter (1977, 1997) was inspired by both the theory of behavior settings and
phenomenology when he employed place as a term, and developed his "psychology of
place." In Canter's terms, place is seen as product of physical attributes, human
conceptions, and activities.
In comparison with Canter's (1977) "psychology of place," Stokols and Shumaker's
(1981) "transactional view of settings" can be seen as a view further emphasizing the
interdependent relationship between people and environment. It describes people and
place as a unit, highlighting the reciprocal influence between people and places.
Transactionalism is based upon the philosophical works of Dewey and Bentley (1949)
and Pepper (1967). A transactional view of the relationship between an individual and
the environment can be seen as unique because it focuses on the interface between
people and environments. It does not focus solely on either the person (perception,
cognition, personality) or the environment (e.g., behavior settings in, say, high-rise
buildings; Aitken, 1992). This article will use the word "place" based on the transactional
view of settings, as Speller (2000) defines it: place is a geographical space that has
acquired meaning as a result of a person's interaction with the space.
The term "place" also has been essential in geography since the 1970s (Easthope,
2004), after a humanistic critique in geography in the late 1960s (Patterson & Williams,
2005). Phenomenology, initiated by Husserl at the beginning of the twentieth century,
focuses on the subjective experience and perception of a person's life world (Giorgi &
Giorgi, 2004; Husserl, 1970). Phenomenology is especially concerned with place and
home due to the centrality of these topics in everyday life. "To dwell" has been described
as the process of making a place a home (Heidegger, 1962). "Place" gained prominence
in phenomenological research, architecture and geography through Norberg-Schulz's
(1980, 1971) work on the existence of a "genius loci", meaning the spirit of a place,
Relph's (1976) work on "sense of place" and "placelessness", and Tuan's (1974, 1977)
work on positive affective ties to place described as "topophilia". Relph (1976) and Tuan
(1974, 1977) used the terms "insideness" and "outsideness" to describe people's feelings
of being part of a place. Tuan (1974, 1977) separated between "sense of place" and
"rootedness," where sense of place is described as an awareness of a positive feeling for
a place, and rootedness as a feeling of being home. Place has also been explored in
works by Seamon (1979), Buttimer and Seamon (1980), and Hart (1979). Canter's
(1977) work on place, Proshansky et al.'s (1978, 1983, 1987) work on place-identity, and
Altman and Low's (1992) work on place attachment are other important milestones in the
research literature on place. All of the different concepts that have been used in relation
to place, such as "sense of place", "place attachment", "place-identity", "place
dependence" etc., are difficult to separate, and might have parallel definitions
representing mainly positive affective ties to a place. However, the lack of conceptual
clarity can be seen as a reflection of the interdisciplinary work on place with different
epistemological traditions and focus (Patterson & Williams, 2005). Interdisciplinary work
requires openness and dialog regarding concept definitions, and if some concepts are
used interchangeably, over time redundant concepts will lose territory. One could argue
that the concept of place is vague, and encourage the use of more precise words like
"dwelling," "landscape," "city," or "neighborhood." However, there seems to be a need for
a common term for the physical environment in relation to the social, psychological and
cultural meanings attached to it. It might be harder to see common features in research
on different kinds of environments if an umbrella term has not been identified. "Place" is
a term that is difficult to replace.
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One of the most notable things about human beings that distinguish us from other
species is our self-awareness and ability to self-reflect. Many psychological theories in
some way or another deal with self(-perception) and identity, but their focus of interest
tends to be different, which thereby results in different definitions of "identity," "self" or
"personality." Psychological literature that tries to introduce perspectives on self often
categorizes theories by their focus of interest, and whether that focus is more or less
detailed. One way of doing this is to divide the literature into five broad categories. The
most well known psychological identity theories among the public at large are
psychodynamic theories (with Freud's psychoanalysis as one of the main origins).
However, these theories are often seen as the most controversial in academic
psychology (see for example Frosh, 2006). Psychodynamic theories focus on
unconscious conflicts and motivation, inferiority feelings, defense mechanisms, and
psychosocial crisis. Cognitive theories focus on how self-relevant information is stored,
structured and retrieved (Leary & Tangney, 2003). Social learning theories focus on
agency, self-efficacy, locus of control, and self-regulation. Humanistic/existential theories
focus on self-actualization, personal constructs, meaning, responsibility, and personal
myths (McMartin, 1995). The last main group of identity theories focuses on the
interpersonal aspects of identity, the social and cultural influence on how we see
ourselves (Leary & Tangney, 2003). The borders between these rather broad categories
are vague, and there are many common features across the groups. The theories that
will be described in this article belong to this last category. Social identity theory (Tajfel,
1981, 1982) is perhaps the most significant of the interpersonal identity theories.
Breakwell's (1983, 1986) identity process theory also draws upon important aspects from
cognitive and social learning theories. Lalli (1992) recognizes the influence of cognitive
identity theories in Proshansky et al.'s (1978, 1983, 1987) place-identity theory.
"Identity" can be described as the distinguishing character or personality of an individual.
"Self" is a concept often used in a more abstract and global context, whereas "identity" is
linked to specific aspects of self-definition (Deaux, 1992). However, others believe that
personality and self are synonymous (McMartin, 1995). The unity of a person is not a
natural given. Based on personal temperament, personhood is formed in relationship
with other people. It has to be attained psychologically (by identification) and maintained
(as identity) in a continuous and often conflictive process of socialization (Grauman,
1983). Identification is a process, and identity is a condition (Lalli, 1992). How broadly
identity is defined depends on theory. This concept will be further explored when the
three identity theories are discussed in the following sections. All identity theories are not
necessarily mutually exclusive, and may be chosen according to the interests of a
particular research endeavor. The interest of research in this article is place. Casey
(2001) states that identity is created both internally in the mind, and through the body's
interaction with the outside world--there is no place without self, and no self without
place. The question is, can well known psychological identity theories cover this aspect
of identity, or do we need to create identity theories solely to explain the place aspects of
Theories of Identity and the Built Environment
Aspects of identity linked to place can be described as "place-identity." The term has
been in use since the late 1970s (Proshansky, 1978), and is here, as originally, typed
with a hyphen. Place-identity has been described as the individual's incorporation of
place into the larger concept of self (Proshansky, Fabian & Kaminoff, 1983), defined as a
ourri of memories, conce
retations, ideas, and related feelin
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specific physical settings, as well as types of settings" (1983, p. 60). Place attachment is
considered a part of place-identity, but place-identity is more than attachment. Place-
identity is a substructure of self-identity, much like gender and social class, and is
comprised of perceptions and comprehensions regarding the environment. These
perceptions and conceptions can be organized into two types of clusters; one type
consists of memories, thoughts, values and settings, and the second type consists of the
relationship among different settings (home, school, and neighborhood; Proshansky &
Identity develops as children learn to differentiate themselves from people around them,
and in the same way, place-identity develops as a child learns to see her or himself as
distinct from, but related to, the physical environment. Among the first identity
determinants are those rooted in the child's experience with toys, clothes and rooms. The
home is the environment of primary importance, followed by the neighborhood and the
school. Here, social and environmental skills and relationships are learned, and the
"lenses" are formed through which the child later will recognize, evaluate and create
places. Place-identity changes occur throughout a person's lifetime (Proshansky &
Fabian, 1987). Five central functions of place-identity have been depicted; recognition,
meaning, expressive-requirement, mediating change, and anxiety and defense function.
Place-identity becomes a cognitive "database" against which every physical setting is
experienced (Proshansky et al., 1983).
In the time since the term "place-identity" was introduced, the theory has been the model
for identity that has dominated environmental psychology. Place-identity theory does not
provide much detail regarding structure and process (Twigger-Ross, Bonaiuto &
Breakwell, 2003), but refers to "schemata" that Neisser (1976) and Piaget (1954)
describe as perceptions and ideas that also concern the physical environment. The
cognitive structures tend to be remote from the awareness of the individual, even more
than social and personal cognitive structures, because physical settings are "backdrops"
against which events occur (Proshansky et al., 1983).
Social Identity Theory
The phrase "self concept" is often used when referring to the answer to "who am I?" Our
"self concepts" contain both statements about what makes us similar to other people,
and what makes us dissimilar. People construct a perception of themselves and others
by means of abstract social categories, and these perceptions become part of people's
self-concepts. We define ourselves with qualities that characterize the groups to which
we belong. Tajfel (1972, cf. Hogg & Abrams, 1995; Tajfel, 1982) explains "social identity"
as the individual's knowledge of belonging to certain social groups, as well as the
emotions and values this conveys to him or her. Social identity therefore depends on the
quality of the groups or entities we belong to or have as a positive reference, such as
nationality, culture, religion, family, neighborhood etc. The social identity we acquire as a
member of social groups might produce group behavior. In any given situation, different
combinations of the self-concept will be central to the individual, producing different self-
images. Some parts of our identity will then be silent. In some contexts our cognition or
behavior is more influenced by group membership than in other contexts, for instance
when experiencing inter-group conflicts or discrimination (Turner, 1982).
Social comparison theory assumes that people see themselves and their group in a
positive rather than a negative light. Positive characteristics are more likely than negative
characteristics to be perceived as in-group attributes. This occurs because we are
motivated to win and
ositive self-esteem. Peo
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positive self-esteem is not preserved. If people cannot leave a group, they will deny the
negative characteristics of the group, or reinterpret them as positive self-concepts (Tajfel,
1981; Turner, 1982).
Within the field of social psychology, theories on identity have been constructed, tested
and modified, but the element of the physical environment has largely been neglected.
Twigger-Ross et al. (2003), however, found that social identity theory is easily
transferable, and can be further developed to include aspects of place. A place can be
defined as a social entity or "membership group" providing identity. A place is often
associated with a certain group of people, a certain lifestyle and social status. In relation
to maintaining a positive self-esteem, this means that people will prefer places that
contain physical symbols that maintain and enhance positive self-esteem, and, if they
can, they will avoid places that have negative impacts on their self-esteem (Twigger-
Ross et al., 2003).
Identity Process Theory
Breakwell (1983, 1986) formulated an identity process theory that has been useful for
research on identity with respect to the built environment (cf. also Speller, 2000). Identity
in this view is seen as a dynamic, social product of the interaction of the capacities for
memory, consciousness and organized construal. Identity can thus be seen as both a
structure and a process. The structure of the identity is manifested through thought,
action and affect. This model does not make any distinctions between personal and
social identity, but differentiates between the content dimension and the value
dimension. The content dimension contains both personal and social identity, and the
value dimension contains the positive or negative value of these categories. The
organization of the content dimension is hierarchical, but not static. The organization of
elements changes according to inputs and demands from the social context. The identity
structure is also regulated by an accommodation-assimilation process, absorption of new
components, and adjustments in the existing identity structure.
The formation processes of identity are guided by different principles according to
culture, and within a culture, these principles will vary over time and across situations. In
Western industrialized cultures, Breakwell (1986, Twigger-Ross et al., 2003) sees the
current guiding principles as continuity, distinctiveness, self-efficacy and self-esteem.
Korpela (1989) argues that in much of the research literature on identity and place there
are implicit principles that fit with Breakwell's theory. These principles are in general well
documented in cognitive and social learning psychology (Korpela, 1989).
Breakwell (1983, 1986; Twigger-Ross et al., 2003) argues that places are important
sources of identity elements. Aspects of identity derived from places we belong to arise
because places have symbols that have meaning and significance to us. Places
represent personal memories, and because places are located in the socio-historical
matrix of intergroup relations, they represent social memories (shared histories). Places
do not have permanent meaning; their meaning is renegotiated continually and therefore
their contribution to identity is never the same. Breakwell (1996, see Twigger-Ross et al.,
2003) also argues that being in new and different places affects identity through
attenuation/accentuation, threat and dislocation. She also emphasizes that places are
nested (from room to country). The nesting may be defined as a product of social and
personal meanings, not necessarily as a product of geographical hierarchy.
was established because mainstream
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ignored the physical built environment as a factor of importance in identity development.
The theory has been analyzed, discussed, and critiqued since the late 1970s when it was
first introduced (for example Dixon & Durrheim, 2000; Korpela, 1989; Manzo, 2003;
Speller et al. 2002; Twigger-Ross & Uzzel, 1996; Twigger-Ross et al., 2003). The
critiques have mainly focused on the weak empirical and theoretical foundation for the
Empirical and Theoretical Foundations
The construct of place-identity (Proshansky and colleagues, eg., 1978, 1983, 1987) is
less well developed than the two other identity theories, from both an empirical and
theoretical point of view (Bonaiuto et al., 1996; Speller et al., 2002). The hypotheses
have not been adequately theorized to fit with general psychological theories of identity,
nor do they describe the guiding principles for developing a place-identity. The five
functions of place-identity described by Proshansky (1978) are not defined in relation to
other identity categories, or other identity theories. It is not clear if these functions are
seen as unique to place-identity theory or not. There has been a lack of empirical
documentation to validate the theory. Empirical work has not yet been described in
relation to place-identity, nor has empirical work been used to modify the concept
(Twigger-Ross et al., 2003). This might be due to the difficulties posed by making the
term operational. Research on identity and place has often used the place-identity theory
as a heuristic starting point rather than a theoretical framework. Examples of this are
Feldman's (1990, 1996) work on settlement identity, and Lalli's (1992) work on urban
identity. Lalli (1992) also gives a critical review of psychological research on the "place-
identity" concept, and describes the scarcity of empirical work and the problems with
fragmented formulations, and lack of adequate instruments for measuring the concept.
He also criticizes the place-identity theory for neglecting the social dimensions of identity.
Even if the term "place-identity" is used (now mostly without a hyphen), it generally does
not refer to the theory by Proshansky et al. (1978, 1983, 1987). Hull et al., (1994)
examine the contribution of place to identity by using the term "place-identity" without
Proshansky's theoretical constructions. "Place-identity" refers here to the contribution of
place to one's identity through the meanings and values symbolized by place features.
"Place-identity" seems to be used in general to describe a subjective feeling of
identification with home and neighborhood (Twigger-Ross et al., 2003). The widespread
use of the concept demonstrates, however, that there has been a need for such a term to
describe the dimensions of identity with reference to the physical environment, but not
necessarily a need for a theory that only explains the relationship between place and
Social identity theory has traditionally treated place as neutral context. If place is in
focus, it is treated either as social marker (a label providing group identity), or as symbol
of an ideology or group (Speller et al., 2002). Spencer (2002) argues that the focus on
place in environmental psychology should be seen as complementary and not in
opposition to the standard social psychology approach to self and identity. If place is
seen as a social category providing identity, social identity theory can easily include
aspects of the physical environment and the meanings attached to it as well. Place-
related functions can be mobilized to achieve positive self-esteem and place can also act
as a trigger for identities to emerge (Twigger-Ross et al., 2003). Identity principles and
coping strategies operating in the case of social identification with a group can be similar
to those processes operating in relation to identification with place (Bonaiuto, Breakwell,
& Cano, 1996; Dixon & Durrheim, 2000). Bonaiuto et al., (1996) used social identity
theory to examine attitudes towards polluted beaches compared to place attachment.
ollution was inter
reted as a strate
used to co
e with a threat to identit
Page 7 of 15HighBeam Research
from an out-group. The stronger attachment people had to a place, the less they thought
about the negative aspects of the place (Bonaiuto et al., 1996). Social identity theory has
also been used to explain "sense of place" (Stedman, 2002), the symbolic meaning of
buildings (Sadalla & Sheets, 1993), attitudes towards environmental sustainability
(Carrus et al., 2006), and identification with place (Uzzel et al., 2002). However, not
enough research has been done to clarify whether identification with places always
happens in the same way as identification with groups. However, as early as 1950,
physical proximity had already been identified as a component supporting social
cohesion generating shared social identity (Festinger, Schacter & Back, 1950). For
example, social relationships in residential areas are seen as important for developing a
sense of belonging to a place (Gerson, Stueve & Fisher, 1977), illustrating that the link
between social cohesion and the place-aspects of identity is strong (Uzzel et al., 2002).
Place-identity theory (Proshansky et al., 1978, 1983, 1987) sees place as a part of self-
identity, a sub-identity together with categories like gender and social class. However,
Proshansky (1978) also realizes that some sub-identity categories have "physical world
dimensions" that help to define that identity. He sees the different self-identities that
characterize the various roles people play as a part of the total place-identity of each
individual. Breakwell's identity process theory sees place as part of many different
identity categories, because places contain symbols of class, gender, family and other
social roles. In other words, Breakwell's identity process theory consequently suggests
that we do not need a special identity theory to explain the influence place has on
identity. Place is a component of different sub-identity categories, and can be
incorporated in other psychological identity theories (Twigger-Ross et al., 2003).
Proshansky's place-identity theory would probably have accommodated research on
place in relation to identity more easily than other identity theories, but the theory would
have provided a less structured tool to examine the results than identity process theory
(Moore, 2002). In recent years, Breakwell's identity process theory has been developed
to examine the place aspects of identity. Speller et al., (2002) used Breakwell's identity
process theory to examine if changes in a spatial environment affected the process of
identity among residents in a community in transition. Breakwell's principles of
distinctiveness and continuity were documented in relation to place. Evidence was found
for the important role of place in maintaining and enhancing the principles of identity.
Other studies proving the relevance of Breakwell's identity process theory in relation to
place are Korpela (1989) and Devine-Wright & Lyons (1997). Breakwell's identity theory
has made social psychologists aware of the strong influence place has on identity
(Spencer, 2002; Moore, 2002).
Research on place and identity with a focus on home as a symbol of self has also been
conducted in accordance with psychoanalytic theories inspired by Freud and Jung
(examples are Arie & Hava, 1999; Marcus, 1995). The results have often been
overlooked among researchers in environmental psychology, due to environmental
psychology's origins in social psychology, where psychodynamic theories have little
space. As described in the introduction to this paper, these theories are often seen as
speculative, particularly in relation to research on place and identity (Pratt, 1981).
An Integrative Model--Place-identity as One of Many Identity Manifestations
The term "place-identity" has become popular and has clearly filled a gap in
environmental theory and research. The term is still used in the literature to emphasize
the physical environment's impact on identity, referring to a high degree of "place
attachment." As a theoretical framework, however, the place-identity theory (Proshansky
et al. 1978, 1983, 1987
is weak. Accordin
, a theor
Page 8 of 15HighBeam Research
intellectual construction that is explanatory and testable. A theory can be verified and
demonstrated to be useful only through empirical and practical use over time. It is difficult
to translate the place-identity theory into a clear research agenda (Speller et al., 2002).
Place is not a category of identity next to gender, social class, or family. Rather than
being a separate element of identity, all aspects of identity will, to a greater or lesser
extent, have place-related implications (Twigger-Ross & Uzzell, 1996). Places contain
symbols of different social categories and personal meanings, and represent and
maintain identity on different levels and dimensions. There is no social identity that is not
also place-related and thing-related (Grauman, 1983). However, instead of defining
place-identity as an identity category equal to gender, ethnicity, or social class on a
vertical level as Proshansky et al. do, it is possible to think of place-identity as a
dimension on a horizontal level, across other identity categories. How we communicate
and read information about others and ourselves through environmental clues is only one
aspect of how identity expresses itself. Identity communication is done both consciously
and subconsciously on many levels. Identity might be examined in relation to how it is
manifested through places and objects, in addition to how it is manifested through
aspects such as behavior and dialect. Thinking of place-identity as a horizontal line in a
matrix of identity manifestations and identity categories makes the term relevant. An
example might be how social class is manifested through neighborhood and interior on a
"place-level," and language and activities on other levels. However, to make a distinction
between place (with both its physical and social meanings) and other dimensions of
identity (verbal, behavioral, social) is not an easy assignment, and requires well-prepared
analytical clarifications, as well as sophisticated empirical designs. If and how identity
manifestations are separated, and the level of detail if they are separated, will be
dependent on the focus of research (an example is shown in Figure 1). The
categorization of "identity manifestations" is in addition dependent on a selected
definition of place. According to a transactional view of settings, it is in any case essential
to see the different factors in their mutual relation to each other.
To summarize, Proshansky and colleagues (eg, 1978, 1983, 1987) made an important
contribution to the environment-behavior field with their theory on place-identity. They
stressed the physical environment as an important factor for identity and raised new
questions (Dixon & Durrheim, 2000). Nevertheless, it is also relevant to see the theory in
relation to other identity theories with stronger theoretical and empirical founding. Even if
place is not emphasized in identity theories in mainstream psychology, the constructions
and models that are found in social identity theory (Tajfel, 1981, 1982) and identity
process theory (Breakwell, 1983, 1986) can, as has been shown, also illuminate the
relationship between place and identity. The "place-identity" term may nevertheless be
relevant and seen as a part of other identity categories. Identity manifests itself on many
levels, one of which is place.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
Decades of theoretical debate in the field of environment-behaviour studies, the
interrelation between the interdisciplinary social sciences and the built environment, has
resulted in complex models and theories of the people-place relationship (Moore, 1997a,
2002). The use of identity theories that have been well tested in other psychological
disciplines will narrow the gap between environmental and mainstream psychology, and
research on environmental issues can compliment psychological identity theories with
their focus on place. The social sciences of environment and architecture can benefit
from research and theories on identit
that have been established in other social
Page 9 of 15HighBeam Research
sciences. Identity has been particularly well explored in some of the social sciences, in
particular psychology and sociology.
If the "identity" term is avoided in environmental studies, the same phenomena will be
conceptualized in different terms. The connection between similar topics may thus be
overlooked. If the relationship between identity and place is better understood and
clarified, it may be easier to use the word "identity" in environmental research areas
touching on this topic. It will benefit the field, both in a theoretical and practical manner,
to have a framework for identity that has proven to be useful for research on place.
Identity theories might be used to explain parts of research that pertain to the meaning of
home, residential satisfaction, place attachment, territorial behavior, privacy and related
topics. All disciplines were once new, and most disciplines have been influenced by and
borrowed theoretical approaches and research methods from other disciplines. Over
time, these theories and methods become integrated in the composition of a discipline.
This is a slow, but natural process. "Interdisciplinary" and "transdisciplinary" are words
that are fashionable in the academic world today. The hope is that researchers will be
more interested in learning from other disciplines than in adhering to the boundaries of
their own fields.
Because place has been ignored in psychological identity theories, and because studies
based on Proshansky's place-identity theory have been few, there is a need for research
that explores details related to place and identity. How well do social identity theory and
identity process theory explain the influences place has on identity? Speller et al. (2002)
argue that some of the deeper aspects of the function of place are left out if place is seen
only as a social category. Places are not only contexts or backdrops, but also an integral
part of identity. Even small architectural changes affect how a place facilitates different
uses or attributes, such as social interaction, which thereby can also alter the meaning of
a place. To different degrees, places can be nurturing or challenging in terms of personal
and social identity (Speller et al., 2002). In what ways do social identity theory (Tajfel,
1981, 1982) or identity process theory (Breakwell, 1983, 1986) need to be developed
further? Answering these questions will both broaden general psychological identity
theories, and expand our knowledge of the meaning of place in the social sciences of
architecture and environment.
I would like to thank Arnulf Kolstad, Gerda Speller, and two anonymous reviewers for
comments on earlier drafts of this article.
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Ashild Lappegard Hauge
Department of Architectural Design and Management, Faculty of Architecture and Fine
Art, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway
Tel: 47 73 55 12 58; Fax: 47 73 59 53 59; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Received 23 March 2006; accepted 10 October 2006
(1) [The founding editor, Professor HJ Cowan, announced two innovations in editorial
policy in the September 2005 issue (Vol 48.3). The first is based on an increase since
the third quartile of the 20th Century in the study of the social aspects of architecture and
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work in a particular subfield of the journal's coverage. This current article stretches the
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