Between fixities and flows: Navigating place attachments in an increasingly mobile world
This is a pre-proof version of the article published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.
Full reference: Di Masso, A.; Williams, D.R., Raymond, C.M., Buchecker, M., Degenhardt, B.,
Devine-Wright, P., Hertzog, A., Lewicka, M., Manzo, L., Shahrad, A., Stedman, R., Verbrugge, L.,
von Wirth, T. (2019). Between fixities and flows: Navigating place attachments in an increasingly
mobile world. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 61, 125-133.
Between fixities and flows: Navigating place attachments in an increasingly mobile world
This paper develops a theoretical argument for how place attachments are forged and become
dynamically linked to increasingly common mobility practices. First, we argue that mobilities,
rather than negating the importance of place, shift our understanding of place and the habitual ways
we relate to and bond with places as distinct from a conception of place attachment premised on
fixity and stability. Second, we document how the body of research on place attachment has both
reinforced and contested ‘sedentaristic’ assumptions criticized within the so-called ‘mobilities turn’
in the social sciences. Third, we present a conceptual framework, built around different modes of
interrelation between fixity and flow, as a way to re-theorize, link and balance the various studies of
place attachment that have grappled with mobility. Finally, we sketch out the main research
implications of this framework for advancing our understanding of place attachment in a mobile
Keywords: Mobilities, flow, fixity, place attachment
Diverse forms of mobility are reconfiguring how people experience places. Recent decades have
seen rapid increases in non-migratory forms of mobility, such as airline travel, internet and mobile
telecommunications, and international trade (Castles, Haas & Miller, 2014; World-Statistics.org,
2018). The kinds and degree of mobility vary widely across the world, whether they arise from
urban redevelopment and gentrification (Manzo, 2014a); life-stage residential changes (Buckle,
2017); ‘digital age’ mobile workspaces, telecommuting and peripatetic work patterns (Stokols,
2018; van der Klis & Karsten, 2009; Wohlers & Hertel, 2017); tourism and amenity-seeking
lifestyles (Williams & McIntyre, 2012); attempts to escape poverty and persecution (Bräuchler &
Ménard, 2017); the displacement of refugees through war and disease (Adelman, 2008); or human
smuggling and trafficking (Gostin & Roberts, 2015). Global mobility patterns have arguably
intensified and have led not only to increased circulation of people but also objects, images and
ideas that re-configure the “micro-geographies of everyday life” (Cresswell, 2011, p. 551).
Since the early 2000s, the systematic exploration of these new mobilities has been at the center of
an emerging interdisciplinary research field variously described as ‘the mobilities turn’ or ‘the new
mobilities paradigm’ in the social sciences (Büscher & Urry, 2009; Cresswell, 2006, 2011; Urry,
2000). The mobilities turn offers the guiding critique that “in their search for spatial ordering, the
social sciences have still failed to fully recognize how the spatialities of social life presuppose, and
frequently involve conflict over, both the actual and the imagined movement of people from place
to place, event to event” (Hannam, Sheller & Urry, 2006, p. 4). Social research has been mostly ‘a-
mobile’ (Sheller &Urry, 2006), taking for granted a ‘sedentarist’ approach to social relations that
assigns moral privilege to fixity while neglecting the varied and complex ways in which people
move (both physically and virtually) across the globe (Cresswell, 2006; Malkki, 1997). As
Gustafson (2014, p.38) has noted, “Humanistic geographers, environmental psychologists, and
community sociologists have often regarded place attachment as good (…) whereas mobility has
been associated with uprootedness and social disintegration.”. This has often involved prioritizing
rootedness, spatial ordering and belonging, while portraying mobility as “threat and dysfunction”
(see also Malkki, 1997).
The role of sedentarism in place attachment research deserves closer examination. In recent years,
the literature has given increased attention to the role of people-place bonds in various realms of
mobility, including residential mobility, tourism, work and amenity-seeking or lifestyle migration
(e.g, Bailey, Devine-Wright & Batel, 2016; Buckle, 2017; Easthope, 2009; Haynes, 2008; Williams
& McIntyre, 2012). These lines of research add to previous studies addressing the changing,
evolving and processual nature of place attachment as an experience forged in the interplay between
fixity and mobility (see Giuliani, 2003; Gustafson, 2001a,b; Hay, 1998; Lewicka, 2013; Manzo,
Kleit & Couch, 2008).
The purpose of this paper is to provide a rationale and conceptual framework for research on place
attachment that attends to more fluid experiences of place endemic to a mobile world. We first
highlight the main critical points originating from the mobilities turn that are relevant to study place
attachment. We then examine sedentarist assumptions underlying early place attachment research,
while foregrounding how some place attachment research has, in fact, embraced mobilities in
practice. Next, we propose a framework that conceptually re-organizes, integrates and clarifies the
main modes of interrelation between fixities and flows featured in place attachment research, as a
way to re-read and interconnect place attachment studies that grapple with mobility. Finally, we
conclude by highlighting the implications of the ‘fixity to flow’ framework for place attachment
theory and practice, delineating the continued relevance of place attachment when studying
2. Place attachment and the mobilities turn
Place attachment involves the bonding of people to all kinds of places at various scales (Altman &
Low, 1992; Lewicka, 2011a). Research has produced considerable diversity of conceptualizations
depending on how investigators define bonds, places, and the scale of places as well as their
particular disciplinary or theoretical focus (Hernandez, Hidalgo & Ruiz, 2014; Patterson &
Williams, 2005). For example, bonds have been variously characterized as widely shared affinities
for certain environmental features to highly personal and emotional connections to particular
localities (Williams, 2014). Places are often operationalized as residential locations at various scales
but can also include visited, nonresidential, and even imagined places (Manzo, 2005). Further
complicating the terrain, place attachment is often associated with other terms including sense of
place, place identity, and place dependence, with different relations between them depending on the
theoretical approach (see Korpela, 2012).
In the light of common experiences of mobility, the place attachment literature would benefit from
greater focus on the specific interrelationships between the fixed and the mobile in people’s actual
experience of place: What happens to place attachments as mobilities increase and diversify? How
do different mobility patterns interact with place attachments? How do mobility-embedded place
attachments enable psychological self-continuities? These questions allow for an exploration of
specific ways in which mobility and place attachments are interwoven, departing from the main
contributions of the mobilities turn.
2.1 Mobilities and the mobilities turn
The mobilities turn represents an important lens of inquiry that is transforming theory, methods,
analysis and practice in the social sciences. Büscher and Urry (2009) highlight five interdependent
forms of mobilities that organize social life around movement, distance and absence: Corporeal
travel, physical movement of objects, imaginative travel through print and visual images, virtual
travel through digital media and communicative travel via person-to-person messages. At least four
lines of reflection promoted by the mobilities turn are particularly useful for re-interpreting place
attachment through a mobility lens, re-focusing on movement but also warning against its
idealisation (see Hannam et al., 2006). First, the focus on movement brings to the fore notions of
fluidity and an overall acknowledgement of spatial unmooring. Second, mobility research also
underscores the importance of immobilities marked by spatial fixity and territorial attachment,
implying that fixity is co-dependent with spatial movement and change. Third, the mobility-
immobility dialectic raises the question of power relations and the politics of place and movement,
suggesting that (im)mobility resources, spatial freedom and constrictions are unevenly distributed
across social categories (class, nation, ethnic background, gender, employee rank, function level
etc.). Finally, and most importantly for this analysis, the mobilities turn questions normative
definitions of place, understood as preferably static spatial categories connoting boundedness,
stability, fixity, authenticity and container-like properties. Instead, it asks us to rethink the ontology
of place and how spatial reconfigurations arising from mobility practices contribute to reshaping
people’s lived experience of being “located” in the world.
These theoretical claims do not mean that mobilities replace fixity as a preferred mode of existence,
nor discount the beneficial consequences of having a stable, fixed living place (e.g., related to social
well-being, Rollero & De Piccoli, 2010; or providing comfort, relaxation and emotional self-
regulation, Korpela, Ylén, Tyrväinen, & Silvennoinen, 2009; Scannell & Gifford, 2017). Rather,
they re-orient the focus of inquiry to address how spatial and social experiences unfold in the
dynamic interplay between movement and fixity, spatial proximity and distance and how this
impacts well-being. The implications of mobility for place attachment are becoming well-known
and even commonplace in disciplines such as human geography (Cresswell, 2011) and sociology
(Urry, 2000). They have also long-since been acknowledged in environmental psychology (e.g.
Brown & Perkins, 1992); however, a systematic research program has not yet coalesced around this
topic as in other disciplines. The next sections explore common sedentaristic underpinnings in place
attachment research and highlight mobility-sensitive research that has looked beyond this
2.2 Sedentarist assumptions and place attachment
The intensification of 21st century mobilities and corresponding emergence of mobilities
scholarship, questions place attachment research the extent to which it has assumed a sedentarist
metaphysics and how it might be re-theorized to further enrich our understanding of contemporary
mobilities. The phrase ‘sedentarist metaphysics’ embraced by the mobilities paradigm comes from
anthropologist Malkki (1997), whose primary concern was that “sedentarist assumptions about
attachment to place lead us to define displacement not as a fact about sociopolitical context but as
an inner, pathological condition of the displaced” (p. 64). Though such criticism may be attributable
to differences in disciplinary perspective, early investigations of place attachment were often
prompted by concerns over the presumed negative consequences of high residential mobility
(Shumaker & Taylor, 1983; Stokols, Shumaker & Martinez, 1983). Similarly, human geographers
(e.g., Relph, 1976) raised concerns about the increasing production of “placelessness” (the loss of
authentic or distinctive places), which they attributed to phenomena such as high residential
mobility, increasingly transitory and superficial forms of tourism, and the development of
superhighways. In terms of social policies in the US and Europe, mobility was generally regarded
as a threat to the rooted, moral and authentic character of places (Cresswell, 2006).
Cutting across the plurality of conceptualizations of place attachment, we propose that the early
intellectual origins of place attachment research built on and often reinforced at least five
sedentarist metaphysical assumptions.
Spatial proximity. Place attachment implies a wish to stay close to the attachment object such as
home or residence (Bowlby, 1969; Chawla, 1992; Lewicka, 2011a). Hence, it is not surprising that
most quantitative measures of place attachment reflect an individual’s unwillingness to leave the
target place (e.g., “I miss this place when I am not here,” “I would like my friends and family to live
here in the future,” etc.).
Temporal stability. Length of contact contributes to place attachment through autobiographical
memories associated with the place (Knez, 2006; Rowles, 1983; Cooper Marcus, 1992),
development of quasi-automatic time-space routines (Seamon, 1980), mastery of cultural codes
(Hay, 1998), and development of social bonds, including neighborhood ties (Mesch & Manor,
1998). Length of residency and length of association with the attachment object are common
predictors of attachment (Lewicka, 2011a).
Local contacts. Place attachment has also been frequently predicted by the quality of local contacts,
particularly with neighbors (Lewicka, 2013; Mesch & Manor, 1998). The relationship between
attachment to place and strength of social bonds is so consistent that the latter has been used as a
proxy to measure place attachment (e.g., Raymond, Brown & Weber, 2010).
Home as a primary center of attachment. Sedentaristic concepts have pervaded scholarship on the
lived experience of attachment to homeland, neighborhood and home (see Buckle, 2017; Malkki,
1997; Manzo, 2003; Williams & McIntyre, 2001). Research on the experience of home emphasizes
rootedness and the foundational role of home as the primary center of significance, stressing the
benefits of proximity to that center, including explorations of one’s residence as an ongoing locus of
meaning over time (Korosec-Serfaty, 1984; Sixsmith, 1986).
Movement as disruptive. Research on disruptions to place attachments and the lived experience of
displacement (Brown & Perkins, 1992; Fried, 1963; Manzo, 2014b) has emphasized movement as a
threat, loss, challenge or interruption of established ties with a life-environment, understood as an
existential baseline. However, the disruption of place attachment as related to fixed and stable
places may involve ambivalent feelings, highlighting critical distinctions in the forms, experiences
and valence of mobility and disruption (Brown & Perkins, 1992; Devine-Wright, 2009; Fullilove,
2001; Manzo, Kleit, & Couch, 2008).
Sedentarist assumptions are often implicit in definitions of place attachment and empirical work
(Giuliani, 2003; Shumaker & Taylor, 1983). These assumptions led researchers to pay less attention
to phenomena that were inconsistent with them (e.g., see Brown & Westaway, 2011, on spatial
distance as a beneficial experience; Lewicka, 2013, on active place attachment unrelated to length
of residency). Nonetheless, there has still been considerable exploration of place attachment as it
pertains to various forms of mobility.
2.3 Mobilities in place attachment research
Different bodies of work examine attachment to visited and multiple places, as well as settlement
identities , and attachments across the life-course.
Attachment to visited places. Some of the earliest attempts to empirically measure attachment
looked at visits to recreation sites (Williams & Roggenbuck, 1989). In fact, a large body of research
on attachments to visited places in the form of recreation, tourism and/or nearby attractions suggest
that such places are not experienced merely as places of consumption but as places with deep and
lasting meaning to the visitor (Fuhrer, Kaiser & Hartig, 1993; Korpela et al., 2009; Williams &
Attachment to multiple places. A similar and significant body of research has investigated
attachments to multiple places (Bonnes, Mannetti, Secchiaroli & Tanucci, 1990; Manzo, 2005),
including second homes (Gustafson, 2001b; Stedman, 2003, 2006; Williams & Kaltenborn, 1999).
This body of work generally shows that developing attachments to multiple places is a common
way for people to maintain meaningful connections with family, local traditions, nature and one’s
Settlement identities. In the early 1990s, Feldman (1990) introduced the concept of settlement
identity as a way to account for both constancy and change in place attachments as people change
residence (see also Bailey, Devine-Wright & Batel, 2016). She found that people often form bonds
with particular types of residential settlements (urban, suburban, rural etc.) and that such
attachments influence the types of neighborhoods people select when they move from place to
Attachments across the life-course. There are numerous studies examining change in attachments as
people move through their life-course (Buckle, 2017), such as when leaving for university (Chow &
Healey, 2008), marriage (Hay, 1998) and with retirement (Gustafson, 2001a). These studies often
point to a common theme in life-course changes that suggests people seek some kind of continuity
of attachments and identity as they make place transitions across their life-course. For example, in
Cooper Marcus’s (1992) explorations of home, people’s stories of special places were ultimately
about change, adaptation, and finding creative ways to maintain or recreate attachments over time
across various places in their lives.
These are just some of the ways mobility has been implicated in place attachment (see also
Easthope, 2009; Gustafson, 2014). Various interpretations of ‘being at home’ at multiple conceptual
and geographic scales also reveal flexible ways to understand attachment. These include the study
of people’s adaptive strategies to (re)establish or maintain a sense of self-continuity across space
and time (Rishbeth & Powell, 2013), differences in place attachment and belonging between locals
and tourists or newcomers (Kaltenborn & Williams, 2002; Kianicka et al., 2006), and dynamic
approaches to mobility in process-oriented accounts of place attachment (Giuliani, 2003). Likewise,
other studies illustrate how an array of places, both near and far, present and past, together create a
web of meaning in our lives (Gustafson, 2001b; Manzo, 2003).
The range of studies discussed in this sub-section share a common focus on how place attachments
are forged, change and develop within the context of both static and the mobile bonding. However,
there has been no systematic effort to conceptually describe and integrate the underlying logics of
fixity and flow that contribute to place attachments. The following section advances in this
3. Place attachments on the move: The ‘Fixity-Flow’ conceptual framework.
As a response to the mobilities turn, we present a new framework built around a conceptual
spectrum from fixity to flow that re-theorizes and re-organizes place attachment research that has
engaged with mobility processes (see Figure 1). This framework defines and organizes the different
modes of interrelation between fixed and fluid aspects of place attachment dynamics; that is,
between the more spatially static and temporally stable aspects of place attachment as a
topologically centred experience (i.e., fixity), and the more spatially mobile and temporally
changing aspects of place attachment as a topologically centreless experience (i.e., flow). Between
the extreme poles of fixity and flow, the framework displays how the interrelation of the two can
shed light on mobility-driven place attachments.
Each of these general modes of interrelation reflects specific configurations of fixity and flow:
Disruption (related to fixity); contradiction (related to fixity OR flow); complementarity and
compensation (related to fixity AND flow); overarching integration (related to fixity FROM flow),
multi-centred integration (related to flow IN fixities); and virtual and imaginative travel (related to
flow). These configurations are supported by prototypical empirical studies addressing mobility-
related place attachments in the literature (see Table 1).
Figure 1. Fixity-flow conceptual framework with the main modes of interrelation and specific
configurations between the fixed and the fluid aspects shaping place attachments
Table 1. Modes of interrelation and configurations of fixity-flow shaping place attachment and key
examples from the literature.
Moving from one place to another
consequential disruption revealing
people’s dependence on their fixed
life-spaces as a source of self-
construction, security and stability.
Brown & Perkins (1992);
Fried (1963); Fullilove
(2001); Manzo (2014a)
Mobility and place attachment exist
as two contradictory and mutually
exclusive themes - one must either
stay or leave.
Numbers 1, 2, 3 in “Overarching integration” represent past, present and future places
connected sequentially in time through mobility; number 1 in “Multicentered integration”
represents present places interconnected through mobility.
Places provide different but
compatible experiences: combining a
willingness and ability to travel with
an attachment to one’s place of
residence or actively establishing
place connections elsewhere when
Lewicka (2013); Bailey
et al. (2016)
Mobility completes what fixed place-
bonds might lack or fail to satisfy.
Mobility may not afford the kinds of
genuine local knowledge and self-
affirmation attributed to a territorially
McIntyre et al. (2006);
Williams & Van Patten
(2006); Fuhrer et al.
Mobility between places may trigger
a (positive) overall sense of fixity if
there is: a) sense of continuity across
environmental types at a similar
geographic scale or b) place-
congruent self-continuity, self-
efficacy, distinctiveness, security or
Droseltis & Vignoles
(2010); Twigger-Ross &
Fleeting and/or shifting connections
between places configured as a web
of meaningful nodes or rhizomes that
resonate with each other to which the
individual feels place-attached, place-
identified or at home.
Manzo (2003, 2005);
Williams & Kaltenborn
(1999); Williams &
Transcending geographical and often
social distance through information
and communication technologies.
Szerszyki &Urry (2006)
Being transported elsewhere through
the images of places and peoples
encountered in the media and in
Champ et al. (2013);
Szerszyki & Urry (2006)
Before explaining and exemplifying each of these general modes of interrelation and specific
configurations of fixity and flow, two additional comments are necessary. First, the framework
represents a conceptual spectrum of modes and not a sequential one. This means that transitions
between one mode and another are not a given, nor are any transitions across modes necessarily
assumed to be progressive during the life-course or exclusively related to length of residency.
Instead, these modes should be understood as different manifestations of fixity-flow, with
permeable boundaries. In this dynamic process of place attachment people navigate through
different situations and contexts, be it life-stages or varying lengths of residency. Second, the poles
of fixity and flow are theoretical abstractions. In practice, mobility is always affected by or involves
some form of immobility and vice versa (see circles with dashed lines in figure 1 in the poles of
fixity and flow). Mobility does not preclude a sense of stability, no matter how volatile one’s
geographic referents (Rishbeth & Powell, 2013). Likewise, immobility is implicated in the social
dynamics of mobility (for example, non-movers receive new arrivals, can experience imaginative,
virtual travel, or the circulation of ideas, material, etc.). In other words, this framework aims to
reflect the constant interpenetration of fixity and flow.
Fixity represents a form of place attachment defined by a maximum degree of spatial stasis and
temporal stability. Fixity manifests through immobility and a state of fusion extended in time
between self and a core territory, which we refer to as topological state of absolute centeredness.
This form of place bonding resembles Tuan’s (1980) notion of rootedness, “a state of being made
possible by an incuriosity toward the world at large and an insensitivity toward the flow of time” (p.
4), although fixity might also enable awareness and exploration of the outside world (Morgan,
2010). A fixed person is anchored in a single life-space as a unique center of meaning (e.g., a
person who is born and spends his/her entire life in the house built by their grandparents).
Fixity related to mobility appears in early empirical studies of forced relocation, where disruption
of place attachment is one interrelation between fixity and flow. Disruption entails that an
environmental transformation and/or involuntary relocation triggers a deeply felt interruption of a
personal or community-related sense of self-continuity. Moving from one place to another is usually
psychologically consequential and exposes people’s emotional dependence on their life-spaces as a
source of self-construction, security and stability. Early research on place attachment and identity
tied to environmental discontinuity has focused on forced relocations due to urban redevelopment in
the US (Fried, 1963; Manzo, Kleit & Couch, 2008). Brown and Perkins (1992) defined place-
related disruption as a stressful phase triggered by the loss of the place to which one is emotionally
attached. Similarly, Fullilove (2001) established the notion of ‘root shock,’ “a traumatic stress
reaction to the destruction of all or part of one’s emotional eco-system” (p.11) among African-
Americans whose communities had been demolished by urban renewal in the second half of the
20th century. Different scholars have studied how residents emotionally react to forced relocation in
terms of place attachment (e.g., Bogac, 2009; Manzo, et al., 2008). These studies illustrate that
place-based feelings of security, authenticity, stability and belonging are important factors that can
be experienced as conflicting with external mobility demands.
3.2 Fixity OR flow
While disruption reveals a fixed and rooted form of place attachment, relationships between “roots”
(fixities) and “routes” (mobilities) are far more complex than implied by the modern conception of
mobility as place-based disruption (Gustafson, 2001b). This conception tends to assume a
globalization-driven state of placelessness among a social elite and fixed attachment among socio-
economically disadvantaged. Place attachment, then, is seen as either a negative reaction to
globalizing trends or an inescapable geographical circumstance tied to social class. However, for
some people mobility and fixity may coexist as different place attachment possibilities but they are
experienced as irreconcilable and mutually exclusive. In Gustafson’s (2001b) study in West
Sweden, for example, a 40 year old woman who appreciated traveling as a form of discovering new
places and opening her mind, also valued her grandparents’ home as a special place of cosiness to
which she had deep emotional feelings. However, she experienced the coexistence of these two
forms of attachment as problematic, having to choose either one or the other (“Either you feel that
here I am, or you float around”, Gustafson, 2001b, p.676). Positioning place attachment and
mobility as mutually exclusive options makes them incompatible. However, mobility is not
necessarily disruptive and fixity not necessarily preferred, but they can be experienced as
impossible to combine without feeling uncomfortable.
3.3 Fixity AND flow
Significant attempts to reconcile ‘home’ and ‘away’ view these as compatible phenomena seeking
‘equilibrium’ (Gustafson, 2001b), either in the form of complementarity or compensation between
fixity and flow. For example, many people appear to navigate between fixities and flows accepting
that some form of rootedness is a pre-condition to appreciate and enjoy mobility (Morgan, 2010). In
Gustafson’s (2001b) study, one 30-year-old man proudly described his attachment to the farm
where he had always lived as compatible with his interest in and affinity to other places far from
home. Similarly, Gustafson’s (2009b) research on mobile elites in Sweden demonstrated that
frequent international business travelers were not detached from local concerns and commitments.
In fact, localism and cosmopolitanism were complementary “resources” that combined to build a
form of place attachment that conjoins a local sense of belonging and social networks, with the
opportunities for openness and rich mobile experiences.
Another approach to considering fixity-flow as complementarity is to think about place attachment
not as a uniform construct but as differentiated one, with different people characterized by different
types of emotional bonds with places, differently related to mobility. Some forms of attachment
may imply fixedness whereas others can be easily reconciled with mobility (both socio-economic
and geographical). For example, Hummon (1992), on the basis of qualitative studies in a small
American city, drew a distinction between everyday and ideological rootedness. The former was
associated with little mobility or curiosity about the outer world (i.e., fixity), while the latter was
related to mobility that is equally frequent among native-born and newcomers alike. The existence
of these two types of attachment was confirmed and replicated by Lewicka (2011b, 2013) in several
large quantitative studies in Poland and the Ukraine. The studies consistently showed that the
everyday (traditional) form of attachment was positively correlated with the length of residency
(less mobility), older age, and low education (low upward mobility). In contrast, ideological
(active) attachment was unrelated to the length of residency, and was characteristic of young and
middle age people, mostly educated ones. Further analyses involving additional measures of social
capital such as trust, neighborhood ties, and values showed that whereas the traditionally attached
people were strongly “localized,” the actively attached combined features that were typical of
strong local bonds along with more dynamic bonding (e.g. upward mobility or bridging social
capital). These data suggest that as societies become more mobile, the modes of place attachment
may change, too, from unreflective traditional bonds with place to self-determined active
involvement on behalf of the place, making complementarity more salient (see also Savage,
Bagnall, & Longhurst, 2005).
Similar to complementarity, compensation between fixity and flow posits that mobilities might
enable a form of place attachment that makes up for unsatisfactory fixed place-bonds. For example,
one’s place of residence can provide strong feelings of belonging, but scarce opportunities for
personal exploration and new self-enhancement experiences. Several studies have shown how
people made up for aspects of place attachment lacking in the home environment either by engaging
in leisure mobility (Fuhrer, Kaiser & Hartig, 1993) or bonding with non-residential places (Manzo,
2005). Buchecker (2009) showed how, on a municipal level, people who could not satisfy a
personal sense of place identity in a context of social control, turned instead to recreational areas to
compensate. Conversely, being constantly on the move can fulfill growth and exploration needs or
desires but may not afford the kinds of local knowledge and self-affirmation typically attributed to a
territorially rooted lifestyle (see Stedman, 2003; Williams & Kaltenborn, 1999). Compensation
between fixity and flow is particularly clear when mobility is not constant but periodic between
different points of fixity. For example, Williams and Van Patten’s (2006) research with second-
home owners in Wisconsin (USA) described how second homes can be lived as idyllic escapes,
with opportunities to relax, forget work and city life, adopt a different rhythm of life, and enjoy
3.4 Fixity FROM flow
A sense of fixity may also emerge through the permanency produced by shared features across a
series of places experienced sequentially (e.g., changing residence due to work, or moving in a
search for more affordable housing). Here, a sense of fixity arises from the person’s integration of
the different places to which one is attached, united in one same experience of place attachment.
This corresponds to the relational principle of overarching integration between fixity and flow,
where the idea of integration can be related to scale or to the self.
Scale-related integration involves continuity across environmental types at a similar geographic
scale. For example, Feldman’s (1990) research based on interviews and surveys in Denver (USA)
showed that people significantly expressed more emotional affinities, positive evaluations and
preferences towards types of settlements (‘city’ and ‘suburbs’) beyond specific places. The study
concluded that people who frequently change residence try to preserve “the continuity of residential
experiences” (Feldman, 1990, p. 186) by moving to places that are reminiscent of their former home
places, thereby maintaining a “settlement-identity:” “patterns of conscious and unconscious ideas,
feelings, beliefs, preferences, values, goals and behavioural tendencies and skills that relate the
identity of a person to a type of settlement, and provide dispositions for the future engagement with
that type of settlement” (p.192, italics added). In Feldman’s study, ‘suburb’ and ‘city’ were
overarching categories of places psychologically organizing people’s place-preferences and choices
when having to move from one place of residence to another.
A recent study of the relationship between mobility patterns, settlement identities and place
attachment in the UK showed that people’s attachments to their current residence was embedded in
settlement identities linked to patterns of residence across the life course (Bailey et al., 2016).
Active attachment was expressed by those who had consistent settlement identities (e.g. who had
voluntarily relocated to a town similar in scale as other places where they had previously lived). In
contrast, alienation or relativity was indicated by those with inconsistent settlement identities across
the life course (e.g. those who had moved to a small town from a large city). The study also found
evidence of individuals for whom place attachment was unreflective (i.e. who had no residential
mobility and had never lived elsewhere, described as traditional attachment) and those for whom
attachment to place was irrelevant (i.e. those whose life-course was characterised by high levels of
residential mobility, described as placelessness).
A self-related process of overarching integration of fixity and flow posits that mobility between
places may trigger a (positive) sense of fixity if there is place-congruent self-continuity (Twigger-
Ross & Uzzell, 1996). In this context, different places are interconnected because their physical
and social characteristics ‘fit’ with the person’s values. For example, in Twigger-Ross and Uzzell’s
(1996) interview study of the changing Surrey Docks (UK) area, place-attached residents compared
the area with other places they valued, reporting fits or misfits in terms of natural scenery and
valued social presences. Focusing more on aspects of social belonging, Rishbeth and Powell (2013)
in the UK explored migrants' place attachment dynamics highlighting that a sense of transnational
continuity emerged from bridging different life-spaces through personal memories and familiar
activities in public spaces. Along these lines, self-related integration of place and mobility may also
derive from other identity principles such as self-efficacy, distinctiveness, security or aesthetic
satisfaction (Droseltis & Vignoles, 2010).
3.5 Flow IN fixities
Integration of fixity and flow may also derive from fleeting and/or shifting connections between
places configured as a web of meaningful nodes (Manzo, 2003) or rhizomes (Williams & McIntyre,
2001) to which the individual feels attached. In this form of integration, fixity is not the dominant
principle, nor is there a temporally sequential connection between successive life-spaces, but
complex movement within a network of places (e.g., between home and work, between homeland
and migratory destination, among multiple places of belonging, etc.) shaping place attachments
according to a principle of multi-centred integration. Williams and Van Patten (2006) describe this
pattern of place attachment as “a multicentred world in which movement and mobility play as much
of a constituting role in society as more traditionally place-based notions of settlement, territory and
community identity” (p. 33) such that “people need not locate their identity in a single place but, in
fact, can flexibly invest themselves in a variety of places in a variety of times to suit a particular
season, stage or sensibility” (p.34) in life.
Multi-centred integration is particularly clear in studies addressing how experiences of
placelessness and re-placing home occur and can become intertwined in migratory processes. The
notion of home has become increasingly contingent and unsettled in a mobilized world of
transnational migration (Boccagni, 2017). Butcher (2010) traced the conceptualizations of home of
Australian expatriates working in Asia, concluding that "mobility does not necessarily equate with
relinquishing connections between home and place" but that it was observed as a "complex process
of belonging to ‘bits’ of multiple homes" (p.23). Similarly, Fortier (2000) studied religious
processions and other social activities (e.g., festivities and beauty contests) among Italian immigrant
communities in two church-cum-social clubs in Britain to show how transnational communities
perform their spatial belongings and attachments in a “productive tension that results from the
articulation of movement and attachment, suture and departure, outside and inside, in identity
formation” (p.2). Also interested in transnational place-bonding, Gustafson (2001a) studied
Swedish retirees’ seasonal migrations and referred to ‘multiple place attachment’ experiences,
stemming from two contrasting transnational lifestyles labelled as ‘translocal normality’ and
‘multilocal adaptation’. Both groups deeply felt psychological bonds with homes ‘here’ and ‘there’.
However, translocal normality was a connection to multiple places simultaneously based on
similarity between places, whereas multilocal adaptation implied neighbourhood involvement,
language learning and a broader identification with the country as home.
In sum, multi-centred or ‘rhizomatic’ place attachments result from a constant navigation or flow
between fixities configured as changing patterns of spatial anchoring and geographical circulation
(Williams & McIntyre, 2001).
As opposed to fixity, flow represents a maximum degree of movement, corporeal distance and
territorial disconnection extended in time. In theoretical terms, it implies an experience of absence
of territorial anchors and a topological sense of centrelessness. Although every human experience
unavoidably takes place materially somewhere, the personal relevance of that material place can be
minimal. Flow expresses a sense of transcending geographical referents that is clear in experiences
of placelessness (here defined as a lack of emotional bonds to places and not needing place for life
satisfaction; Bailey et al., 2016; Lewicka, 2013), but is particularly evident in imaginative and
Beyond the movement of bodies, imaginative travel entails being “transported elsewhere through
the images of places and peoples encountered in the media” and in everyday life, whereas virtual
travel involves “transcending geographical and often social distance through information and
communication technologies” (Szerszynski & Urry, 2006, p. 116). Overcoming geographical
distance using one’s imagination supposes a symbolic immersion into the ‘atmosphere of a place’
(Hannam et al., 2006), an imagined world of place-meanings that is dis-located but is equally felt
and experienced from a far (e.g., a young child imagining going to Disneyland). Imaginative travel
can re-create, maintain or change place attachment by activating shared representations and
memories of places left behind (e.g., migrants’ transnational bonds with their homelands; see
Rishbeth & Powell, 2013), and/or by psychologically anticipating and motivating different forms of
mobility to places, often represented in the media and in the shared cultural imaginaries as lands of
consumption, leisure, enjoyment, working opportunities, refuge, seasonal retirement, etc. (Williams
& McIntyre, 2012).
Virtual travel involves transcending spatial distance via the use of fixed or mobile telephones and
the Internet, jointly or without corporeal mobility (Champ, Williams & Lundy, 2013). In virtual
travel, flow transcends fixity by assembling the experiences of ‘being here,’ ‘being on the move’
and ‘being there’ at the same time, for instance when engaging in a videoconference while being in
transit in an airport, or in other sites of virtual connectivity (i.e., technoscapes, Adey & Bevan,
2006). The virtual condensation of multiple distant places via digital mobilities shifts conceptions of
workspaces (e.g., skype meetings via laptops while traveling on a train) and family relations (e.g.,
handling parental care via smartphones) (Taipale, 2014). These examples suggest that virtual flows
integrate dispersed connections to multiple locations in ways that do not necessarily replace fixed
places or physical travel, but rather intensify them or change their nature and the nature of
attachments to those places (Champ et al., 2013).
As Szerszynski and Urry (2006, p. 115) state, virtual and imaginative mobilities foster “inhabiting
the world at a distance.” As such, they may complement, superpose, or simultaneously occur with
multi-centred forms of place attachment. For example, Gurney et al. (2017) recently explored
multiple community framings related to place attachment to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and
their implications for sustainability challenges in the face of global environmental pressures. They
showed how information-mediated mobilities make direct environmental experience unnecessary to
form place attachments from afar, that nevertheless maintain and perform community’s bonds to the
environment. Gurney et al. conclude that “the nature of place attachment has evolved” and it can
“provide a means to transcend geographic and social boundaries” (p.10080).
As defined in the conceptual framework, flow may also involve experiences of place detachment
when it involves constant corporeal mobility. For example, in Bailey et al.’s (2016) study discussed
earlier, discontinuities in settlement types when moving from one place to another were related to
feelings of place estrangement, either in the form of place alienation (i.e., disliking one’s place of
residence) or place relativity (i.e., ambivalent and conditional feelings towards the place). In the
case of high residential mobility involving recurrent relocations, respondents referred to
4. Implications of the fixity-flow framework for place attachment research
The re-interpretation of place attachment dynamics through the lens of the proposed fixity-flow
framework has important implications for future research. This framework accommodates plural
expressions of place attachments in a mobile world, by recognising that individuals and
communities may have different types, valences and intensities of place attachments depending on
varying and overlapping modes of interrelation between mobility and immobility. The framework
encompasses flexible place attachments, including the potentially traumatic loss of bonds due to
mobility as well as their coping or adaptive value to address rapid change and disruption (e.g.,
migrants’ re-homing, resettlement after disasters, activity-based working). This suggests that place
attachments are not inherently stable psychological constructs, but rather are informed across time
and space by an array of mobility conditions and the relational configurations which underpin them
(complementarity, multi-centred integration, etc.). Below we highlight important theoretical,
methodological and practical implications of the fixity-flow framework for future place attachment
4.1 Theoretical implications
The fixity-flow framework proposes a theoretical consideration of place attachment that is more
‘fluid’ and relational, in line with Massey’s (1994) notion of a global sense of place, one that is
increasingly prominent in human geography (see Cresswell, 2015; Williams, 2014). Accordingly,
such fluidity exhibits network-like, multiscale, dynamic qualities, based on properties that emerge
from the amalgamation of local and more distant places. The resulting place attachments are
continuously re-articulated and open to change as a person navigates different moments of
interrelation between fixity and flow across an interconnected web of moorings. This view
encompasses changes across life-spans as well as across personally meaningful places. Fluidity,
speed, distance, scale and physicality of movement are seen here as varying attributes of movement
that constitute ongoing place attachment practices. This approach to place and place attachment
supports a view of place identities as ‘rhizomatic’ configurations (see Deleuze & Guattari, 1987) or
‘assemblages’ (Cresswell, 2015), which spread feelings of anchoring and rootedness across
multiple, dynamic and changing locales (see also Di Masso & Dixon, 2015; Manzo, 2005; Williams
& McIntyre, 2001). In this way, place attachment can be viewed as an emergent property of a
complex system. In such systems people learn, adapt and evolve new repertoires of behavior,
effectively “making and remaking the system (i.e., making places) through imagination, discourse,
and (material) action” (Williams, 2018, p. 289). Likewise, the understanding of ‘embodied
ecosystems’ suggests that people-place bonds are formed through dynamic webs of relations among
mind, culture, body and the environment that become actualized in situated and dynamic ways
(Raymond, Giusti, & Barthel, 2017).
A second theoretical implication of the framework is a challenge to the interactionist logic where
key elements (e.g., place attachment and corporeal movement) influence each other in a subject-
object relationship, provoking changes in one or in both (Raymond et al., 2017). The framework
questions taken-for-granted assumptions about the very nature of places and of people-place bonds,
demanding a more flexible approach reminiscent of a transactional perspective (Brown & Perkins,
1992). People’s efforts to articulate a coherent sense of place that reconciles stasis, movement and
geographical dispersal across multiple life-spaces and trajectories underscore the extent to which
individuals and communities become involved in dynamic, spatially distributed constellations of
relationships with places that flexibly re-shape their feelings and beliefs about ‘being located’,
‘being on the move’ and related ‘locational’ practices.
Third, the fixity-flow framework raises questions about how geopolitical reconfigurations triggered
by mobility practices may foreground the micro-politics of place and mobility (Di Masso, Dixon, &
Hernández, 2017; Ingalls & Stedman, 2016). It can orientate place attachment research to consider
how fluid people-place bonds are forged within specific constellations of (im)mobility that channel
power relations. For instance, place attachment disruption derived from forced relocation can bring
to the fore issues of power and social justice (Manzo, 2014a), and a permanent state of multi-
centeredness linked to business mobility might evidence socio-economic elite forms of privileged
cosmopolitanism (Gustafson, 2009b).
4.2 Methodological implications
The fixity-flow framework also raises important methodological questions. First, in terms of
research design, we call for more longitudinal studies of how place attachment changes over time
(Devine-Wright, 2014). To date, there has been a preponderance of cross-sectional research in the
literature and longitudinal studies are rare (but see Chow & Healey, 2008; Korpela et al., 2009).
Second, researchers could draw more often on existing dynamic frameworks of place attachment to
investigate their validity and value for understanding both fixities and flows. These include among
others Brown and Perkins (1992) three-stage model of disruption to place attachment and Devine-
Wright’s (2009) five-stage framework of psychological responses to place change. Third, existing
measurement tools could be extended to better capture flow as well as fixity. Many studies of place
attachment apply already existing measurement scales (e.g., Williams & Roggenbuck, 1989) that
lack an explicit temporality, yet could be revised to include additional questions concerning
mobility. For example, statements aiming to measure place identity (e.g., ‘I feel ‘X’ is a part of me’)
could capture past and future as well as present dimensions (e.g., ‘I feel ‘X’ was part of me’ and ‘I
feel ‘X’ will be part of me in the future’). Fourth and finally, place attachment researchers can
broaden their methodological approach to adopt what are increasingly termed ‘mobile methods’
(Büscher & Urry, 2009). These are diverse, but include performative methods (e.g., cycling or
walking) that are applied to conventional methods of data collection (e.g., observation or
interviews), with data recorded using mobile technologies (e.g., GPS, video or smart phone).
Walking or ‘go along’ interviews have already been used in place attachment research and provide
rich data about the meanings and attachments associated with specific places (see Rishbeth, 2014).
They also give more prominence to embodiment and sensory aspects of place experience.
4.3 Practical implications and future research questions
The fixity-flow framework can provide practical orientation for designing, managing and
maintaining places that are affected by mobility. Places can be designed in ways that are tailored to
constellations of fixity and flow salient to individuals and groups in a given social and ecological
context. For example, creating flexible design and employing participatory design processes may
provide a level of security and stability in the face of major place disruption; and providing housing
to those in similar physical or social environments to their place of origin may help promote a sense
of continuity across environmental types and thus overarching integration.
The fixity-flow framework can equip researchers to consider other important challenges. Brown and
Perkins’ (1992) call for new research lines on changes to place attachment at the community and
local scale is still relevant – covering, for example, communal strategies after relocation following
catastrophic fires to individual household losses due to evictions. The proposed framework also
embraces global challenges including climate change and ecological regime shifts; renewable
energy transitions; the trend towards nationalism and populist political agendas; urban change,
growth and urbanization; New Ways of Working, and technological and legal transformations. For
example, where do social-ecological regime shifts and other direct or indirect drivers of place
change fit within the fixities-flows framework? How does one’s journey through different
configurations of fixity and flow re-shape perceptions of adaptive responses to climate change or
technological transformations? Equally, the fixity-flow framework may invite questions about how
gentrified neighbourhoods are imagined, socially constructed and sensed by those experiencing
different forms of mobility related to urban change. Also, other conceptual and empirical
explorations can benefit from focusing on the fixity-flow dialectic: How does mobility affect
people’s appreciation of having a place to return to? When and what kind of mobility will bring
place alienation and therefore be maladaptive? Or how might extreme fixity inhibit individual
As mobilities have moved to the foreground both in lived experience and in social theory, the need
to systematically conceptualize the different forms of interweaving between fixed/static and
mobile/dynamic aspects of place attachment has become ever more apparent. We propose a fixity-
flow framework within which to investigate place attachments in a mobile world, and in doing so
provide a conceptual re-organization and theoretical argument that underscore and push forward
critical contributions to place research in order to tackle place attachments ‘on the move.’
Furthermore, examining place attachment through the lens of this fixity-flow framework offers
place researchers new meta-theoretical, conceptual and methodological resources to consider how
various (im)mobilities affect and re-configure place-based meanings and attachments, and how
people respond to such dynamics to construct, maintain and adapt their identities and foster well-
being in the face of accelerating global and local changes.
This manuscript is one output of the International Exploratory Workshop entitled: ‘The role of
Place Attachment in the contexts of migration and urbanization: Current status and future research
prospects’, held at ETH Zurich (Switzerland) in June 2017.
The workshop and this work were supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (Grant Nr.:
IZ32Z0_173387), the Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences, the ETH Zurich TdLab,
and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL).
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