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Placing Wellbeing

Anthropological Perspectives on Wellbeing and Place

Emilia Ferraro and Juan Pablo Sarmiento Barletti

In this thematic issue we offer anthropologically-informed snapshots of the different forms that wellbeing takes when approached from place-based perspectives. We are interested in highlighting and engaging with the undermining of place in the literature on wellbeing, which has produced a lack of appreciation for the role that culture plays in forming and informing different discourses, understandings and practices of wellbeing, as well as wellbeing scholarship itself. Our articles examine place as part of a project that aims at generating new contexts from which to ‘think otherwise’ about social policy, politics, the creation of knowledge, and, ultimately, existence.

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Teachings of Tara

Sacred Place and Human Wellbeing in the Shimla Hills

Jonathan Miles-Watson

This article presents the case for a rethinking of the academy’s approach to sacred space through a demonstration of the way that a focus on unskilled actors reconfigures established approaches and interpretations. The article opens with an auto-ethnographic account of the powerful effect of Shimla’s Tara Devi temple on personal wellbeing and from this starting point spirals out to explore how Tara (and her sacred places) are connected to wellbeing both in the Himalayan region of Shimla and beyond. Through this process, arguments that I have previously made, concerning both the relation of sacred places to happiness (2010) and the way that sacred places operate in Himalayan North India (2012), are significantly complicated, leading to a reappraisal of the role that unskilled actors play in the constitution of sacred space. The article concludes by drawing these ethnographic reflections and theoretical considerations together to develop a key set of recommendations that call for policy-makers to engage sensitively with sacred places in the contemporary, post-secular city.

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Home and Away

Place Appreciation and Purposeful Relocation in Later Life

Neil Thin

Worldwide, people’s attachments to places are typically ambivalent, and complemented by desires for mobility and scene-changing. So to understand relationships between place and wellbeing, we need to look beyond the simple idea that some kinds of place, local characteristics and place attachments make people’s lives go better. Places matter, but wellbeing is not environmentally determined, it is a complex outcome of lifelong interactions between people and places. Some of these are conscious and deliberate, and some involve deliberate relocation as well as processes of attachment. This article supplements the environmental determinism of ‘good place’ theories, and the social constructionism of ‘healthy place attachment’ theories, with recommendations for a systematic approach to mapping and analysing how wellbeing happens. It pays particular attention to deliberate ‘place appreciation’, which refers to these dynamic interactions through which people actively derive value from places. Ethnographic examples of deliberate ecological self-improvement in later life are explored to highlight three kinds of place-related wellbeing strategies: place-making, local mobility and relocation. A simple analytical system is proposed to highlight the potential relevance to policy and practice of a systematic sociocultural ecology of wellbeing.

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‘People-Place-Process’ and Attachment in the Museum

A New Paradigm for Understanding Belonging?

Susannah Eckersley

Previous studies of place attachment have tended to focus on the positive (rather than negative) reasons why individuals associate themselves with a particular place, while studies on memory and identity have frequently been based on negative experiences of and in place. Drawing on interviews and focus groups, this article highlights how Germans and Poles with a history of forced migration have different perceptions of the same geographical ‘home’, and how their tangible and intangible encounters during a museum visit helped to generate these understandings. It argues that a people-place-process complex of attachment provides a more useful conceptualisation of belonging than either place attachment or memory, because it encapsulates a greater breadth of ideas that contribute towards these feelings.

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Ziyareti

Imagined Sacred Places and Cultural Transmission among Georgians in Turkey

Tamta Khalvashi

This article attempts to analyse the role of collective remembering and imagination of certain traditions, practices and rituals that are related to sacred places through the process of cultural transmission and social change among Muslim Georgians living in north-eastern Turkey. For this purpose, I refer to nineteenth-century ethnographic narratives collected by the Georgian critic Zakarya Chichinadze, as well as my own fieldwork materials. I aim to show how these narratives mediate collective remembering of sacred places that is modified with additional imagined constructs.

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Putting the Folk in Their Place

Tradition, Ecology and the Public Role of Ethnology

Ullrich Kockel

The folk, who have been exorcised from contemporary academic concern, are now replaced with the populace. Simultaneously, places as ecological loci of meaning and social relations have been discarded in favour of globalised spaces. Arguably, the contemporary obsession with proving the inauthenticity of tradition is itself an essentialising discourse. This obsession has helped destroy places and their ecological relationships. European ethnology originated in the Enlightenment pursuit of good governance and social improvement, which rendered it an instrument of political control - putting the folk in their place. By critically reconstructing the public role of ethnology, we can redirect the ethnological searchlight. Should not the responsible ethnologist, rather than colluding in evictions of the folk from their place, cultivate a respectfully critical understanding of social, economic, political and ecological contexts, working with the folk reflexively, to help reclaim their place.

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Alla Bolotova, Anastassia Karaseva and Valeria Vasilyeva

This article explores how the mobility of young people influences their sense of place in different parts of the Russian Arctic. In globalization studies increasing mobility has often been set in opposition to belonging to place, and interpreted as diminishing local connections and ties. Recent studies show that the role of mobility in shaping a sense of place is more complex. The Russian Arctic is often considered a remote, hard-to-access area, despite the fact that local residents have always been very mobile. We compare three case studies from across the Russian Arctic—namely, the Central Murmansk region, the Central Kolyma, and Eastern Taimyr—showing how mobility shapes differently young residents’ sense of place. These regions have a different population structure (urban / rural, polyethnic / monoethnic) and different transportation infrastructure, thus providing a good ground for comparing the relationships between mobility and a sense of place in the Russian Arctic.

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Dante Alighieri Was Here

Place, Identities, Geographies and Histories in a Small Slovenian Town

Miha Kozorog

The article addresses the question of local identification, proposing that local identification in the contemporary world can be linked to locals' imagining 'their place' as inscribed within wider contexts outlined by symbols with supra-local references, whereby place-centric imaginary geographies emerge. Locals are active producers of symbols linking a place to such geographies. The author discusses the case of Dante Alighieri's alleged stay in the town of Tolmin in 1319, which failed as a possible symbol for inscribing the town into the imaginary geography of Western literature because in this part of Slovenia Dante was also associated with Italian fascism.

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Religion, Space, and Place

The Spatial Turn in Research on Religion

Kim Knott

Following a consideration of the impact of the late twentieth-century spatial turn on the study of religion by geographers, anthropologists, sociologists, historians, and religious studies scholars, two trends are distinguished: the poetics of place and the sacred; and politics, religion, and the contestation of space. Discussion of these reveals substantially different approaches to religion, space, and place—one phenomenological, the other social constructivist. The spatial turn has been extremely fruitful for research on religion, bringing together scholars from a variety of disciplines, and connecting not only to traditional areas such as sacred space and pilgrimage, but to new ones such as embodiment, gender, practice and religious-secular engagements.

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Meshworks and the Making of Climate Places in the European Alps

A Framework for Ethnographic Research on the Perceptions of Climate Change

Sophie Elixhauser, Stefan Böschen and Katrin Vogel

Ethnographers studying the local dimensions of climate change find themselves confronted with a methodological problem: climate change is both an abstract concept and a locally present phenomenon, yet it does not emerge from lived experience. We tackle this problem by means of a research framework that combines discussions on place and Tim Ingold’s (2011) idea of a meshwork. This article is based on research on climate change perceptions in two Alpine communities, located in Bavaria (Germany) and South Tyrol (Italy), respectively. We show how a focus on climate knots and their meshworks allows the grasping, describing, and visualizing of the different dimensions of climate change in these two local settings. This framework, as we further show, helps to reveal social and cultural patterns and underlying structures.