Monday, March 14, 2016

Place and Cultural Landscapes/Built Environments

          This week’s readings challenge us to think about space, time, the built environment, and cultural landscapes.  J.B. Jackson’s A Sense of Place, A Sense of Time is one of the most intriguing works we’ve read in this class thus far. Jackson looks at many different kinds of landscapes – New Mexico, mobile homes, parks, gardens, etc., where he makes his point that space helps determine how humans interact with surrounding environments. In turn, it engages with how humans shape those spaces. His study in particular is fascinating because of how it looks at what his contemporaries may have considered mundane. His extensive conversations of roads, for example, is illustrative of Jackson’s point that roads are places, too and not just means of getting to other places. Jackson helped me to think about the in-between spaces that often get overlooked.

            These liminal spaces, an anthropological term to denote the “not quite” spaces during rituals, are important themes for this week as well. One of my favorite readings in this class was Sue Bridwell Beckham’s discussion of Southern porches as liminal spaces occupied by women. In it, Bridwell looks at the porch as a place where social mores broke down in courtship, black-white relationships, and gendered interactions. This offers an insight into how historically marginalized groups exercised their agency, often in opposition to the status quo. This is certainly relevant in Robert W. Weyeneth’s study of the built environment of Jim Crow South, in which he categorizes “the spatial strategies of white supremacy” to construct environments that isolated and partitioned whites and blacks from one another. These constructed spaces shaped how blacks and whites interacted within their racial own groups and outside of them. Most interesting is Weyeneth’s conversation about how African-American communities in South Carolina counteracted these constructions by creating alternative spaces to meet their needs previously denied to them in a segregated world.

            Most interesting of all is this week’s thematic structure in which these scholars highlight the silences of in-between spaces. It has made me think a lot about some of the silent spaces I’m not thinking about in regards to my license plate. Thanks to Jackson, the road is another excellent entry point into thinking about my object. What other spaces did it occupy, and how? How, if at all, did the meanings of the license plate change as it moved across various landscapes? It certainly helped to change visual landscapes when present, but I’m hoping to explore how its surrounding environments effected it. 

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