Chapters

Place-Making and Economic Development

Place-Making and Economic Development

What is Place-Making?

Place-making is the social construction of place from the more general space (Tuan 1977). This is a fancy phrase, but the idea is fairly simple. Think of the difference between a house and a home. When you travel, you might stay in a hotel. A hotel room keeps the rain off your head, it serves to house you, but it isn’t the same thing as a home. A home is a place that has meaning. It is a place that brings up fond memories, a place in which you feel secure, and where you are surrounded by familiar faces. These personal meanings, the things that make a place feel like home, are the subject of place-making studies.

Place-making is an active process often shaped by conflict. This is because the way we relate to places changes over time. For instance, you feel differently about the house you grew up in than you did when you were a 12 year old living there. In order to understand place-making, therefore, it is important to understand the history of a particular place. In addition, place-making is often driven by conflict because local residents often have a specific idea of how local resources should be used that conflicts with managers’ or politicians’ goals for those resources. A good example of this can be seen in the current conflict over oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Many Alaskans want to see more oil drilling, but federal managers and politicians want to see the area continue as a wildlife refuge. These kinds of conflicts can shape a community in many ways (e.g., Harner 2001; Heald 2008; Larsen 2004).

As the above example suggests, place-making efforts often relate to economic concerns. To highlight this we can think of place-making as a set of inter-related means and meanings, where means refer to the physical resources of a landscape (e.g., fish, trees, minerals) and meanings refers to the social meanings people associate with a place (Marsh 1987). Means and meanings interact and change over time as different groups gain more control and influence over local resources. As a result, economic development programs can often alter local place-making efforts. For this reason, our research was interested in learning about the ways economic development programs interacted with place-making efforts in the Pribilof Islands.

Think of the difference between a hotel and a home.
Local residents often have a specific idea of how local resources should be used that conflicts with managers’ or politicians’ goals for those resources.
Our research was interested in learning about the ways economic development programs interacted with place-making efforts in the Pribilof Islands.

What is Development?

Development as a concept first came about in the aftermath of World War II. First at the Bretton Woods Conference (a gathering of world leaders in 1944) and then again in documents such as the Truman Doctrine (Truman 1947), wealthy, western nations began to realize that political unrest and poverty in the global south would threaten the stability of the global economy. These leaders, therefore, wanted to integrate the global south into the global economy. Their plan for doing so was called development. Through loans and aid western nations would help the poorer nations of the global south mechanize and industrialize, so that they could then produce goods for exchange in the global economy.

The increased trade would bring wealth and opportunity to these countries, solving the problem of poverty. In addition to stabilizing the global economy, this line of thinking had several additional benefits in the eyes of developed nations like the US: by spreading capitalism, it would slow the establishment of communist countries, as well as create new markets for first world products (Escobar 1995).

Since then, development programs have been used across the global south, as well as in rural areas of the US and Canada. While millions of dollars have been spent on these programs, few obvious success stories exist. Far from being the value-neutral and straightforward idea presented in the description above, development as an idea and a policy has many less obvious results. As development policy has become a major aspect of modern political and economic life in the Pribilof Islands, a discussion of these unanticipated results can provide important context for understanding these communities. We discuss these issues below.

Political unrest and poverty would threaten the stability of the global economy.
Development as an idea and a policy has many less obvious results.

Unanticipated Results

Reality Distortion

Hidden Local Power Dynamics

Western Power Consolidation

State Power Consolidation

The way we think about a problem can shape reality.

By defining “underdevelopment” as a problem stemming from too little cash, proponents of development have already determined what the solution to this problem is: to increase cash flow. Thus, residents of underdeveloped regions must join cash economies and take up wage work and give up hunting or farming to feed their families. To aid in this transition, western experts are brought in to collect data on the country and create plans for modernization (Scott 1998).

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