Lindsay J. McCunn Ph.D

iEnvironment

Planned Place Loss

What happens when we expect homesickness?

Posted Aug 01, 2015

Hello readers! I must apologize for my recent absence. I’ve been spread a little thin between teaching and finishing my dissertation. I am pleased to say that I will be beginning an academic position with the University of Washington Tacoma in the fall – another (very positive) reason that I have been offline, so to speak. Indeed, the task of preparing to relocate is what spawned the subject of this long-overdue post.

Of course I am excited to start my journey on the tenure track. I believe the breadth of teaching and research I am about to do is, perhaps, the easier part of the transition that is now less than a month away. The remainder is trickier. The elements of moving that have to do with one’s ‘sense of place’ are proving to be the tough stuff. At least in my experience. 

I have resided in Canada all of my life minus 6 months (I briefly lived in the US during high school). I have called Victoria, BC my home for 15 years. Before moving here permanently I visited annually for 14 years. For me, saying goodbye to family, friends, and familiarity comes with a simultaneous breach from the physical environments I see, use, and express myself in daily. From coffee shops to campus; from streets and shops; from parks and playgrounds – these settings will be left behind, too. 

Many people know how it feels to have a 'sense of place.' Sense of place can feel like a strong attachment to a setting – maybe one where you feel as though you fit, socially and behaviorally. You miss this place when you are away from it for too long. Perhaps, for you, there is no better place. I’ve blogged about this concept a few times (e.g., here) and some debate exists about whether sense of place is more of a meaning than an attitude (Williams, 2008). No matter the terminology, the construct is a highly emotive phenomenon and I am surprised at how challenging it has been to uncover psychological literature about when the loss of it is expected. What happens to our sense of place when we purposefully abandon the place in question? When we know homesickness is coming, how to we feel? Are these feelings different from those that emerge when displacement is abrupt?

Research on place attachment and place identity is not scarce. A number of studies have examined how individuals feel, remember, and cope with changes to their habits and connections after natural disasters have struck (see the bottom of this post for a few). Documenting place-based reactions to sudden environmental or political changes is important for many reasons – one of which is to understand better the nuances of sense of place. Arguably, this task also requires investigating a framework of sense of place that includes place loss in a variety of circumstances. After all, moving is a stressful event. Knowing more about how people conceptualize planned re-location in terms of sense of place may help to minimize transition-related stress.

My point is that a planned disruption in one’s belonging in, and identification with, a specific setting differs from the kind of psychological sense of loss that may happen as one ages and forgets how compatible they once were with a place (see my earlier post on this here). Moving house is also a distinct phenomenon from losing sense of place for a setting that has changed in some way (but in which one chooses to remain). In a paper that reconceptualizes the role of sense of place in the disaster recovery process, Silver and Grek-Martin (2015) reference Albrecht (2006) to explain how the experiences of people who have gone through environmentally-induced displacement are seperate from others who have felt place-based distress while continuing to inhabit the setting. This distinction is known as ‘solastalgia’ (an amalgam of ‘solace’ and ‘nostalgia’) used when solace, meaning, or value cannot be derived from the current state of a home environment (or, perhaps, any environment for which sense of place has developed for a person).

I think I am about to experience a third form of solastalgia: I am not staying where I’ve always lived despite changes to its landscape or structure. I am not being uprooted unexpectedly by disaster or forces out of my control. Solastalgia will undoubtedly define my feelings as we leave Victoria and the many settings that have afforded me so much solace. I will feel it again as we arrive in Tacoma -- altogether nostalgic for where I have been and homesick for what will soon become home.

References:

Albrecht, G. (2006). Solastalgia. Alternatives Journal, 32, 34-37.

Silver, A. & Grek-Martin, J. (2015). “Now we understand what community really means”: Reconceptualizing the role of sense of place in the disaster recovery process. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 42, 32-41.

Williams, D. R. (2008). Introduction: Pluralities of place: A user’s guide to place concepts, theories, and philosophies in natural resource management. General Technical Report. PNW-GTR-744. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station.

Articles of Interest:

Mishra , S., Mazumdar, S. & Suar, D. (2010). Place attachment and flood preparedness. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30, 187-197.

Ruiz, C. & Hernández, B. (2014). Emotions and coping strategies during an episode of volcanic activity and their relations to place attachment. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 38, 279-287.

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