When ‘space’ becomes ‘place’ |2| Dirk van Eck

Dirk Van Eck

Dirk Van Eck

My previous blogpost distinguished between the notions ‘place’ and ‘space’ and explained that expats’ spouses residing in Eindhoven, experience the city during the first months (or years) after their arrival, mostly in terms of the latter, i.e. ‘space’.

It also told about the hypothesis of American geographer David Seamon that people who perceive most of their environment as ‘space’, will have a hard time to foster an attitude of ‘openness’. In this context, it means a situation in which a person strives for fuller understanding of the world.

In ‘space’, he thinks, people cannot maintain such an attitude of openness, because they are too preoccupied with things like navigation, watchfulness, etcetera. In this second blogpost I will set forth an argument to counter Seamon’s.

IMG_6353What is home?

Home is first of all ‘place’. Home is the most profound centre of rest in the human’s existence. Outside of home we are ‘visiting’, ‘in transit’, ‘not at home’, ‘out of place’ or ‘travelling’.

Seamon disentangles the concept of home into five categorical parameters. These are: ‘rootedness’, ‘appropriation’, ‘regeneration’, ‘warmth’ and ‘at-easeness’.

Especially the first and last one of these are important with respect to his openness-argument.

IMG_6333People are ‘rooted’ in their homes as they know their way around it without having to think. Their body shepherds them to wherever they need to be.

People are ‘at-ease’ in their homes as there they can be what they most comfortably are and do what they most wish to do. It is where one can act in answer to abrupt urges as there is no anticipated shame in doing so.

Rootedness before openness

According to Seamon, people need rootedness before they can foster openness. If one thing is for certain, however, it is that the spouses are not yet fully rooted in Eindhoven.

IMG_6734Get in Touch would be an awkward project if everyone knew their way around Eindhoven!

And yet many spouses have expressed how they enjoy greater freedom – and hence more openness – in the Netherlands.

04-120515-Mijn Geheim-art NastyaIn April, for example, the Dutch glossy magazine Mijn Geheim published an interview with Anastasia, one of the Get in Touch spouses. The title of which announces In Nederland ervaar ik meer vrijheid en kan ik doen wat ik zelf wil.” [“In The Netherlands, I feel more free and I can do whatever I like”]

Others have told me that they feel less judged or looked at in comparison to their country or origin.

On basis of my results, I would propose that the spouses do not rely on rootedness to perpetuate openness, but on at-easeness.

Insideness and outsideness

To fully explain this, two more concepts need to be introduced, which were once coined by a Canadian named Edward Relph: ‘insideness’ and ‘outsideness’.

What he calls an insider is someone who has been living in a area for a long time of his life, who feels thoroughly connected with that place, who knows everyone else living there and who is known by everyone else living there. The outsider is of course the insider’s opposite; a stranger, foreigner or visitor who does not (yet) identify with the place.

The spouses were insiders of their country or origin. For Seamon that equals to feeling at home in it and thus being rooted and at-ease in it. But an important aspect of insideness is that others know the insider as well, which means that he or she experiences pressure to conform to every norm and value and make sure nobody detects him or her doing something outlandish.

IMG_7953Questions ..

The question then arises, can the insider truly be at-ease? And can someone who is not at-ease really be open to discover the world? I do not think so.

In the Netherlands, the spouses are outsiders. But that is precisely why they can foster an attitude of openness. They have little consequences to fear for their actions as long as they cross no legal boundaries.The insiders do not know them and are apathetic towards their doings. They are not watched or judged and even if they are, there is little to reason to care, since they are as much a stranger to the insiders as the insiders are to them.

.. to be continued in Dirk’s next blog post |3| ..