Place-­attachment in heritage theory and practice: a personal and ethnographic study

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The thesis is a critical study of the concept of place-attachment in Australian heritage practice and its application in this field. Place-attachment is typically characterised as a form of intangible heritage arising from interactions between people and place. I trace how this meaning borrows from concepts in psychology and geography and argue that the idea of place-attachment is often applied uncritically in heritage conservation because the field lacks a body of discipline-specific theory. It is my thesis that place-attachment can be conceptualised in a way that is more amenable to effective heritage management practice than is currently the case. I construct a concept of place-attachment that draws on a notion of intra-action and theories of attachment, agency and affect. I define place-attachment as a distributed phenomenon that emerges through the entanglements of individuals or groups, places and things. This meaning is interrogated via four case studies – each centred on a home and garden (including my own) and Anglo-Australians – by applying a methodology that is primarily self-referential and auto-ethnographic. Topics that emerge from the field data, including life stages (i.e., childhood-adulthood attachment), generational transfer, and experiential understanding or empathy, are examined and shown to offer support for a concept of place-attachment as entanglement. The thesis findings have implications for heritage practice. A framework of entanglement over interaction calls for recognition of intra-active assemblages in preference to intangible meanings; dynamism and multi-temporality over stasis and a distant past; the power of personal heritage alongside authorised, collective forms; and situated, relational ethics together with place-centred values.
Date of Award28 Aug 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Sydney
SupervisorDenis Byrne (Supervisor) & Anne Clarke (Supervisor)

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