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Doreen Massey’s Concept of a Global Sense of Place Critical Essay



In the recent past, geographers and scholars have applied various concepts related to networks and place making as they strive to comprehend and explain the current political processes and communal transformation. One of those geographers is Doreen Massey. Her concept of ‘global sense of place’ has had a substantial impact on how people construe the issue of place development.

Having understood Massey’s concept, the discussion in this paper will relate her concept to the question of place development and especially, the issue on how to increase social as well as economic development of an ethnically divided community.

In the discussion, it will be noted that all the place-descriptions observed by the disparate domestic actors represents a particular ‘global sense of place’, although the results of this method of place-making still remains complex to seize empirically.

Analysis of Doreen Massey’s concept of a ‘global sense of place’

By comparing ideas from personal surveillance and conceptual assessment, Massey comprehensively addresses issues relating to globalisation as well as time-space solidity. In an article that is often cited by various geographers and scholars, Massey introduces a different understanding of place that includes globalisation in a constructive manner.

In explanation, she contradicts previous concepts developed by David Harvey as well as other Marxists who often portrayed the negative effects of globalisation. Massey globalised Kilburn Hill Street in North London and observed how various domestic ideas could be viewed as an expression of domestically interacting ‘global’ developments as well as flows (Massey 1991).

From her observation, she infers that place ought to be considered as dynamic domestic and international, social as well as economic relations. Although she concurs that there is an element of specificity in place made of certain collections of social connections, she asserts that factors such transformation human behaviours and relations with a foreign culture can actually affect a given place.

According to Massey, a community is not made up of individuals who reside close to each other but instead it is composed of persons who have similar interests or challenges. In comparing the relationship between geography and social connections, Massey asserts that individuals who live in a particular area are likely to share views and challenges with people residing in other areas in the world, foreigners (Massey 1991).

Massey concept has raised various debates as scholars try to understand how global can be seen as locally-based as well as how one can construe that, in relation to the meaning of place. One of the commonly debated issues involves places with ethnically disparate residents as portrayed in Kilburn Street.

The main question revolves around the influence of the sense of place founded on the reasoning that there is global in the local coupled with how it can assist local societies to introduce mutual programmes aimed at fortifying the socio-economic status of the entire community (Massey & Jess 1995).

Another debate revolving around ethnically disparate communities that have adopted a wider scope is the significance of entrepreneurship particularly in the case of retail trade and health care services. In the case of immigrants, entrepreneurship gives them an opportunity to improve the socio-economic status within their native community and in the foreign location.

It is normally intricate for first generation immigrants to get employment because of cultural disparities and lack of relevant qualifications. However, subsequent immigrants find it easy to practice entrepreneurship because they are aware of the culture, resources, and legal procedures in the host country.

Hence, self-employment can act as a means of survival for people residing and operating in a given place. Subsequently, it can help in improving the socio-economic position of a whole neighbourhood (Featherstone 2003).

In reference to Massey’s concept, the discussion in this paper will examine the link between ethnic entrepreneurship and place development and how three clusters of participants that is, entrepreneurs, retail traders and domestic lawmakers as well as foreign expert can combine their skills to create a foundation for the community investments plans.

The paper uses a neighbourhood similar to Kilburn Street, which has developed to an ethnically diverse place and it has become a core part is municipal reconstruction plans.

In essence, the discussion in this paper acts as an evaluation of Massey’s rational accomplishment as well as try to combine Massey’s opinions on the extensive debate on self-employment and its relation to place into developing a place with multi-ethnic community (Adams, Hoelscher & Till 2001).

In her explanation of space and place, Massey infers that spatial relations ought not to be viewed with uncertainty. Every place is composed of various distinct qualities that are difficult to comprehend within a rigid local surrounding. These qualities evolve from the combination and intertwining series of incidents as well as processes, normally transpiring at a scope broader that the place in question (Mayer 2008).

By including the aspect of ‘global’ in the definition, Massey succeeds in escaping the ‘endogeneity trap’ that has challenged several contemporary geographers. These series of combination and intertwinement, which Massey refers to as trajectories, affect places in two major forms: introducing types of investments as well as culture and redefines construed histories and spatial relations.

These trajectories assist local participants to create a sense of place as well as participate in movements of place-making. In essence, trajectories are crucial components of place-making (Massey & Jess 1995).

By recognising the fact that trajectories have diverse effects in place, an individual develops an authentic candidness about the future.

It is important to note that when addressing the issue of space and society, theoretical frames do not create neutral notion because they are entrenched in social as well as political compositions that are initiated through policy making, communicated and eventually emphasised by academic analysts.

Scholars have observed that there is no single description of a town because different people may describe it by underpinning certain features and ignoring others. Hence, every trajectory embodies how various practices are influenced by wider transformations and trends (Featherstone 2003).

By understanding the relationship between sense of place and trajectories, one adopts clear perspective when it comes to handling the issue of place. The sense of place explains how a place is related to other parts of the globe through the trajectories.

Massey emphasises that understanding the relationship between trajectories and sense of place helps one to understand the numerous developments and narratives that influence place-making. This concept neutralises the contemporary idea that the trajectories of place combine to form a certain product in given time.

Instead, Massey’s conception provides that the trajectories integrate to form particular union as well as spatial relations hence, creating a product and political manifestations (Massey & Jess 1995). From the relationship of trajectories and sense of place, one can deduce that the former provides a place with resources as well as semiotic factors such as business investments and population transformation that nourish the sense of place.

On the other hand, the latter influence how the trajectories are adopted and shared within the local area. A ‘global sense of place’ in this situation provides even a better way of creating ample reactions to trajectories that occur in a wider scope such as those involving foreign investments, migration or even global drug peddling.

Thus, a society that draws its information from ‘a global sense of place’ is at a upper hand when it comes to handling problems or opportunities that occur at non-domestic scales, but affect the local residents (Massey 1991).

The idea of trajectory underpins the semiotic as well as material features of the globe. It begins it observation from a practical point view, which is an essential component of place-making. Thus, trajectories are often disclosed and categorised according to the features of a given place. Nonetheless, the idea does not define a type semiotic structure where particular components and associations prevail.

In trajectories, what is of essence is the development of an integrated effect on place-making rather than uniting diverse network (Adams, Hoelscher & Till 2001). In reference to Massey’s article, we apply the concept of a ‘global sense of place’ to an ethnically divers Dutch community in Willemskwartier. Most of its residents are immigrants who took over the houses, which were initially inhabited by native citizens.

Historically, the area has faced various social and environmental predicaments such as joblessness, increased rate of crime and environment dilapidation because of poor physical environment (Swyngedouw 2004).

The neighbourhood grew to host several small enterprises that gave an opportunity for illegal business such as global narcotic trade. The growth of drug peddling led to the emergence of violent groups who have caused a lot of mayhem in the neighbourhood.

The mounting problems drew the attention on the government and it initiated several mitigation policies including a series of urban planning programmes, which acts as a good trajectory to analyse (Massey 2004).

Another substantial factor to consider as a trajectory is the recent development of entrepreneurship in the neighbourhood with entrepreneurs from different ethnic groups accelerating economic growth in the community. A majority of these entrepreneurs are immigrants from Turkey who adopted the Dutch culture and have adequate knowledge of the community’s resources (Spaan, Hillmann & Van Naerssen 2005).

The high population of Turkish entrepreneurs signal their desire to venture into retail business. The policy of multiculturalism has played a major role in raising the number of immigrant entrepreneurs in the community. The cultural outlook on place-making, which considers how the residents interact in issues relating to community development, also provides another trajectory (Razin 2002).

The development of the Dutch urban programmes has been dominated by logical planning as well as policies because of the emphasis given to communication. One of the main planning programmes include the standard zoning, which monitors the allotment of residential houses, retail premises as well as business areas through accurate estimation and prediction.

Another popular programme is the land-use plan that was initiated in 2006 to promote the constructive attitude on ethnic entrepreneurship and thus permitting mixed purposes. Other programmes have also been adopted to check the growth of the hospitality industry, which has attracted several investors.

The huge investment in the hospitality industry has led to the introduction of laws that entrepreneurs from venturing into the industry. Furthermore, the government sought other means to handle the issue no within the standard regulatory framework.

This action created opportunities for novel types of events as well as enticements to complement the urban planning trajectory. Moreover, the government has also made an effort to fight drug peddling and illegal groups though the deployment of law enforcers and expropriation (Featherstone 2003).

The second trajectory, viz. ethnic entrepreneurship, can play a significant role in improving the status of a given place, in this case Wilemskwartier. The trajectory is based on narratives characterised by policy and academic issues, showing how migrant entrepreneurs improved the socioeconomic status of the community.

Various scholars have asserted that the duty of immigrant investors should be associated with the opportunities as well as challenges that develop from domestic organisational and market environment (Lin 1995). Most of the entrepreneurs who conduct business in Wilemskwartier invest their capital in the neighbourhood although they do not reside there.

The decision to invest their capital in the area was inspired by the data they received about the neighbourhood through social connections. Their social relations with the inhabitants, they learnt how to conduct business in the area successfully, which in itself is a manifestation of the concept of a ‘global sense of place’. The large numbers of Turkish and Moroccan shops are evident across the streets.

The original intention of these entrepreneurs was to serve their own community but the demands of their products and services increased as native and other immigrants developed an interest in services. In a bid to satisfy this massive number of clients, the entrepreneurs have been compelled to expand their services to cater for all Dutch-speaking clients (Lin 1995).

The entrepreneurs have been successful mainly because of the strong personal as well as social relations when it comes to establishing and seeking workforce for the enterprises. The third trajectory develops from the manner in which the neighbourhood handled the social, cultural, as well as economic affiliations.

Although the authorities were initially hesitant to accept the inhabitation of the immigrants, they eventually welcomed their existence. Their attitude changed when the immigrant begun paying taxes and participating in domestic politics (Adams, Hoelscher & Till 2001).

Analysing the Willemskwartier through the Massey’s concept of ‘global sense of place’, one can infer that the place has challenges and opportunities that are not only affected by local communities but also global factors. Moreover, the area also shows how trajectories unite with various spatialities and at times even clash.

In reference to the community in Willemskwartier, one can extract the ‘political’ in two primary levels: trajectory and place. The urban planning projects initiated by the government are correlated to the first, second, and third trajectory (Massey 2004).


The developments witnessed in Willemskwartier reveal that the resurgence of an ethnically disparate society entails the merging of ethnic uniqueness, economic integration, as well as modernisation of traditions. Moreover, for geographers to identify trajectories and create conjectural initiatives, it is important to consider the hypothetical concepts that relate to the trajectories.

From the discussion in this paper, one gets to understand the relationship between global influences, spatial relations, and trajectory. Geography is a matter of theory and thus various geographers such as Harvey, Massey, and Watts have given various definitions of space and even as people struggle to understand their concepts, it is important to question their presuppositions.

Reference List

Adams, P, Hoelscher, S & Till, K 2001, Textures of place, Minnesota University Press, Minneapolis.

Featherstone, D 2003, ‘Spatialities of transnational resistance to globalisation: the maps of grievance of the Inter-Continental Caravan’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, vol. 28 no. 4, pp.404–421.

Lin, J 1995, ‘Ethnic places, postmodernism, and urban change in Houston’, Sociological Quarterly, vol.36 no.4, pp.629-647.

Massey, D 1991, ‘A global sense of place’, Marxism Today, vol.8 no.2, pp 24-29.

Massey, D 2004, ‘Geographies of responsibility’, Geographiska Annaler, vol.86 no.5, pp.5-18.

Massey, D & Jess, P 1995, A Place in the World? Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Mayer, M 2008, ‘To what end do we theorise sociospatial relations’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, vol.26 no.4,pp. 414-419.

Razin, E 2002, ‘The economic context, embeddedness and immigrant entrepreneurs’, International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour & Research, vol.8 no.2, pp.162-167.

Spaan, E, Hillmann, F & Van Naerssen, A 2005, Asian migrants and European labour markets: patterns and processes of immigrant labour market insertion in Europe, Routledge, Abingdon.

Swyngedouw, E 2004, ‘Globalisation or Glocalisation? Networks, Territories and Rescaling’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, vol.17 no.1, pp. 25-48.

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