Placeless Geography

Welcome to McWorld!

Go into a Protestant church in a Swiss village, a mosque in Damascus, the cathedral at Reims, a Buddhist temple in Bangkok, and though in every case you are visiting a place of worship with a common aura of piety, you know from one pious site to the next that you are in a distinctive culture.
The site of a multiplex movie theater -- or a spectator sports arena, or a mall ,or a modern hotel , or fast-food establishment in any city around the world -- and try to figure out where you are. You are nowhere. You are chasing pixels on a Nintendo: the world surrounding you vanishes. You are in front of or in or on MTV: universal images assault the eyes and global dissonances assault the ears in a heart-pounding tumult that tells you everything except which country you are in. Where are you? You are in McWorld. [Source: Benjamin Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld. Random House, 1995. pp. 98-99.]
So far in this course we have been talking about
-- how cultural landscapes are different from one another. Now, we start to talk about
- how cultural landscapes are similar regardless of where they are found; indeed, new landscapes are often considered better than "authentic" places. In many ways, placeless places are the landscapes that all the diverse people of the USA share in common: the Amish shop at Menard's; Norwegians go to the movies; Black teenagers hang around in Mall of America; etc. From the various diverse and distinctive cultures and places, people come together in the placeless landscapes of the suburbs, malls, highways, and amusement parks.

Although the above quote deals with countries, the quote is relevant to places within the United States as well.
McWorld is another way to say placelessness. When cultural landscapes begin to look alike, geographers use the terms like placelessness, flatscapes, thin places, generica, or kitsch.

Components of placelessness are
other-directedness in places,
uniformity and standardization in places, and
place destruction.

Can you cite examples of each? See your notes from class. Notes on Placelessness.
Ada Louise Huxtable's The Unreal America (New Press, 1998) critiques "invented environments," which include fancy theme-parks, fake-old new towns, and even heritage preservation.

Explanations of placelessness are numerous:
  • mass communication and consumption
  • impersonal large societies
  • standardization of products and land use codes
  • centralized governments
  • homogeneous economic systems
  • personal preferences influenced by mass culture

    Can you cite examples of each? See your notes from class. Notes on Placelessness.

    Responses to placelessness vary, as they do in other situations as well: 1) fantasy, 2) flight, 3) withdrawal, and 4) resistance.
    How might these responses to placelessness express themselves in human behavior?
    Let's look at various forms of placelessness in North America:

    specific CBDs:   Toronto,   Chicago

    Salt Lake City

    San Francisco

    San Diego


    other types of  places: urban renewal

    public housing

    machine space

    industrial landscapes


    Just for the fun of it you might want to do an exercise on placelessness (machine space), developed by geographers at the University of Texas at Austin.