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Concepts and measures of place meanings and attachment

January, 1989 to December, 2008

The meanings of each place are revealed in the stories people tell about it (photo by Maria Stiefel).
The meanings of each place are revealed in the stories people tell about it (photo by Maria Stiefel).
Concepts such as home and community imply an enduring and deeply emotional relationship to a place and people often form similar bonds with specific sites on public forests and wildlands. These bonds may grow simply from frequent use of a particular place on a forest or because some place has come to symbolize something important about a person's identity.

With increasing public interest and involvement in natural resource decision making, land managing agencies need to develop measures and assessments of these emotional and symbolic meanings and attachments. Such assessments are particularly relevant in situations where there is a wide divergence of values and perspectives among stakeholders regarding the appropriate management. Place attachment is being used by land managers to enhance scenic quality assessments, assist recreation managers with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission hydropower re-licensing process, and map public values in fuel treatment planning.

Research on social-symbolic meanings is advancing our understanding of how recreation activity participation contributes to psychological well-being; how attachments to places contribute to a sense of meaning, identity, and community; how attachments vary across culture and affect local management regimes; and how place meanings and attachments affect natural resource conflicts. A key outcome of this work has been the development of standardized questionnaire instruments designed to measure place attachment among recreation site visitors and community residents. These scales allow investigators to describe and quantify the nature and depth of meanings and attachments people have for any place or landscape at a range of geographic scales from campsite to community, and identify stakeholder groups with differing degrees and forms of attachment that may form the underlying basis of conflict between competing groups over natural resource management decisions.

Example Survey Questions for Measuring Place Attachment

See notes on measuring place attachment for explanations and analysis of survey questions.

Selected Publications

  • Williams, D.R. 2004. Place-identity. In J. Jenkins and J. Pigram (eds.). Encyclopedia of Leisure and Outdoor Recreation. London: Routledge. p. 367-368.

RMRS Science Program Areas: 
Human Dimensions
RMRS Strategic Priorities: 
Human-Landscape Interactions
Principal Investigators:
Joseph W. Roggenbuck - Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University
B. Scott Anderson - University of Illinois
Cary D. McDonald - University of Illinois
Michael E. Patterson - University of Montana
Carla M. Riden - Utah State University
Muzaffer Uysal - Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University
Jerry J. Vaske - Colorado State University
Bjorn P. Kaltenborn - Norwegian Institute for Nature Research
Erik A. Backlund - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign