After the conference: First impressions from Utrecht

From left to right: Jan Brown, Greg Ashworth, Robert Govers, Martin Boisen, Keith Dinnie, Ares Kalandides

by Ares Kalandides

With my impressions on the Special Edition on the Place Branding still fresh, both exhausted and enthusiastic after two days of intensive work, I will try to sum up my thoughts from the event, more or less as I presented them in the closing panel:

There were two issues that came up during the conference, one to be expected the other rather a surprise. The first was about the nature of Place Branding – and by extension of place itself. Are we dealing with the real place or with perceptions of place? And could we call the former place identity and the latter place image? Now the ones who follow my research will know that I have written repeatedly about place identity (1) and that I am still intrigued by the many different ways the term is used. I suggest that we follow Henri Lefebvre’s “trialectics of space” in his 1974 book, The Production of Space (2). There Lefebvre suggests that we can look at space from three different perspectives: lived space (éspace vecu), perceived space (éspace perçu) and conceived space (éspace conçu). Inspired by Lefebvre, I tend to think about space (and place) as simultaneously lived (experienced through materiality, practices or norms), perceived (through complex processes of identification, incorporation, abstraction, reduction etc.) and represented (through symbols, signs or artefacts). I think place branding is somewhere in the middle of this triangle: Our aim is to influence perceptions, but we do that both by working on representations of place and on the lived place itself.

The second issue, that really came as a surprise, is that there we had very interesting presentations and discussions on whether Place Branding makes any sense if we take it out of the competitive environment of the neo-liberal doctrine. There were a couple of papers and Robert Govers’ key note lecture that went into the possibility of understanding Place Branding in the context of more complex place relations that may include co-operation. As I have argued before (3) places are involved in extremely complex relations that may include inter- and co-dependency, co-operation and indeed competition. Reducing these relations to one, i.e. competition, is rather a conceptual and political choice, rather than merely a statement reflecting reality.  Here I find David Harvey’s (4) approach to space as simultaneously absolute, relative and relational extremely helpful. Absolute, in the sense that it can be limited (through all kind of boundaries), divided up and measured; relative in the sense that it is constituted by relations among objects (very much as Einstein defined it); and relational, in the sense that each object contains in itself its relations to other objects across space. Places is at the same time all of the above and can thus be interdependent,cooperate or compete, depending on the issue, the agent and the actual question: Who is competing/cooperating etc.with whom for what?

I hope that our next International Place Branding Conference in Manchester 18th – 20th January 2013 together with the Institute of Place Management will take on this issues and develop them further.

(1) e.g. Kalandides, A. (2011), “The problem with spatial identity: revisiting the ‘sense of place’”, Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 28-39

(2) Lefebvre, H. (2012), La production de l’éspace, Anthropos, Paris.

(3) Kalandides, A. (2012), “Place Branding and Place Identity. An integrated approach”, Tafter online journal, Nr. 43, Jan 2012,

(4) Harvey, D. (1996), Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference, Blackwell Publishers, Cambridge, MA

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6 Responses to After the conference: First impressions from Utrecht

  1. valentinschipfer says:

    One of the most inspiring insights, I gained at the conference, was the idea of the co-operative approach towards PB. Referring to that and to PB’s contribution to (application-oriented) social sciences, I interpreted it my way. Aside from Keith Dinnie’s mentioned PB co-operation between NY and Amsterdam, my inspiration differs a bit.
    On its quest to co-operation, PB should examine what types of innovative co-operation already exist in their cities. Thus PB will probably bump into the pioneers of social co-operation sooner or later. These pioneers already exist and experiment in cities as well as in rural areas. About whom am I talking? About the growing amount of new, innovative social entrepreneurs, launching socially creative projects with positive impacts on people’s quality of life – often already in PPP-like co-operation with private sector companies.
    Instead of always using the same aspects for PB (festivals,events, architectural landmark projects,logos etc.) it is time for cities as well as nations to much more communicate its social inventions and progresses. In doing so, not only new, positive and honest associations could be created in people’s minds but projects could even be copied to other problematic areas. In so far being communicated only rarely these projects could finally get their lacking attention – with a benefit for all: the improving city’s image, the citizens’ quality of life, the social entrepreneurs’ career and the private sector’s CSR. Summing up, I am convinced and confident that PB could contribute in tackling new ways and ideas in a world of crisis – or better: in a world of change.
    (I’ll post about successful, co-operational PB projects in the next days).

    • Cecilia says:

      I found this comment very motivating and I’ll tell you why: while the conference in Utrecht was taking place, I was in front of a panel defending my PhD thesis focusing on co-operation as a viable way to widen the perspective on place branding. In total I analysed 14 cases in Europe and US in an attempt to understand forces and phases of the process delivering “inter-territorial brands”. I would be happy to further discuss this issue that, quite overlooked in the academic debate, is a spreading practice.

  2. Pingback: Some Thoughts on the Place Branding Conference | Place Management & Branding

  3. I like the concept of Place identity being linked to the real place and place image being linked to perception of place, and this helps me understand the relationship between the representation of place in promotional activity and the tangible real experience of place in the built and natural environment – with the consequences for Destination Management and Destination Marketing.

    I think in the context of globalisation there are times when brand promotion is about co-operation (especially internal cooperation in a destination by different stakeholders providing different component elements of the visitor experience) and most definitely at other times about out and out competition to grab the attention of consumers, potential investors and talent in a noisy global market place. Some good examples of collaboration in promotion of which Edinburgh are the Best Cities Alliance of Global Conference Destinations and the Word Alliance of seven international book festivals

    I too look forward to following emerging thinking on these points.

    • Ares says:

      My only issue with that, Kenneth, is that it is usually very hard to distinguish between the “real” place and the places “in our heads”, i.e. the perception of place. That is why I prefer this dialectics of place as at the same time lived and perceived (or trialectics of place if we add representations as something that mediated between the two).

  4. Pingback: Rio de Janeiro spearheading in social place management with innovative police unit “Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora” « Places.

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