Sense of place and mobility in cross-border contexts – essentialist and progressive perspectives

Project: Research

Project participants

  • Gottwald, Sarah (Project manager, academic)
  • Kołodyńska, Iga (Project manager, academic)


In cross-border contexts, rivers often create administrative boundaries expecially for integrated and sustainable river development. In contrast, borders do not represent a limit for people’s mobility. For example, the open border between Poland and Germany along the Odra river and its tributaries allow cross-border activities. Yet, the historic burden and socio-economic differences still create a division, provoking very specific mobility patterns. Simultaneously, the rapid advance of Internet of Things supports new forms of corporal as well as virtual travel. These trends in people’s mobility call for new approaches in sustainable river management, where people can act as environmental stewards overcoming administrative boundaries. Environmental stewardship has shown to be closely linked to sense of place, i.e. the meanings and attachments people attribute to a place. Concurrently, mobility provokes that people are confronted with new places, which forces a rethink of how we understand sense of place. In contrast to essentialist perspectives of sense of place, which are related to assumptions of sedentarism, the more progressive understanding accounts for a dynamic lifestyle, assuming mobility as the natural human condition.Therefore, this project aims at exploring the influence of mobility on sense of place and in consequence environmental stewardship in the context of cross-border regions, because people in contrast to national planning instruments can transcend borders and thus support sustainable river management. The objectives of this study are to: a) Explore mobility patterns in the border region; b) Elicit citizens’ directly perceived and socially and culturally constructed sense of place in natural and semi-natural landscapes accounting for essentialist and progressive perspectives; c) Evoke the influence of mobility patterns on senses of place and environmental stewardship; and finally d) Develop environmental stewardship nudges for integrated river landscape management.A conceptual framework will be developed that seeks to connect mobility and sense of place and in consequence environmental stewardship through systematic literature review. It will guide the empirical work of the project and be iteratively amended based on the results. Mobility patterns will be explored using semi-structured interviews with experts and local citizens. Simultaneously, an online participatory mapping survey (PPGIS) assess sense of place, through an indicator, which allows respondents to report on their place meanings and attachment within their everyday life settings, upload photographs for their meaningful places, report on their environmental stewardship behaviour, as well as their mobility pattern. Finally, quantitative results will be enhanced using a spatial navigational method (GPS tracking followed by interviews), which provides insights on the connection between mobility and sense of place.