Certainly, part of personal development and individual sense

Certainly, the transition into
university life is a major transition for many late adolescents, often representing
their first step away from the family residence (Berzonsky & Kuk, 2000). For
the majority of people, home is a centre of emotional attachment and
significance and is thus a vital aspect of their personal identity. Consequently,
whilst often regarded as a positive experience characterised by new
opportunities, the transition to university is a daunting one for many and in
leaving their homes individuals express mixed emotions (Chow & Healy, 2008).
In fact, Yorke & Longden state that ‘students find the first year a
daunting, intimidating and alienating experience’ (2004: 40). Unsurprisingly,
therefore, despite 80% of students choosing to leave home to study at
university, two-thirds of withdrawals are made by first year students in
England (Chow & Healy, 2008).  Reflecting
on notions of place, this study seeks to explore the homemaking processes of
students making the transition into university life.

 

2.    
Literature Review

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1. 

1.1.   Conceptualising ‘Home’

 

Over the last four decades,
concepts concerning place, home and identity have been resurrected in the
fields of anthropology, geography, sociology, and environmental psychology,
attracting the academic scrutiny of an array of notable scholars (Chow &
Healy, 2008). For Relph, home is ‘the central reference point of human
existence’ (1976: 20) – an instrumental part of personal development and
individual sense of belonging. Exceeding the physical features of domestic
space, the home represents a unique place of familiarity, characterised by
known and consistent activities, people and physical entities. Commonly, its
importance is attributed to the feeling of contentment experienced by the
individual in its presence, vicinity or accessibility, and an opposing feeling
of discontentment in its absence remoteness or inaccessibility.  Yet, since the home is attributed personal
meaning, signifying different things to different people in different times and
contexts, indeed the concept of home requires continual (re)evaluation (Chow
& Healy, 2008).

 

1.2.   Feeling at Home: Forming Relationships with
Place

 

Considering how the places we inhabit
are often the centre of strong emotional and sentimental attachments, Relph states
that ‘there is for virtually everyone a deep association with and consciousness
of the places where we were born and grew up, where we live now, or where we
have had particularly moving experiences. This association seems to constitute
a vital source of both individual and cultural identity and security’ (1976: 43;
cited in Chow & Healy, 2008) and by exploring space as a source of both individual
attachment and identity, inferring unique relations between self and place, is
explained throughout the discourse by drawing upon the concepts of place
attachment (Low & Altman, 1992), place identity (Proshansky et al., 1983),
place dependency (Stokols & Schumaker, 1981) and sense of place (Relph,
1976; Tuan 1980).

 

Place attachment, influenced by
notions of ‘rootedness,’ draws reference to the emotional and effective bond
between place and people, that which produces the feelings of belonging,
comfort and security associated with ‘being home’ (Relph, 1976: 31-33, 37;
Tuan, 1980: 264). Reflecting a process as opposed to a firm and fixed
condition, place attachment arises as a function of length of residence and
materialises as a sense of familiarity with place (Antonisch, 2010). Furthermore,
since places commonly signify personal relationships, people are inextricably
tied to the attachment process (Chow & Healy, 2008). Consequently,
‘attachments may not only be landscapes solely as physical entities, but may be
primarily associated with the meanings of and experiences in place – which
often involve relationships with other people’ (Altman & Low, 1992: 7).

 

Place Identity, defined by
Proshansky et al. as ‘a sub-structure of the self-identity of the person
consisting of, broadly conceived, cognitions about the physical world in which
the individual lives’ (1983: 59), is a ‘deep seated-familiarity with the
environment, a sense of bodily sensuous, social and autographic ‘insideness’
(Rowles, 1983) that arises as the result of individuals’ habitation to their
physical surroundings’ ( Dixon &
Durrheim, 2004: 457). Indeed, spaces, places and the characteristics of such
are meaningful to individuals, forming an ‘environmental past’ of experiences,
feelings, attitudes and values, both conscious and unconscious. Yet, rather
than defining personal identity in relation to significant others, it is objects
and things and the spaces and places in which they are found that bear
importance where forming place identity is concerned (Antonisch, 2010).

 

Place dependence, defined by
Stokols & Schumaker as an ‘occupant’s perceived strength of association
between him or herself and specific places’ (1981: 457), ‘refers to the
utilitarian value that a place has in relation to other places in terms of
satisfying an individual’s specific goals and desired activities, which can
range from sociability to services and aesthetic enjoyment’ (Antonisch, 2010:
9). According to Chow & Healy (2008), by permitting control, enabling creativity
and providing privacy, security and serenity, certain places kindle positive
associations between people and place as a consequence of the satisfaction they
afford. Yet, associations may not necessarily be positive and place may impose limitations
on the achievement of specific valued goals. Consequently, an individual’s
place preference may simply be the best amongst poor alternatives (Jorgensen
& Stedman, 2001).

 

Sense of place, often considered
an over-arching concept incorporating the aforementioned concepts of place
attachment, identity and dependence, is both widely utilised yet the most
controversial and ill-defined notion of place. Broadly defined by Jorgensen
& Stedman as ‘the meaning attached to a spatial setting by a person or a
group’ (2001: 233), sense of place considers that ‘a place … is much more than
a point in space … but takes in the meanings which people assign to that
landscape through the process of living in it’ (Ryden, 1993: 37-38).
Consequently, sense of place is best understood as an attitude towards a
spatial setting, one that is founded in human interpretation as opposed being
instilled into the physical setting itself – organising disorganised constructs
whilst linking to established literature and research methods (Jorgensen &
Stedman, 2001).

 

1.3.   Journeying From Home: Moving to University

 

Since home can be apprehended as
an ‘implicit psychological structure’ (Chow & Healy, 2008: 8), Dixon &
Durrheim state that ‘in the
course of everyday life, we tend to overlook its significance because our place
behaviour and sense of ‘being in place’ unfolds largely without conscious
reflection’ (2004: 458). Consequently, whilst ‘by being away from home,
the things, places, activities and people associated with home become more
apparent through their absence’ (Case, 1996:1), the significance of place
identity too becomes apparent as the bond between person and place is challenged.
Unfortunately, the loss of place constitutes the loss of self, and powerful social
and psychological responses emerge as a consequence. For many transitioning to
university, the shock of extended periods of time spend away from the family
residence in an unfamiliar environment and the failure to adjust to such may
materialise in the form of drop-out, under achievement and lack of fulfilment
(Chow & Healy, 2008).

 

1.4.   ‘Continuity’ or Dislocation?

 

Largely, such shock can be
attributed to a lack of the subjective, self-perceived ‘continuity’ that
‘involves not the complete absence of change but some connection between past,
the present and the future within identity’ (Speller, 2002: 43) across time and
situation. The emotional significance of home
anchors individuals to their former selves, acting as a vital source of
place-referent continuity. Consequently, whilst the excitement and anticipation
of experiencing a new physical and social environment may counter the negative
effects of the abrupt transition, adapting to the rhythm of a new daily life is
distressing for many and maintaining a connection with home is a fundamental
coping strategy. Yet, according to Twigger-Ross & Uzzell (1996), some may
make a conscious decision to dislocate and make a purposeful attempt to make a
break with their former identity. This ‘conscious discontinuity,’ characterised
by separation with the previous environment, permits individuals to seek places
more congruent with their sense of self (Chow & Healy, 2008).