Where We Belong To

On the importance of material objects

Essay, 2011

4 Pages, Grade: 2.0


Material objects are very important when it comes to the bond between people and their environment. This essay weighs in this importance, but also looks briefly at other factors, such as leaders and organisations.

The first paragraph explains the importance of emotion in the transformation of place into territory. The paragraph goes on to blur the apparent distinction between community and territory as well.

The second paragraph applies the concepts to examples of trees in Camerton and the barrier between Israel and the West Bank.

The third paragraph takes a more community based approach. The importance of objects like Kente cloth and communication tools is evaluated. This paragraph also looks at the impact of organisations and leaders on peoples’ sense of belonging.

The essay concludes with the argument that material objects are highly important in determining peoples’ place in their immediate environment.

Although both, place and territory are exposed to flows of any kind, they must not be treated synonymous. The difference is that place carries emotional attachment. Thus it is mostly subject to human agency. This means, however, as emotions change, places change. Thus, place is rather to be seen as a network of complex relations. The presence of emotion lets people identify with the place (Jones,2008, p. 215). Identity, in turn, lets people know where they belong to.

The following lines look deeper into how such a sense of belonging is established in relation to place. Trees in the Camerton batches and the barrier erected between Israel and the West Bank illuminate the importance of material objects in this process.

In the Camerton area coal mining has had a long tradition. With the demise of the coal mining industry the pits became redundant. That means that human interference decreased and non-human flows began to dominate the territory. These flows brought seeds, actually alien to Camerton, from distant territory into its immediate proximity. The seeds found favorable conditions, settled and, in the form of trees, established a permanent presence (Jones,2008, p. 221). Once the presence was established the hitherto highly movable seeds transformed into powerful objects of endurance: trees ). Such stable and static character predestines trees to become objects of emotional attachment (Jones,2008, p. 222). Permanent presence of these objects makes them part of a collective memory and thus a shared narrative. An ‘affective relationship’ between the natural object (tree) and people develops. If the bonding gets very intense “affective territorialisation” kicks in . That means that a material object is invested so heavily with emotion that changes to it could be perceived as threat on this persons’ identity. In cases in which such topophilia develops the importance of material objects is undeniable. When authorities decided to restructure the habitat of the trees they were met with stark resistance. A clear sign that people perceived the presence of the trees as vital for their own continuing existence in that place (Jones, 2008, p. 247).

The above mentioned example showed the importance of material objects for a past shared memory, and thus identity. The next paragraph is going to elaborate on the importance of objects for people’s sense of belonging for a shared future, using the example of the barrier separating the territory of the Israelian state and the West Bank. The focus also shifts from the individual to the community.

A community can be seen in similar fashion as spatial territory. In both cases especially objects but also shared values and memories facilitate a sense of belonging. In the case of communities these characteristics serve as borders, i.e. the degree of adherence determines the degree of belonging or eligibility to belonging. In the wider sense, territory (communital and spatial) is regulated through inclusion and exclusion. The case of the barrier between Israel and the West Bank is a case in point. The barrier is erected by Israel in response to repeated infiltration of suicide bombers from the West Bank, which poses a serious threat to the citizenry and the Israelian state at large (Alpher, 2007; Spiegel, 2007). Furthermore, any state which finds it in a similar hostile environment like Israel has to face the amplified challenge to build and retain itself (Mohan, 2008, 286). The government thus claims that security has priority. The fence is seen as reification of this challenge and underscores the commitment to the security of its citizenry. Moreover, it manifests a future claim of the Jewish community to regulate the territory. The fence becomes a symbol of security, which every Jew knows, is so vital to the enduring success of the Jewish project. Without such an object, the sense of belonging to that place would be compromised by fear of hostilities.

For Palestinians the barrier serves also as a symbol behind which to rally, yet out of different reasons. Those who live in the West Bank refer to it as apartheid wall. They claim Israel uses it to annex more of the territory Palestinians lay claim to. Moreover, they point to economic hardships and inequality in access to resources the barrier imposes on them (Khatib, 2007; Samandar, 2007).

Similar to the Camerton trees the barrier in the West Bank invokes emotions of resistance. For one side the object is necessary to resist the threat of annihilation. For the other side the barrier symbolizes Israelian dominance, and is to be resisted.

So far the relationship between objects and sense of belonging has been observed with examples from peoples who create place in their immediate proximity. The Ghanaian diaspora serves as example of how material objects foster sense of belonging within a community over distance.

Hereafter, diaspora refers to one community in various territorial contexts, which maintains bonds to the same place of origin.

The Ghanaian diaspora initially developed out of the slave trade but also due to economic hardship. It must be noted that a diaspora does not develop into a community by itself (Mohan, 2008, 287). Just like territorial place, communities need to formed and maintained, and, just like place, are never finished.

Symbols and cultural practices are vital in creating communities. For the global Ghanaian community – Ghanaians who established a permanent presence outside Ghana – the Kente cloth is such a vital symbol. It is worn by distinguished members of Ghanaian tribes and retains an important function even outside its native context. The Kente, for example, remains part of inauguration ceremonies, no matter where they take place (Mohan, 2008, 299). The cloth in combination with cultural practice and the person it is worn by reaffirms the Ghanaian identity of the community. Here moreover the importance of leaders shines through. They exert authority and affirm the endurance of the shared narrative, which is important to identity formation (Mohan, 2008, 295), as the Israel/Palestine example also showed. At this point the importance of organisations must be mentioned. They facilitate cultural events like inauguration ceremonies. They serve as a direct link between the community and the homeland. Without organisations, local traditions would have it hard to compete in the global sphere. Another important ingredient for developing a sense of belonging within a community is organisation. They provide a forum for members to exchange information among themselves and with the country of origin. Furthermore, cultural practices, like inauguration ceremonies, are facilitated within the organisation. They are crucial in facilitating the physical detachment without tearing apart the emotional bond to the place of origin. In other words organisations help to embed cosmopolitanism into the new territory.


Excerpt out of 4 pages


Where We Belong To
On the importance of material objects
The Open University
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
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416 KB
where, belong
Quote paper
Christian Scheinpflug (Author), 2011, Where We Belong To, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/176789


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