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Place-Making as Contemplative Practice

Douglas Burton-Christie

In an age of chronic and widespread displacement, the work of place-making—the discovery and cultivation of a sense of place—has gained new significance and meaning. In this essay, I propose to consider how place-making can be understood as a form of contemplative practice. Anthropologist Keith Basso describes place-making as a work of “retrospective world-building” that enables a person or community to see a place in all its richness and complexity and hold that place in the imagination. Following the work of photographer Robert Adams, I want to suggest that what makes this work contemplative in character is the integration and interplay of geography, autobiography, and metaphor. The example of Thomas Merton’s attention to place as part of an encompassing spiritual vision will serve as a focal point for arguing that the work of place-making can and ought to be considered a genuine part of contemplative practice.

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