Thursday, February 07, 2013

Measuring Sense of Place

I have spent a considerable amount of time trying to determine what exactly is sense of place and how one might be able to determine if technology can indeed impact it. There have been several people looking into this but often I found they were either studying something else - such as sense of community or place attachment - or had instruments that weren't transferable to other studies. Then I found a study by Suzanne Bott called appropriately enough "The development of psychometric scales to measure sense of place" that was the only suitable method I encountered to measure sense of place.

As I won't be using this research now, I thought it might be useful to share for anyone else considering such a study (and let me know if you are).

One of the most cited scholars for measuring sense of place (SOP) is Stedman; he attempted to resolve the difficulty of measuring SOP on his own (2003) and with Jorgensen (2001). Stedman proposed scales to measure related place concepts such as attitude towards a place and place satisfaction, similar to product satisfaction, as measurable proxies for SOP. This work, however, divorces studies of place from the realm of meaning and instead offers a utilitarian view of place, which is not transferable to all experiences of place.

With the goal of being able to quantify degrees of SOP, Shamai (1991) formulated a scale ranging from no SOP, knowledge of being located in a place, feeling of belonging to place, attachment to place, identification with place, involvement in preserving or shaping place, to sacrificing for place. Although Shamai’s continuum of SOP degrees is useful, his questionnaire to measure this was designed for a particular location (i.e., a religious school) and is therefore not transferable to other study sites.

To date, Bott (2000) appears to be the only work that offers a quantitative tool to measure the multiple dimensions of SOP. Through focus groups and expert panels, Bott developed 15 scales comprising 90 individual questionnaire items to measure independently the dimensions of SOP, such as sociocultural, environment, existential, aesthetic, and functional.

Bott groups her SOP scales under four overarching “domains”: physical setting, cultural, affective (Bott uses the term affective to refer to the effects a place produces, not limited to emotional responses), and functional. The table below shows the domains, scales, and items she developed and validated to measure SOP.  Each questionnaire item is measured by a seven-point Likert scale.


Natural Setting Domain
Natural Setting Scale
[5 items]
natural, sunny, has good lighting, has a good amount of trees
Built Environment Scale [3 items] made of materials which are appropriate in color, made of materials which fit the setting, has attractive buildings
Character Scale
[10 items]
clean, alive, peaceful, distinctive, harmonious, balanced, well-maintained, simple, spacious, open
Cultural Setting Domain
Inherent Sociocultural Scale [6 items] historic, authentic, has a spirit of the people, fits within the larger context of [specific place], supports the activities of [specific place], feel a sense of history
Transactional Sociocultural Scale
[7 items]
offers a sense of belonging, provides opportunities for interaction with others, offers civility, generates respect for the individual, has a distinct energy, feel a part of the community, feel a sense of belonging
Affective Individual / Personal Domain
Significance Scale
[4 items]
meaningful, significant, interesting, valuable
Existential Scale
[4 items]
feel a sense of connection, feel a sense of my own identity, feel a sense of attachment, feel a sense of ownership
Memory Scale
[6 items]
familiar, well-known, memorable, feel a sense of connection, feel like I know it well, feel a sense of nostalgia
Aesthetic Scale
[6 items]
beautiful, aesthetically pleasing, pleasing to look at, generates a positive sensory experience, feel a sense of awe, feel a sense of appreciation
Transcendental Scale
[10 items]
inspirational, magical, sacred, spirit of place, feel alive, feel inspired, feel connected to higher power, feel fulfilled, feel sense of romance, feel strong emotions
Functional Individual / Personal Domain
Purposive Scale
[2 items]
meets my expectations of [specific place] setting, supports my role at [specific place]
Informational Scale
[6 items]
understandable, provides a sense of direction, has distinct landmarks, is easy for me to find my way around in, makes way-finding seem intuitive, provides info
Prospect Scale
[4 items]
feel like there are opportunities here for me, feel like exploring, feel like I have options, feel a sense of mystery
Refuge Scale
[4 items]
non-threatening, has obvious boundaries, offers shelter, feel a sense of refuge
Well-being Scale
[12 items]
safe, comfortable, warm, serene, reassuring, revitalizing, feel in control, feel peaceful, feel comfortable, feel calm, feel a sense of comfort, feel serene

(table adapted from Bott, 2000, pp.57-58)


Bott, S. E. (2000). The development of psychometric scales to measure sense of place (Doctoral dissertation). Colorado State U., Fort Collins, CO.

Jorgenson, B., & Stedman, R. (2001). Sense of place as an attitude: Lakeshore owners’ attitudes toward their properties. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 21(3), 233–248.

Shamai, S. (1991). Sense of place: An empirical measurement. Geoforum, 22(3), 347–358.

Stedman, R. (2002). Toward a social psychology of place. Environment and Behavior, 34(5), 561–581.

Stedman, R. (2003). Sense of place and forest science: Toward a program of quantitative research. Forest Science, 49(6), 822–829.

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