the Idea of Place

Space and Culture 20th Anniversary  Conference

May 5-7 2017

University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the journal, Space & Culture, we are happy to announce  an international, interdisciplinary conference on the idea of place.

Place is at the fore of current intellectual agendas that are witnessing place slip through the fingers of climate change, to the changing modalities of place under shifting migration patterns, to new discourses of place with promises of new walls, new freedoms, new identities, and new flows. Place speaks to the social and cultural dynamics of the virtual and the material, the transcendent and the concrete.

This conference welcomes contemporary challenges to the idea of place, along with new ways of thinking about place, space, location and the relationship between individuals and communities to place and history. The purpose of the conference will be to further develop place as a reponsive concept: a tool for understanding strategic sociocultural frames such as time-horizons, cycles, and imagined geography- determined political divisions. The conference will illuminate the dynamics of how places as landscapes, ecologies and cultural topologies facilitate or buffer change. There are growing public demands for, on the one hand, innovation in place-making and, on the other hand, stewardship of the environment. These concerns around places and environments are emerging as a nexus within shared preoccupations across a multicultural society, which includes a complex range of Indigenous, settler and diasporic communities and histories.

There is no registration fee for the conference. The academic talks are free and open to faculty, students, and the public. We ask for a donation ($5) for the McLuhan House event to cover Transportation costs, etc. And participants are responsible for their own transportation costs during the active sessions.

University of Alberta and Athabasca University are joint sponsors for this conference, located on Indigenous Treaty Lands.


 Leonie Sandercock joined the School of Community & Regional Planning at UBC in July 2001 and served as Director of the School from July 2006 to November 2007. Her main research interest is in working with First Nations, through collaborative community planning, using the medium of film as a catalyst for dialogue, on the possibilities of healing, reconciliation, and partnership. She is using her documentary (with Giovanni Attili) ‘Finding Our Way’ as a catalyst for dialogues in BC communities (see Mongrel Stories and Finding Your Way – the film. Other research interests include immigration, cultural diversity and integration; the possibilities of a more therapeutic model of planning; the importance of stories and storytelling in planning theory and practice; and the role of multimedia in planning.

robshieldsRob Shields is an editor and the founding Editor and Publisher of Space and Culture.  He is Henry Marshall Tory Research Chair and Professor at University of Alberta, working on place, space, cities and public participation.  He directs research on public participation in place-making, region-building and urban culture and publishes widely on the history of spaces, consumption, social spatialization and cultural topology.  His latest work is on youth and on the relation between place, crises and environmental disasters and the senses.

strawWill Straw is a Professor in the Department of Art History and Communications Studies at McGill University. From 2011 to 2016, he was Director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. He has been Visiting Professor at the University of the Arts (Belgrade), the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Mexico City), the University of Aarhus (Denmark), the Federal University of Bahia (Brazil) and the Central European University (Budapest). His interests include urban culture and the history of print culture, popular music studies and cinema. His latest research on “The Urban Night as Interdisciplinary Object” deals with the ways in which the culture of night is mediatized, represented, regulated and occupied.

xw_sfmoma_600Sha Xin Wei is Professor and Director of the School of Arts, Media and Engineering at Arizona State University, and was the director of the Topological Media Lab while he held a Canada Research Chair at Concordia University (2005-2013). He is interested in the architecture of responsive media spaces and the critical study of media arts and sciences. At the intermediate scale, his work concerns the phenomenology of performance, phenomenology of differential geometry, and the technologies of performance. At the finest scale, his work is focused on constructing pliant computational matter: topological media. To inform this work, he is studying issues related to gesture and performance, sensors and active fabrics, temporal patterns, computer-mediated interaction, geometric visualization and writing systems.

Friday Afternoon Visit to Marshall McLuhan’s Home

Place as Historical Site and Mediated Experience

A Participatory Session at Marshall McLuhan’s Boyhood Home


The Idea of Place

Space and Culture 20th Anniversary Conference University of Alberta, 2017

Chelsea Boos, ArtsHab Edmonton

Marco Adria, University of Alberta

Stuart McKay, McLuhan Family

To media theorist Marshall McLuhan, “print culture” is individualistic and critical, reflected in the practice of private and silent reading, while “electric culture” is characterized by speed and many things happening at once. This session will offer participants the experience of thinking about place in different ways, using different senses, and considering historical artifacts and virtual prompts.

The boyhood home of Marshall McLuhan is protected for posterity by the City of Edmonton as a historic site, through a partnership with ArtsHab, a City of Edmonton cultural organization. This session will invite 40 participants to travel by chartered bus to McLuhan House. Enroute, a narrator will refer to local places associated with McLuhan’s association with Edmonton, beginning with his birth in 1911 through his family’s residence in the city during one of its boom and bust periods, and then to his return to the city for intellectual collaborations with Edmontonians including playwright Wilfred Watson and novelist Sheila Watson. Arriving at the house, participants will use mobile phones to scan QR codes annotating historical photos on display. The photos, curated by Michael McLuhan, the youngest of Marshall’s children, reveal the family life of the young Marshall McLuhan. A discussion about media history will be followed by a lively participatory event using the Tetrad – the “four laws of media” McLuhan devised as an alternative to western philosophy’s dialectic.

Participants will be invited to experience the McLuhan TV Wall, an art-media installation created by University of Alberta professors and students. The installation displays on vintage television sets, documentary images and sounds of Marshall McLuhan’s many appearances on U.S. and Canadian television, from the early 1950s until the late 1970s.


  • 2:00pm: pick up for bus ride to McLuhan House at Tory Building, Saskatchewan Drive (or alternatively meet 2:30pm at McLuhan House, 11342 64 Street)
  • 2:00pm to 2:30pm: Edmonton History Talk during the bus ride to McLuhan House
  • 2:30pm to 4:00pm: Visit of McLuhan House, including Tetrad workshop and McLuhan history scavenger hunt
  • 4:00pm: Leaving McLuhan House with drop off at Coast Edmonton Plaza Hotel, 10155 105 Street

We are very excited about this opportunity to explore the McLuhan House as part of the conference and look forward to an adventures Friday afternoon. The spots for this event, however, are limited. If you would like to participate in this event, please click on the following link and fill out the form to reserve yourself a spot:

The Registration Deadline for this event is Friday, 28th of April 2017. Please note that there is a donation fee for this event to compensate for any costs such as transportaion, etc. We suggest a donation of $5.