Defining Place Blogging

Place blogging shares the characteristics of other blogging adaptations—the short, regularly updated content posted in reverse chronological order, the emphasis on personal voice, the development of relationships between like-minded bloggers who read and comment on each others sites. Under this broad generic umbrella, adaptations distinguish themselves in many ways: by the kinds of content the blogs tend to produce, the qualities of interactions that occur between like-minded bloggers, the genres that are remediated, and the affordances of blogging that writers choose to emphasize.

Perhaps the simplest way to define place blogging is by examing blogs with titles that identify them with particular places, such as:

However, while Ecotone bloggers consider place a central theme in their blogging practice, most prefer to speak in terms of "place blogging" rather than "place blogs," since they do not write exclusively about place. For this reason, some Ecotone bloggers include the topic of place more explicitly in their subtitles:

  • Lifescapes: "Notes about writing, landscape, and life in the Texas Hill Country"
  • Cirrus: "Musings on the finger lakes weather, the bioregion, place-based spirituality...or sports!".
  • prairie point: A view of the world from a garden on the Blackland Prairie
  • Feathers of Hope: A weblog on nature and place, the design arts, politics, and baseball...
  • Creature of the Shade: A literary geographer on place and politics.

While place-oriented titles, tag lines, and banner images can function as important signposts that make it easier for like-minded bloggers to find each other, they certainly are not the most important definining characteristic of place blogging. Ecotone bloggers articulate a more nuanced self-definition on the page "PlaceBloggingDescription," a page created early in the site's development to serve as a place where regular contributors could offer their preliminary thoughts on the matter.

From the start, Chris from Bowen Island Journal revises the early definition of blogs as a filter for web links and grounds the hyperlink in actual places:

Instead of linking to other places on the net, we are linking to places period. We draw connections together between elements that we notice in the land around us. Barry Lopez describes this as "landscape," when you link together elements of a territory and give them meaning. And giving them meaning is what makes us intimate and friendly with the land.

Chris builds on the notion of the hyperlink as a device for meaning-making by using it as an analogy for the other connection-making activities that allow us to construct a sense of place. He suggests that the ability to make such links presupposes inhabitation, of being in a place in order to be able to write about it:

One criteria that place bloggers need to meet is an intimacy with the place they are blogging [about]. A blog about Eritrea, written by someone living in Holland might be interesting, but would probably not be a place blog, unless perhaps the person was an ex-pat...

Of course, this is not to suggest that inhabiting a single place is simple. In fact, place bloggers are the first to acknowledge the complexity of place as both concept and experience, and they are quick to define place blogging in ever-expanding circles of reach and significance, as Beth from The Cassandra Pages does in her contribution:

Place bloggers write, on one level, about the place where they live: its ecology, its beauty, the particular quality of nature in that place, and their relation to it. On another level, place bloggers are concerned with larger questions of ecology and land use, the future of the environment, and human beings' relation to (or alienation from) the world we inhabit and share. And on a still deeper level, many place bloggers are exploring the whole notion of "place" itself: where and what is this elusive idea of "place", in its broadest sense, and what does it mean to us as spiritual beings in perpetual search of something called "home"?
Elsewhere Beth expresses the need to examine place "both from an intimate and a broad perspective." In her words, "It seems to me that everything I write is somewhat about 'place', if we extend that definition concentrically to be one person's place in her locality, her region, her country." Place blogging, then, must be able to scale from the most local of topics to the broadest possible issues of ecology and sustainability, as well as from the concrete to the abstract. Beth wonders if "there is a place in the blogosphere for this sort of searching and conversation," one that might remain "grounded in writing about our most fundamental 'place' relationship—with nature" ("Writing about Place").

Indeed, the writers of Ecotone are trying to construct just such a place, a project which requires a pliable structure open to change. After proposing definitions of place blogging that range from the careful observation of ordinary places to the ethical imperative of ecological responsibility, Lisa from Field Notes offers a few closing words cautioning against rigid definitions:

Lisa here -- I feel a strong inclination to leave our definition as loose, as inclusive, as possible. I'd prefer to draw a context rather than a conclusion. I just began to blog in August last year, but really only in earnest this year. Much of the writing I've done there hasn't fit my original idea of what I'd be doing, and I'm still finding my way. I plan to keep following the threads that pull me: those that follow long-standing interests, new loves and discoveries, and those danglers I just can't ignore.

Not everything I write about will be/is about place, or about "Inverness." But what holds it all together, perhaps, is that it is all informed by place, by my connection to place, my embodiment in place, and as Chris so beautifully put it, in "placing the whole kit and kaboodle in the context of a world culture."

The impulse to define their blogging practice as "place blogging" is counterbalanced by the impulse to avoid defining it too narrowly. This pliable definition enables blogging to facilitate the ongoing exploration of place by adapting to various rhetorical exigencies, the exigencies that inspire people to begin keeping a blog in the first place.

Remediated Genres

One method of defining any particular subgenre of blogging is to specify the "ancestral genres" it most commonly remediates. Miller and Shepherd describe blogging as a rare chance to witness a process akin to what evolutionary biologists call "speciation," the development of a new species, or in this case, a new genre. Despite the newness of this genre, we can only understand this evolution by identifying the "ancestral genres" whose "genes" get passed on to the new genre and continue to shape and constrain the rhetorical possibilities it offers. Miller and Shepherd identify several main branches of this family tree and sketch several of the related genres that inform blogging:

  • genres of political journalism: pamphlet or broadside, the editorial, and the opinion column.
  • personal genres: journal and the diary, along with the newer electronic genres of the home page and the webcam
  • genres of collecting and organizing information: clipping service or media monitoring service, commonplace book

If Miller and Shepherd are working to define blogging as a process of speciation, this study attempts to describe blogging in the "process of adaptive transformation," one in which place bloggers adapt the genre of blogging to respond to more particular rhetorical exigencies. While place bloggers tend to incorporate many of the ancestral genres described above into their blogs, they also include several others that distinguish it not as a new genre altogether, but as a localized adaptation of blogging.

On the Ecotone site, Chris from Bowen Island Journal identifies a series of characteristics that map well onto a list of ancestral genres:

I think there are probably lots of ways we can describe blogging place. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • logs of natural activity and cycles, including flora and fauna, geological and meteorological notes, sometimes with description, sometimes without.
  • weblogs that are collections of stories of the writer's engagement with a place, including the land and culture of a place.
  • notes on the particular character of a place, which may be purely sociological. For instance a blog that discusses the culture of an area would be a place blog, but it's a blog about the noosphere and not the biosphere.
  • photoblogs that aim to capture the essence of place, like Hunkabutta and the plethora of Japan based blogs kept mostly by visiting westerners.
"PlaceBloggingDescription." Ecotone: Writing About Place.


Journal, Logs, and Field Notebooks

The chronological affordance of blogging plays an important role in shaping the representation of place that takes place in place blogs. The ability to post regularly and the generic expectations for daily-ness creates a natural link to print-based genres that also share the qualities of daily-ness and brevity.

The fact that a site called "The Blog of Henry David Thoreau" exists should be evidence enough that place blogging has important affinities with the genre of the log book, nature journal, or field notebook, what Chris would describe as a log "of natural activity and cycles, including flora and fauna, geological and meteorological notes, sometimes with description, sometimes without." Thoreau's journals and notebooks are notable examples of both close attention to place and daily cultivation of a mind trying to figure out his relationship with the place around him.

The presence of the word "note" in several titles included in Rebecca Blood's list of "weblogs of place" suggests that the notion of note-taking is a useful descriptor among some place-oriented blogs:

When Pica and Numenius began Feathers of Hope in 2003, they recognized continuities between their emerging practice of blogging and their daily habit of keeping a print-based log book, a habit which began a few years earlier when they found themselves in a rustic house in the mountains nine miles from Santa Barbara. The beauty and isolation of this place lead them to not only to begin sketching and writing poetry, but also to keep a daily log book in which they entered a short post detailing aspects of the weather, wildlife, and gardening in their immediate surroundings.

“We knew this was going to be an intense experience and so we had to make some serious choices about what we were going to be doing,” Pica recounts. "The minute we said we wanted to live in this place we decided to keep a log book of the experience. We were really committed to the idea of keeping a daily entry about where we live” (Kent).

After moving to Davis, CA, Pica and Numenius realized their need to orient themselves to a new (and less picturesque) place, and they decided that "writing would be a good way to do it.” By March 2003, Numenius had begun reading political blogs and decided he wanted to begin keeping a blog, but he had not found anyone else writing about place. When they began blogging together, they made a conscious choice to write about their bioregion as a central organizing topic (Kent).

However, blogging about place did not mean they stopped keeping a log book, which in Alison’s mind is a different experience. In her estimation, the blog invites a much broader range of topics, while the logbook is fairly focused on short daily entries describing the immediate locale. The significant difference comes down to audience and geography:

While anyone is able and welcome to read our logbooks, nobody ever does, because they are physically bound, literally and figuratively, in our living room. Feathers of Hope extends the space that this shared activity has created and also the scope of our joint writing. The weblog is a place where I can write something--this, for instance--and know that at least fifteen, and probably many more, people than that will read it. One of them lives in Davis; another in Sweden; another few in England; another in Australia. Many are in North America.

Place blogging remediates the log book in such a way that blogging feels like something new, and yet still feels familiar enough that Pica can say, “In my mind and in my heart it still feels very close to writing in a log book” (Kent).

Personal Essays

When Chris from Bowen Island Journal describes place blogs as "collections of stories of the writer's engagement with a place, including the land and culture of a place,” he points to the influence of the essay tradition, particularly the nature writing tradition, on blogging practice. Lorianne of Hoarded Ordinaries was a regular essayist and journal-keeper before she began blogging. As she describes it, her writing routine began each day after breakfast when she walked the dog and then returned home to write six pages by hand. Roughly every two weeks she composed an essay that she distributed to an email list of selected people. This routine began to evolve into blogging late in December, 2003:

So here the experiment begins. After keeping a hand-written journal for years & years, now I'm trying to see whether I can "convert" that writing online. "Everyone's doing it—why can't I?" In reading lots of other blogs these past few weeks, I've found it to be an addictive and oddly delightful genre: so, can I do it?

"Egotism" (Dec. 28, 2003).

This conversion involved a shift in audience from journaling for herself and writing essays for a limited audience to blog posts that combined elements of both journal and essay:

Anyhow, it occurs to me that Thoreau didn't keep a journal because he WAS famous; he became famous because he kept a journal, and mined those journals to write essays, and then made the effort to share those essays with a less-than-enthusiastic public. Somehow, Thoreau just kept writing even though virtually nobody bought his first (self-published) book, leaving him with a bookshelf full of unsold copies.

No, Thoreau didn't top the best-seller list, nor did he ever appear on Oprah. (Can you imagine THAT interaction!) Poor ol' Hank just kept writing, writing, writing because his hero & close neighbor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, asked him after his college graduation whether he kept a journal. "So today I start," Thoreau wrote in his first entry. And the rest, as they say, is history...

"Egotism" (Dec. 28, 2003).

The influence of essay writing is particularly visible in Lorianne's blogging practice: each post reads like short essay representing the mind at work. In any given post, Lorianne weaves together photographs, personal experience, descriptions of places in her neighborhood, and philosophical reflections on life and place, taking what seems at first like disparate elements and weaving them together into a meaningful whole.

Lorianne describes her blogging as more postmodern in sensibility than traditional nature writing, and she tends to see place blogging as a way to experiment with notions of both self and place:

One of the joys of blogging is the experimental nature of it all: one day you can try your hand at a serious post; the next you can experiment with a lighter, more zany voice. In a word, blogging provides a forum where you can let all of your personalities (if you happen to have several) out of the bag, each with a day and a spotlight all their own.

"One Year Minus One Year Later" (Dec. 26, 2004).

As a transplant to Keene, Lorianne sees her blog as a way to actively construct a sense of place and describes "writing about place to create a place myself" (DiSabato). As a result of these attitudes toward both place and the self, reading Lorianne's blog means traveling with her through a wide range of representations, from earning her doctorate to going through a divorce, from picturesque images of the New Hampshire countryside to the backsides of ordinary buildings in Keene.

Both Lorianne's posts and her blog as a whole offer essayistic qualities that have been remediated in this new genre. In "Saving a Place for Essayistic Literacy," Doug Hesse argues for the ongoing relevance of the essay tradition in the midst of the increasing prevalence of networked, digital literacies. Writing before the emergence of blogging as a genre, Hesse identifies similar cultural kairos to what Miller and Shepard describe as the "flux of subjectivity" created by online communication:

The boundless expanse of the Internet, fueled by an additive logic that directly confronts the individual writer with how much there is and is to come, has a paradoxically paralytic effect. In the face of such verdant complexity, writers may, I fear, be cornered into ever-smaller—through admittedly more frequent—forays into the network, developing an online consciousness that offers no psychic or political resting place. (Hess 48)

Hesse identifies the essay as providing a kind of "resting place." In his words,

The essay offers such places, though they are hard to win and never permanent. Essays remain places with rhetorical power, as readers are consoled by writers who can organize corners of chaos, not just by gathering, arranging, and exchanging but by venturing to say what a part might mean. (48)

As a genre, place blogging creates rhetorical places that are in Catherine Schryer's words "stabilized for now," sites both attempting to create coherent senses of place and of self while at the same time acknowledging that this process never ends and that each day's post will continue to push the previous entries lower on the page, adding to a growing archive of self-in-place (qtd in Bawarshi 81-82).

Ethnography and Journalism

If place blogging exhibits ancestral ties to the nature writer's log or the field notebook, it also shares affinities with the notebook of the ethnographer or journalist. As Chris from Bowen Island Journal describes it, place blogs sometimes are “notes on the particular character of a place, which may be purely sociological. For instance a blog that discusses the culture of an area would be a place blog, but it's a blog about the noosphere and not the biosphere.” This view grows out of the the exigencies that shaped his own blogging experience:

In 1994 I moved from Ottawa, Ontario to Vancouver, British Columbia which is five thousand kilometers away. In many ways this part of the country is like another world. Geographically I am as far away from my birthplace in Toronto as London is from Cairo. When I moved here I had a very strong sense on myself as an outsider, and the gift of this perspective is that I am able to see things here almost like an anthropologist. I am no longer a fish unaware of the water. My writing immediately began to take on the flavour of a participant-observer account of my life, and that perspective stays with me to this day.

The journalistic ancestry of blogging is apparent in local blogs like Simon's Living in Dryden in which he documents the political and community life in his area of upstate New York: "At this point it's clear that there's more than enough going on in Dryden for stories every day. There is an incredible amount happening here, and only a fraction of it can make the paper" ("Six Months"). Simon provides an independent source of news to supplement the conventional print sources, and it is clear throughout that this role as an independent journalist is a local one—he writes as a local for a local audience. For this reason, his blog tends to serve as a growing archive of the local knowledge he considers important for responsible civic engagement in the community.

Travel Writing

Traveling often enables a writer to step outside of her routine and perceive a place with new eyes, to see what appears to be natural or inevitable as something constructed. In the words of Travelertrish,

My view of place, then, is skewed by the fact that I don't really have one. Because I will never really belong anywhere, I am fascinated by those who do, and by the stories that emerge when they do. And because I am not from anywhere, I can see layers of culture that are invisible to most people who haven't done much traveling. So much of our behavior is culture-bound and that fact is mostly invisible, subliminal. Because I have to pay attention to what I say and do (since I'm not from here), I often see what is invisible to others.

"June 14, 2003." Travelertrish.

If constructing a meaningful sense of place involves paying attention, some places make this easier for us by being unfamiliar or exotic. As Nancy from Under the Fire Star describes it,

Most people don't really see the places where they live. I'm so lucky to have pulled up my roots and transplanted myself to a strange place—Chennai, India. No matter how long I live here, it will always be somewhat exotic to me. I see it. Little things tickle me—or annoy me—every day. It keeps me on my toes. Because things are so interesting, peculiar, irritating, I want to share them with others. Look! Can you believe this? ... I live in an ancient culture, which has taken in many invaders. Yet it remains itself. I am fascinated by the modern things that have ancient roots. I want to tell you about them...

 "Blogging about Place" (June 15, 2003)

While the writing of travelers and ex-patriots is an important approach to place blogging, this study focuses primarily on place blogging as a way of engaging with relatively ordinary places, the kinds of place we inhabit rather than visit, the places that do less work to help us see what's there. If the genre of the travel writing involves representing the encounter of the self with foreign places, place bloggers often remediate this genre by exploring their neighborhoods as if they were visiting for the first time, always trying to see the familiar with fresh eyes and representing their experiences in a way that engages the distant reader.


It should be clear from this list of remediated genres that blogging about place is a highly interdisciplinary endeavor, one that reflects the complexity of place as an experience and a subject of study. The bloggers in this study come from all manner of backgrounds: Fred is trained as a scientist, Lorianne as a literary scholar and essayist; Jarrett from Creature of the Shade works as an urban planner, Numenius as geographer; Chris from Creek Running North is an environment writer, while Chris from Bowen Island Journal is a community planning activist and educator. If the breadth of approaches among these writers is any indication, blogging can serve as friendly habitat for place-based writing in a wide variety of disciplines: literature, journalism, the social sciences, environmental studies, to name just a few. Effective course design for the writing classroom involves both being aware that blogging about place can draw on a wide variety of remediate genres and choosing those that best fit the pedagogical goals at hand.

© Copyright Tim Lindgren