Place Based Leadership

“The social world is accumulated history” (Bourdieu, 1986)

“The social space we occupy has been historically generated.” (Skeggs, 1997)

One of the best parts of research is when you stumble across one or two pieces of information that enable your current thinking to ‘fall into place’, even if this is only temporary. That was the feeling I got when yesterday when I came across these two quotes in quick succession. They’re from two of the theorists that I see as being central to my thesis. When this happens, it can be interesting to consider the process of crystallisation behind such moment of clarity. I’ve been thinking about the historicisation of my research for some time. I see this as the need to situate my research within its historical development. This is underpinned by an attempt to avoid what the political rhetoric is always driving us to do- to consider the ‘now’ as a watershed moment that requires different and extraordinary measures to resolve. What we tend to forget is that history repeats itself and the current structures are often a reproduction of what existing before.

What also needs to be avoided is ahistoricism, which is either a lack of concern or a misrepresentation of history. Often it suits the powers that be to cherry pick history in order to legitimate the present, but that does not help us change or learn from our mistakes. For example, within my research context it is recognising that today’s unemployment aren’t worse than the past, which is what we are told in order to justify more stringent controls. In fact, even those so called ‘more’ stringent controls have been tried in the 1930s (see Fletcher, 2015 for a discussion) and they weren’t ‘effective’ then either. 

This brings us to our present context, and also something which is being increasingly mentioned in academic circles; ‘place’. Most recently this was at the BAM Identity and Leadership SIG event, where Brad Jackson (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand) discussed the importance of place to leadership. Initial questions at the event had raised concerns of how place fits with ‘purpose’ (considered by many to be one of the most central leadership concepts). What was drawn out by the ensuing discussion was that the two may be intimately linked, for what is purpose without considering place, and vice versa? Our place defines what we can and can’t do, what we can and can’t influence.

The ‘space’ we move through is increasing via  globalisation and technology (virtual space). Focussing on this bigger picture leads the detail to be lost. Thereby we lose the detail of the impact of leaders’ decisions. Issues such as inequality become masked (for example, think about how distant world news would have seemed 100 years ago compared to today; Local news would have seemed much more relevant in comparison).

Realities only becomes clear when leaders are grounded via place. Adding the additional dimension of historicisation can also overcome the inertia that place can imply. Given the current political climate I would like to see discussions of place based leadership continue to increase in both academic and professional fields.


Bourdieu, P. (1986). The Forms of Capital. Available from:

Fletcher, D. (2015). Workfare – a blast from the past? Contemporary work conditionality for the unemployed in historical perspective, Social policy and society, 14(3), 329-339. 

Skeggs, B. (1997). Formations of class and gender. London: Sage Publications.

Also see Jonathan Murdoch, ‘Post Structural Geographies’, and Danny Dorling, ‘Injustice’, for relevant discussions.


From National Library of Scotland exhibition of maps open until 2 April 2017


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