The role of place in perceived identity continuity

  • Mhairi Bowe

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    The core principle underlying this research program is that places can contribute to identity, and that like other elements of identity they may be subject to the same psychological processes. One way in which personal and social identity have been characterised is by their provision of a psychologically significant sense of identity continuity. The overarching question addressed throughout each chapter of this thesis is whether places are significant aspects of identity because they too provide a sense of temporal endurance: place identity continuity (PIC). Four empirical studies aimed to address this question using insights from social psychological theory. They also aimed to reveal the structure of place identity continuity, its psychological significance, and whether variation in its expression could be accounted for using social context.

    Following an introduction to the core themes of the thesis in Chapter One, Chapters Two and Three provide reviews of the literature connecting place, identity, and continuity: the first from disciplines outside psychology and the second from psychology itself. Chapter Four describes the research methods to be used, and ends Part I of the thesis. Part II presents the empirical studies. Chapter Five reports the results from Study 1, an interview study conducted with residents of Tayside, exploring their place experiences and perceptions of identity continuity in relation to places. It reveals that place relationships can be characterised by connections with past and future selves, and a sense of fit between place and self, but that they can also vary according to strength of place identification and social context. Chapter Six reports the results of Study 2, a large student survey study leading to the development of a three-dimensional scale to measure PIC, and confirmation that PIC is connected with place attachment and place identity. Chapter Seven reports the results of Study 3, a cross-validation of the PIC measure and examination of the varying connections between PIC dimensions and psychological well-being in a large general public survey study. Finally, Chapter Eight reports the results of Study 4, an experiment showing that PIC can vary according to self-categorisation such that those categorising themselves as a family member will generally rate PIC higher than those primed with a student identity.

    Chapter Nine draws the results of each study together to conclude that PIC is a significant aspect of place identity, and that it is characterised by connections with past place identity, present place and self congruency, and future place identity, thus extending the existing place identity literature. It is also concluded that the use of social psychological approaches enriches previously static and deterministic understandings of place identity, and provides an opportunity to integrate social and environmental psychology. Limitations, future studies, and theoretical and practical implications are then provided before concluding remarks are offered.

    Date of Award2012
    Original languageEnglish
    SponsorsEconomic and Social Research Council, UK
    SupervisorFabio Sani (Supervisor)


    • Identity
    • Place
    • Continuity
    • Social
    • Well-being

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