But there is disagreement on the best approach to place meaning. Williams (2014, p. 91) clarifies the methodological challenge of place studies by differentiating between scientific focus on “place as a locus of attachment” versus a focus on “place as a center of meaning.” Place attachment is an operational construct to measure how much a place matters to somebody. Place meaning is not a string of attributes a person assigns in order to tabulate and categorize localities. Place meaning exists as “a transaction between the two mediated through culture, social interaction, and individual past experience” (p. 96). Place meaning is a construct for understanding how a place matters to somebody. The study I’m proposing clears the way for a new theoretical path for understanding how a wild place matters to somebody.
As I will explain further in the second chapter, Stedman’s (2008, p. 66) assertion that “[s]ymbolic meanings about place can be translated into cognitions or beliefs: descriptive statements about ‘what kind of place this’ ” is incompatible with the onto-existential conceptual framework I am constructing through my interpretation and application of Heidegger (1962). I follow the cues of others in HDNR (Stokowski, 2008; Williams & Patterson, 2007) by claiming that an understanding of how places matter cannot be predicated by itemized litanies of inventoried attributes.
Holland (2012) has encouraged environmental decision-makers to employ a greater concern for meaning rather than value. For him, “the living of worthwhile lives requires nothing more, nor less, than the presence of meaningful relationships” (p. 9). He calls on Cooper’s (1992, p. 170, as quoted in Holland, 2012, p. 10) notion of the environment as a field of significance: “In calling an environment a field of significance I mean… that the items within it signify or point to one another, thereby forming a network of meanings.” Human-nature involvement is most rewarding and meaningful when tradition, skill, subject matter understanding, and sensitivity to the surroundings take precedence. I will investigate wild place meaning with an eye toward such understandings and sensitivities to describe the meaningful dimension of how wild places matter to different people that are involved with the place.