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To develop and apply goals for future sustainability, we must consider what people care about and what motivates them to engage in solving sustainability issues. Sense of place theory and methods provide a rich source of insights that, like the social-ecological systems perspective, assume an interconnected social and biophysical reality. However, these fields of research are only recently beginning to converge, and we see great potential for further engagement.
Here, we present an approach and conceptual tools for how the sense of place perspective can contribute to social-ecological systems research. A brief review focuses on two areas where relation to place is particularly relevant: stewardship of ecosystem services, and responses to change in social-ecological systems. Based on the review, we synthesize specific ways in which sense of place may be applied by social-ecological systems researchers to analyze individual and social behaviors.
We emphasize the importance of descriptive place meanings and evaluative place attachment as tools to study the patterned variation of sense of place within or among populations or types of places and the implications for resilience and transformative capacity.
We conclude by setting out an agenda for future research that takes into account the concerns of resilience thinking such as the effects of dynamic ecology, interactions between temporal and spatial scales, and the interplay of rapid and incremental change on sense of place and place-related behaviors. This future research agenda also includes concerns from the broader sense of place literature such as the importance of structural power relationships on the creation of place meanings and how scaling up a sense of place may influence pro-environmental behavior.