A sense of place
: A scenographic interpretation of place and community engagement

  • Harriet Parry

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This PhD thesis, ‘A Sense of Place: A scenographic interpretation of place and community engagement’, sets out how I have developed and applied an interdisciplinary research methodology, which attends to the often-complex relationships between heritage sites and those for whom they have been preserved. In devising a methodology that prioritises a grass roots perspective, this work contributes to current concerns within the field of Critical Heritage Studies, where scholars are seeking to innovatively and critically engage with the powerful role that heritage has to ‘implement social change (or harm)’.1

Writing in October 2022, the importance of the cultural and social value of UK heritage sites is repeatedly specified in contemporary UK governmental and heritage policy. Heritage as a concept is considered by official bodies as a tool to facilitate greater social cohesion and wellbeing by making the most of an area’s historic sites, environments, and cultural traditions. However, as my research demonstrates, hegemonic and more traditional interpretations of heritage sites rarely represent the multifaceted and contradictory ways in which individuals might relate to the sites themselves.

To conduct this research, I have created the framework for my methodology through the multimodal theatre design praxis of Scenography. A scenographer conceives of a performance space through a networked understanding of its cultural context and affective qualities, to design an immersive experience that facilitates an embodied relationship between the audience, performers, and setting. I have built on this framework by employing research concepts drawn from material culture studies, and methods applied in sensory ethnography and critical heritage research, to move beyond the confines of the representational. This methodology therefore offers a more-than representational understanding of the networked, enmeshed, embodied and co-constitutive relationships between people and official interpretations of heritage sites.2

This thesis tests the application and potential value of conceiving of heritage sites in this way through two example case-studies: the visitor experience of Newhaven Fort in East Sussex, a scheduled ancient monument and military museum, and the lived experience of Wyndham Court in Southampton, a Grade II listed, Brutalist block of social housing. For each, I have recruited a select group of participants who have a long-term connection with one or other of the sites.

Alongside contextual historical and cultural research at each of the sites, I have undertaken videoed walking tours and interviews with participants, as well as scenographic and ethnographic approaches to observation, filming, and drawing. Through written analysis, scenographic sketches, and videos, this thesis demonstrates my contribution to the broader concerns of the critical heritage field and professional heritage sectors, by evidencing the multifaceted, networked, and enriched understanding of the everyday cultural significance of heritage sites that this methodology can provide.

1 ‘Welcome’, Association of Critical Heritage Studies. [n.d.]. Web.
2 Hayden Lorimer. ‘Cultural geography: the busyness of being“more-than-representational”’. Progress in Human Geography 29, no. 1 (February 2005): 83–94. https://doi.org/10.1191/0309132505ph531pr.
Date of AwardNov 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorLouise Purbrick (Supervisor) & Annebella Pollen (Supervisor)

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