World’s Largests: Understanding Expressions of Place Character and Efforts to Attract Economic Investment

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Teaching Resource


Place character is a modern concept in urban sociology that is a critical piece for understanding how processes of economic development can be rooted in socially constructed subjective understandings of place characteristics. Because understanding the processes from which place character emerges implies dealing with social constructions and subjective understandings, it is often a challenging concept for students in urban sociology courses to work with.

Through this set of materials, students read leading scholarship (Paulsen, 2004) delineating the place character concept, work with this concept in class discussion, and then apply the place character concept to a documentary which illustrates examples of place character being uniquely expressed through large sculptures in small towns across the US. These large sculptures are roadside attractions which local residents often hope will attract visitors and drive economic investment in these, often economically struggling, communities. Situated within broader study of economic development processes and an understanding of globalization, this assignment may function as a critical counterpoint to optimistic narratives about urban investment in creativity and technological innovation by asking students to reflect on places struggling to attract such investment.

The steps of this material are as follows:

  1. Students read Paulsen’s (2004) “Making Character Concrete” prior to class.
  2. In-class lecture and discussion on concept of place character
  3. Students read King and Cazessus’s (2012) review of World’s Largest, “Small Town, Big Totem.”
  4. Students watch World’s Largest.
  5. Students complete video assignment.

Original Citation

King, C. (2016, December 29). World’s Largests: Understanding Expressions of Place Character and Efforts to Attract Economic Investment. TRAILS: Teaching Resources and Innovations Library for Sociology. Available at: http://trails.asanet.org/Pages/Resource.aspx?ResourceID=13391