Standpoint Theory


unattributed image from polychrome on flickr

Hartford Soldiers' Memorial CA 1886, courtesy CT Historical Society

On New Year’s Eve I attended a gala at Open Square in Holyoke MA. It was sponsored by an organization called CRUSH – Citizens for the Revitalization and Urban Success of Holyoke. It was fun – I love dressing up and dancing, and got to do both. I met great people, spent time with new friends, and got a midnight smooch. All in all a great success.

But an interesting theme emerged during the evening. It brought to mind something I’d studied in grad school: Standpoint Theory.

Crudely described, Standpoint Theory states that we all stand on, say, a point. From my point I observe and describe the world. From your point you observe and describe the world. When we talk and combine our perspectives we come away with something that is more objective than what we could have described individually.

My standpoint on New Year’s Eve? That of a deeply invested and committed resident of Hartford visiting Holyoke, a city in which I have a significant interest.

The standpoint of many of the folks with whom I had conversations? Those of deeply invested and committed residents of Holyoke who are sincere in their desire to revitalize a fascinating and historic industrial city.

The first indication of the emerging theme was when a person expressed complete and utter shock that I would leave Hartford to spend New Year’s Eve in Holyoke. Why? Because Hartford is way cooler than Holyoke. It has cooler clubs, cooler restaurants, more better cooler people…

I disagree. I’ve been to some great places and amazing homes in Holyoke (architecture and history fiends should visit just to check out the canals), and I’ve met truly wonderful people: Denis, Marjie, Maggie, VanDog and many others.

And as all readers of this blog know, when you start to meet a place’s people, you start to feel its spirit.

Later conversations referenced a Hartford full of great restaurants. A Hartford where you can hear live music. A Hartford with cool galleries and that “fabulous museum.”

“Hartford is great,” said one person, “Holyoke would love to be like Hartford one day.”

Said another: “Have you ever been to Providence? Hartford is like Providence…”

I think my jaw hit the floor when I heard that. Don’t leaders around here always wish that Hartford was like Providence?

One of the people I was speaking with helped me with my jaw and asked about my reaction.

“Did you say Providence?”

“Hartford’s problem,” he said, “is marketing. It’s a great cosmopolitan city.”

Great. Cosmopolitan. City.

So let’s see what happens when we combine the standpoints of the various folks with whom I conversed: Hartford has much to recommend it. Hartford¬† is diverse and sophisticated. Hartford is a destination. Hartford is a city to emulate.

Could Hartford already be the city it wants to be?


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10 Responses to Standpoint Theory

  1. Robin says:

    Great post! Perspective is everything. We celebrated New Year’s Eve in downtown Hartford (not First Night, we had a do-it-yourself wine/dine crawl at Morton’s and Spris with some lovely lights at Constitution Plaza and then of course the fireworks in Bushnell Park) and it was just perfect. And very cosmopolitan!

  2. kerri says:

    Possibly related to standpoint theory, or maybe not– A friend working as an intern for a researcher told me that the researcher had a theory related to memory and location. Following 9/11, people living near NYC (I don’t think in it or at the scene of attacks, just near) had more false memories of the attacks than people living further away, like the West Coast. I don’t know if trauma had anything to do with this…maybe it was because they were close to but not actually experiencing the trauma firsthand. So, those in the midst of it understood what was going on, and those very distant understood, but those right on the borders had distorted memories.

    I like the word cosmopolitan. I like the connotation of it. It’s better than saying “melting pot” or “multicultural,” but I think that “multicultural” almost fits. To some, though, the presence of many cultures is not cosmopolitan…it’s their worst nightmare. Hmm…do you think it would make a difference if the Hartford promotional peoples out there began to replace “ethnic diversity” with “cosmopolitan”?

    Speaking of cosmopolitans, this Thursday is the Wadsworth’s monthly cocktail party. I hear there will be absinthe and prosecco tasting.

  3. elizabeth says:

    No one here at my desk to help me w/my jaw so I’ve tucked it back into place myself. Have I ever heard Hartford praised by an “outsider”? I think not – gosh, what a lovely experience. Thanks for cluing us in to the possibility.

  4. Julie Beman says:

    We should ask our pals at to think about the word “cosmopolitan” and discuss it with their various marking pros. I’m sure they like Cosmopolitans at the very least, so would enjoy saying the word.

  5. Julie Beman says:

    Oh no no no no, my friend. Not “outsider.” OutsiderS!

  6. Julie Beman says:

    I plan to attend Art After Hours at the Wadsworth on Thursday. W00t!

  7. Gale says:

    Hey, I had the most amazing New Year’s Eve celebrations too. I was at the 4th Black Tie New Year’s Eve Party at ArtSpace.
    We even got our pictures published at Hartford Courant.

    Take a look!

    XOX to all!


  8. elizabeth says:

    And I recommend this book – On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not – for an intriguing look at why we continue to believe things despite conficting evidence. (Sadly tho’ Kerri, you can’t check it out from your favorite library as some selfish beast made off with it. We’ll see if “we” can fix that . . . .)

    For me “cosmopolitan” implies bustle and sophistication and wealth. Hmmmm.

  9. elizabeth says:

    Oh the beauty of the plural – and have a sip of prosecco for me!

  10. ray says:

    I think Hartford is a great city but missing that marketing twisit to lure more businesses in tune with today’s consumer. In order to be condsidered cosmopolitian I think Hartford must do just that offer a little something for ever demographic.

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