third place theory

    Joshua Elek wrote an article not too far about about the Theory of Third Space, something I've also found to be intriguing. I'll sample him, and that'll save me the time to inform you what it is (and really, Joshua writes well, so I'm doing you a favor as well):

…The idea is that There is something called the Theory of Third Place. Essentially what it means is that people need to visit a place which is neither home nor work. The Third Place. For some, this is a coffee shop, for some it's a library, or a park, or a bar. It doesn't matter what the third place is, it's just a place you like to go that is neither home nor work.

Third places do a lot for society. According to Ray Oldenburg (one of the founders of the idea), "they make the citizen feel at home, they nourish relationships and a diversity of human contact, they help create a sense of place and community, they invoke a sense of civic pride, they provide numerous opportunities for serendipity, they promote companionship, they allow people to relax and unwind after a long day at work.." And he goes on…

    And here are a couple quotes from Oldenburg that will add to the conversation:

"The character of a third place is determined most of all by its regular clientele and is marked by a playful mood, which contrasts with people's more serious involvement in other spheres. Though a radically different kind of setting for a home, the third place is remarkably similar to a good home in the psychological comfort and support that it extends…They are the heart of a community's social vitality, the grassroots of democracy, but sadly, they constitute a diminishing aspect of the American social landscape."

“Life without community has produced, for many, a life style consisting mainly of a home-to-work-and-back-again shuttle. Social well-being and psychological health depend upon community. It is no coincidence that the ‘helping professions’ became a major industry in the United States as suburban planning helped destroy local public life and the community support it once lent.”

    As a campus minister, resident director, and I would extrapolate further to college students, I'm beginning to realize how critical the third place is, because our first place (our home) and our second place (our work), are one and the same way too often. I think about the last (now) 5 years of life, and how they've been characterized by going to class, going "home" to work on my work, goofing around, and then to bed to start it all again. In the same way, I can look around my bedroom right now and see commentaries, Bible Encyclopaedias (that's the way they spell it – don't judge, youngin'!), and the like. Without a third place of social interaction, there's no place to actually be in community, and we are lost in a blur of work and home.

    However, as Joshua commented, our third places are quickly being endangered. I think of the places I'd want to deem my "third place" – Starbucks on Fifth, Barnes and Noble, and hopefully soon Docksiders on State – and really, from Oldenburg's description, there aren't necessarily regular clientele (excluding Jesse and Ricardo, who always happen to be on the same 'bucks and B&N schedule as I am). Our society, quite simply, is no longer willing to be equipped for consistency in places. We want our single-packaged, microwavable society because it's controllable and it's independent and it's just what we want how we want it.

    It's modernistic. Which all the jibber-jabber I've heard said we don't roll in anymore.  This is nothing to new to say that our modernistic, subdivided society has done much to hurt community on a city and societal level, and I think third place theory helps name the elephant, but I think we, as a new generation up-and-coming, need to embrace the third place again.  We need to get out of dorm rooms, get out of our work cliques, and find places just to be.

    I'm going to stop here for 3 reasons: one is I realize I'm rambling, and this is a convergence of ideas I have about modern/post-modern tension, third place theory, and "millennial" community interaction (which Howe and Strauss say is supposed to be a big deal, and I don't know if I see the proof yet)
; two is that I want you to read the whole of what I wrote, and if I go too much further, your attention span will recede; three is that I'm going to Starbucks to read for my class.

    It rained hard today.  I smelled fresh Spring.  It was spiritual.



  1. Regarding your very last line: It just goes to show that one person’s “spiritual” is another person’s “I’ve never been stuck in a more torrential rain on the job in two years.”


  2. …and you know, given the circumstances, it can be the exact same person.

    But that made me smile a big smile. Check plus to you 🙂


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