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Third places and hybrid spaces


I’ve been looking at an interesting article (Solomon, et al, 2006) on everyday learning taking place in the spaces between work activities in a workplace context. Following on from previous thoughts about the home as the workplace for some parents with a child with SEN, it made me start thinking about where the in-between spaces are there.

The idea of  in-between spaces relates to third places as described by Oldenburg and Brissett (1982), where they reflect on societal changes which have led to a tendency for modern lifestyles to polarise between home and work with very few areas of neutral territory for discourse. Some more recent articles (Steinkuhler, 2006, Peachey, 2008) have suggested that such third places may now be found in various virtual environments. The nature of third places is the provision of neutral territory where identity and status are irrelevant, but ideas can be shared and debated within a social context. It may well be that some online groups fit this description.

Solomon, et al, focus on workplace learning. The description of hybrid spaces stems from a larger organisational study where it was observed people frequently referred to non-work spaces where dialogue and discourse happened. These included spaces in the workplace which were not designated as working spaces such as a coffee room, and spaces outside the workplace where colleagues regularly conversed such as in a car share arrangement for commuting. No doubt the space around a water cooler also fits. They found that although people were resistant to labelling their experience in these spaces as learning, it was often clear from the content of the descriptions or observations that these spaces were learning spaces.

The initial thought was whether the hybrid spaces could be used to enhance the workplace learning of the organisation, but this was resisted and they conclude by examining some of the pros and cons of formalising the informal and unintended. Reference is made to Colley, et al, (2002) and the impossibility of separating formal and informal learning in any satisfactory way. In the same way, other binaries such as work/non-work, on-the-job/off-the-job, worker/social being, worker/learner, working/playing may not be as clear cut as first appears. It is suggested that “It is in the in-between space that interesting things happen.”

Although not discussed in detail, another thread running through the article is identity in hybrid spaces. In a work context, hierarchies remain but it becomes possible to speak about things which it is not possible to in the the work place itself. To what extent do online forums also facilitate an opportunity to clear the air or let off steam by different participants involved in SEN – or any other domain?

Oldenburg, R., & Brissett, D. (1982). The Third Place. [Article]. Qualitative Sociology, 5(4), 265-284.

Peachey, A. (2008). First reflections, Second Life, third place: community building in virtual worlds. Paper presented at the ReLIVE08, Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.

Solomon, N., Boud, D., & Rooney, D. (2006). The in-between: exposing everyday learning at work. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 25(1), 3 – 13.

Steinkuehler, C. A., & Williams, D. (2006). Where everybody knows your (screen) name: online games as third places. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(4), 885-909.


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