Third place

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This article is about the community and urban planning concept. For the Canadian band, see Third Place (band).
A barber shop in Brazil. The barber shop is an example of the third place; in many societies it has been a traditional area for (especially) men to congregate separate from work or home.

In community building, the third place (or third space) is the social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace. In his influential book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg (1989, 1991) argues that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place.

Oldenburg calls one's "first place" the home and those that one lives with. The "second place" is the workplace — where people may actually spend most of their time. Third places, then, are "anchors" of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction. All societies already have informal meeting places; what is new in modern times is the intentionality of seeking them out as vital to current societal needs. Oldenburg suggests the following hallmarks of a true "third place":

  • Free or inexpensive
  • Food and drink, while not essential, are important
  • Highly accessible: proximate for many (walking distance)
  • Involve regulars – those who habitually congregate there
  • Welcoming and comfortable
  • Both new friends and old should be found there.

Robert Putnam addressed issues related to third place in Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital (1995, 2000).

Postmodern conception[edit]

Homi K. Bhabha wrote about hybridity and third space from a postcolonial perspective in The Location of Culture (1994). In an interview, Bhabha explains how his conception of third space as "differential temporal movements within the process of dialectical thinking and the supplementary or interstitial 'conditionality' that opens up alongside the transcendent tendency of dialectical contradiction" developed from Walter Benjamin's work.[1]

Political geographer and urban planner Edward Soja also developed a theory of Thirdspace, in his 1996 book Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-And-Imagined Places. His postmodern conception draws on and is influenced by Henri Lefebvre, Michel Foucault, and postcolonial thinkers Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, bell hooks, Edward Said, and Homi K. Bhabha. Soja's concept of Thirdspace "breaks the Firstspace-Secondspace dualism and comprises such related concepts as ‘place, location, locality, landscape, environment, home, city, region, territory and geography’ (50) that attempts to come to terms with the representational strategies of real and imagined places. He proposes a ‘trialectics of spatiality’ (57) which is a process, a dynamic force and ‘recombinational and radically open’ (50)."[2]

Organization such Zawiya Perspective are working hard to provide sample of having a complete Third-Places in the Los Angeles area. A third-place designed to facilitate an OPEN, HEALTHY, and sustainable ACTUALIZATION of spirituality. they build culture and community and inform the American narrative about the importance of having community. They Inspire its members to live a life filled with gratitude and meaning. Join them as they create and experience inspired programs that are intellectually, spiritually, and aesthetically stimulating. Connect with them through uplifting social engagement in a semi-sacred space where mutual respect is paramount. Their companionship is intentional and connections are real. All this is to empower you, demanding that you take charge of your life and your community. Zawiya provide the space, the environment but you have to bring the soul.

Virtual third places and spaces[edit]

Since Oldenburg’s writings, there are people in the computer and internet industry that have declared that third places are observed or shifting to the virtual world or virtual third places.[3] This descriptive practice is easily adopted because of the similarities in descriptive characteristics found between the virtual and physical worlds.

In combination with the Industrial Revolution and as media transitioned from the public space to more comfortable roles inside one's home, there was a large shift away from public activities because they could be enjoyed within the confines of one’s home.[citation needed] With the advent of online technologies these virtual third places have been observed in online communities. The characteristics observed in these communities vary from their physical application but meet the context of personalization, permeability, approachability, and comfortability.[citation needed]

With the increasing popularity of online multiplayer video games, individuals from across the world are becoming more connected with each other through these video games. The potential for social culture clashes is inherently high considering the large volume of interactions of users from different cultures. However, the online virtual communities constructed within these games share the same characteristics with traditional third places.[4] One of the more prominent features of these communities is the social equalizing aspect. These games allow users to interact through their in-game character, or avatar, which serve as a medium for the player and removes the players's social identifiers. Avatars often interact via built-in text chat systems, allowing users to communicate without revealing their identity through their voice. Therefore any type of social identification is dependent upon the avatar, not the actual player.

While these online communities provide freedom from traditional social status, that is not to say there are no social hierarchies within the games; each game community constructs their own social norms that determine in-game social status. However, each player begins the game at an equal footing and must achieve social recognition through their in-game accomplishments. The concept of "regulars" within third spaces is also prominent in online gaming communities. These regulars are often identifiable through some type of special identifier; some games include special insignia or titles for accomplished users, making these users stand out to all users. The regulars set standards for accepted in-game behavior, serving as a type of social moderator (especially for new players). For instance, many of these games offer the opportunity for PvP (player vs player) combat, in which users battle against each other. However, this creates an opportunity for users to "grief" one another, which is intentional harassment meant to disrupt gameplay for other users.[5] This type of behavior is often kept in check by the community regulars. "Regular" status is attainable for all users, which furthers the sense of community within the game. As users play more, they are accepted into the community by fellow regulars, forming new social bonds.

As online technologies advance, these online video games become more accessible to individuals across all backgrounds. While these games are often played on traditional video game consoles or on PCs (which often requires purchasing the video game software), there are many internet browser based games (such as RuneScape and Farmville) that allow anyone with internet access to play for free. This widens the variety of individuals that are entering into the community.[citation needed]

Oldenburg's characteristics[edit]

There are eight characteristics that define a third place, as described by Oldenburg.

Neutral ground[edit]

Occupants of third places have little to no obligation to be there. They are not tied down to the area financially, politically, legally, or otherwise and are free to come and go as they please.


Third places put no importance on an individual's status in a society. Someone's economic or social status do not matter in a third place, allowing for a sense of commonality among its occupants. There are no prerequisites or requirements that would prevent acceptance or participation in the third place.

Conversation is main activity[edit]

Playful and happy conversation is the main focus of activity in third places, although it is not required to be the only activity. The tone of conversation is usually light hearted and humorous; wit and good natured playfulness are highly valued.

Accessibility and accommodation[edit]

Third places must be open and readily accessible to those who occupy them. They must also be accommodating, meaning they provide the wants of their inhabitants, and all occupants feel their needs have been fulfilled.

The regulars[edit]

Third places harbor a number of regulars that help give the space its tone, and help set the mood and characteristics of the area. Regulars to third places also attract newcomers, and are there to help someone new to the space feel welcome and accommodated.

A low profile[edit]

Third places are characteristically wholesome. The inside of a third place is without extravagance or grandiosity, and has a homely feel. Third places are never snobby or pretentious, and are accepting of all types of individuals, from several different walks of life.

The mood is playful[edit]

The tone of conversation in third places are never marked with tension or hostility. Instead, they have a playful nature, where witty conversation and frivolous banter are not only common, but highly valued.

A home away from home[edit]

Occupants of third places will often have the same feelings of warmth, possession, and belonging as they would in their own homes. They feel a piece of themselves is rooted in the space, and gain spiritual regeneration by spending time there.

Variant realizations[edit]

The concept of a "third place" has become popularized and has been picked up by various small businesses, including as a name for various locally owned coffee shops, and is commonly cited in urban planning literature on the issue of community-oriented business development and public space.

A traditional public house encourages social contact between patrons. But a third place which provides internet access may create a hollow effect in that the patrons are physically present but do not make social contact with each other, being absorbed by their remote connections. This is similar to how patrons behave in learning commons environments like those in university libraries where the preponderance of socializing is among people who already know each other. Some businesses, like The Third Place coffeehouse in Arlington, VA,[6] are trying to ameliorate this effect by staging performance art such as live jazz and hosting game nights to encourage new socialization.

Variant forms of the concept include the "community coffee house" and the "community living room", a term which has been adopted by several organizations[7][8] to describe the model of a cooperatively-run "third space" which includes commercial or non-commercial functions with an emphasis on providing a free space for social interaction.

The general store or pub and occasionally bookstore or diner are traditional variants of the concept, provided in such cases there is an emphasis on expectation of socialization, and customers are invited to stay and "hang out" with or without making any (or additional) purchases. Institutions which traditionally provided some functions of a third place included shared leisure facilities such as a bowling alley or arcade, function halls, lodges or social clubs, when and if facilities were available for casual use.[citation needed]

A church community fills this role for many people, including groups that focus on common interests and hobbies. Activities, events, and cell groups can build the connections that are necessary for authentic community.[9][not in citation given]


An increasing percentage of American workers now telecommute, not from home, but from a third place.[10] Workers cite isolation when telecommuting from home and find working in public spaces a happy medium between the home office and the corporate office. Availability of public wifi has been a major enabler of this trend, and an increasing number of retail chains are catering to it.[citation needed]


A traditional public house encourages social contact between patrons. But a third place which provides internet access may create a hollow effect in that the patrons are physically present but do not make social contact with each other, being absorbed by their remote connections. This is similar to how patrons behave in learning commons environments like those in university libraries where the preponderance of socializing is among people who already know each other.[11] Some café owners are trying to ameliorate this effect by staging performance art such as live jazz and turning off the wi-fi to encourage audience engagement.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mitchell, W.J.T. (March 1995). "Interview with cultural theorist Homi Bhabha". Artforum 33 (7): 80–84. 
  2. ^ Dalal, Sanghamitra (November 2010). "Book Reviews: Communicating in The Third Space edited by Karin Ikas and Gerhard Wagner". Transnational Literature 3 (1). 
  3. ^ Charles Soukup, Computer-mediated communication as a virtual third place: building Oldenburg’s great good places on the world wide web
  4. ^ Steinkuehler, Constance; Dmitri Williams (2006). "Where Everybody Knows Your (Screen) Name: Online Games as ‘‘Third Places’’". Computer-Mediated Communication 11: 885–909. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2006.00300.x. 
  5. ^ Rubin, Victoria; Sarah Camm. "Deception in video games: examining varieties of griefing". Online Information Review 37 (3): 369–387. doi:10.1108/oir-10-2011-0181. 
  6. ^ "The Third Place". 2014. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 
  7. ^ Sue Halpern. "New Deal City". Mother Jones (May 2002). Retrieved 2010-09-19. 
  8. ^ "Talk of Takoma". Takoma Voice (Takoma Park, Maryland, May 2005). Retrieved 2010-09-19. 
  9. ^ "ThirdPlace". 2012. Retrieved 15 March 2012. 
  10. ^ "Third place office space". USA Today. 2006-10-05. Retrieved 2010-05-25. 
  11. ^ Malaby, Thomas; Christopher Cooley; David Stack (November 2011). "How Are Students Actually Using IT? An Ethnographic Study". ECAR Research Bulletins 17. 
  12. ^ The new oases, The Economist, April 10, 2008 

Further reading[edit]

  • Oldenburg, Ray (1989). The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts, and How They Get You Through the Day. New York: Paragon House. ISBN 978-1-55778-110-9.  (Hardback)
  • Oldenburg, Ray (1991). The Great Good Place. New York: Marlowe & Company. ISBN 978-1-56924-681-8.  (Paperback)
  • Oldenburg, Ray (2000). Celebrating the Third Place: Inspiring Stories about the "Great Good Places" at the Heart of Our Communities. New York: Marlowe & Company. ISBN 978-1-56924-612-2.