Third Space Theory

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The Third Space is a postcolonial sociolinguistic theory of identity and community realized through language. It is attributed to Homi K. Bhabha. Third Space Theory explains the uniqueness of each person, actor or context as a "hybrid".[1] See Edward W. Soja for a conceptualization of the term within the social sciences and from a critical urban theory perspective.


Third Space theory emerges from the sociocultural tradition[2] in psychology identified with Lev Vygotsky.[3] Sociocultural approaches are concerned with the "... constitutive role of culture in mind, i.e., on how mind develops by incorporating the community's shared artifacts accumulated over generations".[4] Bhabha applies socioculturalism directly to the postcolonial condition, where there are, "... unequal and uneven forces of cultural representation".[5]

Wider use[edit]

In media arts theory, the third space has more recently been used by media artist Randall Packer to represent the fusion of the physical (first space) and the remote (second space) into a networked place that can be inhabited by multiple remote users simultaneously or asynchronously (third space). The hybrid notion of blurring the real and the virtual is expanded in the third space through distributed presence, in which the participants of the third space are in distributed physical spaces, essentially, referring to a shared electronic social space. The third space extends the notion of the real and the virtual by suggesting a hybrid space that allows remote participants to engage in social relations with one another at a distance.

In discourse of dissent, the Third Space has come to have two interpretations:

  • that space where the oppressed plot their liberation: the whispering corners of the tavern or the bazaar
  • that space where oppressed and oppressor are able to come together, free (maybe only momentarily) of oppression itself, embodied in their particularity.[6]

In educational studies, Maniotes[7] examined literary Third Space in a classroom where students' cultural capital merged with content of the curriculum as students backed up their arguments in literature discussions. Skerrett[8] associates it with a multiliteracies approach.[9]

Pre-school: Third Space Theory has been applied to the prespace within which children learn to read, bringing domestic and school literacy practices into their own constructions of literacy.[10]

Another contemporary construction of three "spaces" is that one space is the domestic sphere: the family and the home;[11] a second space is the sphere of civic engagement including school, work and other forms of public participation; and set against these is a Third Space where individual, sometimes professional,[12][13] and sometimes transgressive acts are played out: where people let their "real" selves show.

Sporting associations may be labeled as Third Space.[14] Often bars and nightclubs are so labeled (Law 2000, 46–47). Latterly the term Third Space has been appropriated into brand marketing where domestic spaces and workforce-engagement spaces are set against recreational retail space: shopping malls as third spaces (see Third place, Postrel 2006; and see also Davis 2008). Bill Thompson (2007) offers an opposite conceptualisation of Third Space as public, civic space in the built environment under pressure from shopping malls and corporate enterprises, transforming public space into an extension of the market.

Higher education: The Third Space is used by Whitchurch[13] to describe a subset of staff in Higher Education that work in roles sitting between professional and academic spheres, providing expert advice relating to learning and teaching without being practitioners. These include Learning/Instructional Designers and Education Technologists, among others.

Explanatory and predictive use[edit]

Third Space Theory can explain some of the complexity of poverty, social exclusion and social inclusion, and might help predict what sort of initiatives would more effectively ameliorate poverty and exclusion. Bonds of affinity (class, kin, location: e.g. neighbourhood, etc.) can function as "poverty traps".[15] Third Space Theory suggests that every person is a hybrid of their unique set of affinities (identity factors). Conditions and locations of social and cultural exclusion have their reflection in symbolic conditions and locations of cultural exchange. It appears to be accepted in policy that neither social capital nor cultural capital, alone or together, are sufficient to overcome social exclusion. Third Space Theory suggests that policies of remediation based in models of the Other are likely to be inadequate.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bhabha, Homi K. (2004). The Location of Culture. Abingdon: Routledge. p. 55.
  2. ^ Lillis, Theresa. 2003. "Introduction: Mapping the Traditions of a Social Perspective on Language and Literacy." In Language, Literacy and Education: a Reader, ed. Sharon Goodman, Theresa Lillis, Janet Maybin, and Neil Mercer, xiii–xxii. Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books
  3. ^ Vygotsky, Lev. 1962. Thinking and Speaking (first Published as Thought and Language). Ed. Eugenia Hanfmann and Gertrude Vakar. Lev Vygotsky Archive transcribed by Andy Blunden. Cambridge MA: MIT Press. (Ch 7 I)
  4. ^ Hatano, Giyoo; James V. Wertsch (March 2001). "Sociocultural Approaches to Cognitive Development: The Constitutions of Culture in Mind". Human Development. 2 (3): 78.
  5. ^ Bhabha 2004, 245
  6. ^ Bhabha, Homi (2004). The location of Culture. Routledge. pp. nnn.
  7. ^ Maniotes, L. K. (2005). The transformative power of literary third space. Doctoral dissertation, School of Education, University of Colorado, Boulder.
  8. ^ Skerrett, Allison (January 2010). "Lolita, Facebook, and the Third Space of Literacy Teacher Education". Education Studies. 46 (1): 67–84. doi:10.1080/00131940903480233.
  9. ^ New London Group (1996). "A pedagogy of multiliteracies: designing social futures". Harvard Educational Review (66): 60–92.
  10. ^ Levy, Rachael (2008). "'Third spaces' are interesting places: Applying 'third space theory' to nursery-aged children's constructions of themselves as readers". Journal of Early Childhood Literacy. 8 (1): 43–66. doi:10.1177/1468798407087161.
  11. ^ Walsh, Katie (2006). "British Expatriate Belongings: Mobile Homes and Transnational Homing". Home Cultures. 3 (2): 123–144. doi:10.2752/174063106778053183.
  12. ^ Hulme, Rob; David Cracknell; Allan Owens (2009). "Learning in third spaces: developing trans-professional understanding through practitioner enquiry". Educational Action Research. 17 (4): 537–550. doi:10.1080/09650790903309391.
  13. ^ a b Whitchurch, Celia (2008). "Shifting Identities and Blurring Boundaries: the Emergence of Third Space Professionals in UK Higher Education" (PDF). Higher Education Quarterly. 62 (4): 377–396. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2273.2008.00387.x.
  14. ^ Ruddock, Andy (2005), "Let's Kick Racism Out of Football—and the Lefties Too!: Responses to Lee Bowyer on a West Ham", Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 29 (4): 369–385, doi:10.1177/0193723505280665
  15. ^ Hoff, Karla, and Arjit Sen. 2005. The Kin System as A Poverty Trap? World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3575. World Bank