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Module 2: Space and Place

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Davee Craine

on 2 December 2012

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Transcript of Module 2: Space and Place

Module 2: Place and Space All places are first spaces. Space is an abstract notion of a location. Space is transformed into place with details and emotional associations. Have you ever moved to a new city? At first, the new city is more of a space. You know the name of the city, and some of the streets surrounding your new residence. However, you don't know your way around yet without a map. You may not know what the people are like in the new city. You need time to soak up the details. Place Home Space Once you've spent time in your new city, you begin to learn your way around. You know different neighborhoods, street names, and you have insight to the culture of the new city. You are beginning to transform space into place with details, values, and associations. Your city is no longer abstract, but a concrete place you know about, and have opinions about. Eventually, you know your city inside and out. You feel comfortable and at home. Home is place with many details, associations, and comfort levels. Think of it this way: Sometimes when people move to a new location, they still feel like the city they lived before is home. People get homesick because they have not yet mapped out their new city as detailed as where they are coming from, or when they have not yet made enough positive associations. All places are first spaces. Space is abstract thought about a location, with very few details and associations. Place and space are subjective terms, what might be a place for you will not be a place for us. For example, the house you grew up in is a place for you, but because we have never been there and know nothing about it, "the house you grew up in" is space to us, because it is an abstract thought. You know the address, the dimensions, the colors, the smells, and you have emotional associations, all contributing factors to defining place. Let's look at a diagram. Your assignment is to create place out of space by examining your location with first hand observations. Right now, your research site is still space until you map the details, and give value and associations through your field notes. Try to be as detailed as possible. Get as close to "home" on the diagram without actually moving in to your site. Right now, your site is an abstract space you can only imagine vaguely. Before you visit your site, write as many of the details you know already. What colors do you see? What do you know of the people who inhabit or visit your site? What is the size in feet of your site? What do you think your site smells like? Write as many descriptive words as you can about the "vibe" of the place: is it loud? dark? lonely? clean? dreary? comfortable? Be as creative as you wish. Next, write down questions you have about your site. Keep in mind your site is still an abstract space to you. What details are important to you to turn your site into place? What do you expect to see and feel when you visit your site? Write down at least ten questions you will try to answer once you are physically at your location. You are almost ready to visit your site, but before you do, remember that your site is a space first. Your site may have been other places than it is now. Try to do some research of the history of your site. For example, if your site is a bowling alley, try to find out what was there before the bowling alley. If you can't find the information, write down interview questions to ask people who are more familiar with your site. The history of your site can provide surprising details, and may affect what you notice while you visit. Now that you are armed with your pre-conceived notions, you are finally ready to visit your site. Bring your questions and research with you. Once you start observing your site, write down specific differences you notice from actually being there. Keep in mind the history of your site. Do you see any traces of old places your site used to be? If you couldn't find any information on the history of your site, now is the time to ask around! Rhetorical Considerations for Writing about Place and Space As you transform space into place in your expanded field notes, you may want to focus on two specific elements of writing from the ethnographic top ten list: Explore all senses

Grab your reader with attention getting prose For example, the Silver Palm dining car was built in May, 1947 by the Budd Company for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. It's now a functioning restaurant at 768 N. Milwaukee, Chicago, IL. See how the history affects the current "vibe" of the place it is now? The previous places your site used to be may not be so obvious, but they can still affect the values, associations, and details you notice while you are there. Every place has a history and a story. What is your site's story? Mapping: Transforming Space into Place Let's try an example. Consider this place: Also, keep notes on three distinct categories:
1. Observations (use all 5 senses)
2. Feelings (what do you feel when you are at your site?)
3. Analysis (what conclusions can you make based on your observations and feelings?) Your initial notes may look something like this: Observations:

bunk bed
sweatshirt on the pole
grey purse hanging on the pole
poster on the walls
open closet
wooden dresser
wooden desk
black mini fridge
paper on the desk
computer on the desk
stuff under desk
clothes on chair
trash behind chair
stuff on floor Feelings:

grossed out
anxious Analysis:

room belongs to a girl
she doesn't clean a lot These initial notes are lacking in detail and attention getting prose. Use simile and metaphor to liven your descriptions. Get carried away, you can always edit later. Observations:

Powder blue, unmade bedsheets
A wooden lofted bed with a baby girl pink hoodie, rainbow scarf, and other patterned clothes hanging lazily on the sides of the bed.
A gray tote bag with a yellow star on the bottom, dangles on top of the pink hoodie.
Unused organizational clear plastic tubs
On the walls, different sized papers announce the interests of the inhabitant, the most identifiable is a large Spice Girls poster above the jet black mini fridge, pure white magnets dot the expanse like stars in a night sky.
Barely visible underneath unidentifiable junk is a midnight blue rug that surrenders to the filth on the floor.
The walnut brown desk has been transformed into a makeshift closet, harboring junk like fugitives on the run.
A forgotten computer, slowly being buried alive by crumpled, unused paper. Feelings:

Confusion; how can someone live like this? There is nowhere to rest. I feel exhausted.
I want to call her mother, or perhaps a maid to clean this mess up.
I feel claustrophobic and anxious as I imagine having a room like this.
I feel disorientated, and overwhelmed. Analysis

This is a college girl who has let her room become over run with junk.
The lack of organization suggests she is not diligent with her school work because the desk is completely unusable.
The presence of organizational tools such as bins and extra drawers suggests an attempt to be neat, but laziness and a lack of identifying items of worth from disposable waste demonstrate the inhabitant's priorities are elsewhere.
The posters on the wall portray the inhabitant's need to express her identity, but clearly the state of her room says much more about her character. It's your turn to give it a try. Grab a pen and paper, and write down your observations, feelings, and analysis from this picture. This is only a picture, so you are limited to sight only. Remember, once you are at your site you can record sounds, smells, and tastes (if you dare!) Use the same attention to detail when observing people in your place. Use active, not passive voice in your writing and describe the people in your site as characters with stories. Let's try another example: Again, your initial notes may look like this: Observations:

The golfer sits on the bench.
He's wearing golf clothes, and sunglasses. Analysis/Story:

The golfer is young, and seems relaxed about the sport.
The golfer is smiling.
He seems approachable. Go a little deeper, and try to surmise the story of the golfer. Remember to be respectful in your observations. Observations:

The golfer appears to be in his 20's.
Although he is poised for a picture, he appears relaxed, hunched over his legs.
Stubble dots his face.
A bleach white terry cloth is draped over his golf bag.
Another golf bag is at his side, indicating he is golfing with a friend. Analysis/Story:

His glove, his sunglasses, his golf shoes, the towel on his bag used for wiping down his clubs--all of these suggest that he is someone that golfs often and is knowledgable about the sport.
But I suspect, because of his slumped posture, his age, his lackadaisical expression, his unshaven face, that he plays for fun and perhaps does not take the sport too seriously.
Based on the extra golf bag beside him, he probably sees golf as a social sport, and a chance to bond with his friends. The difference in creating place out of space, and creating stories about the people who occupy your place is that you can interview people. You can make observations and assumptions about people initially, but an engaged interview will get you the real story. Again, remember to be respectful in your observations and interviews. Grab a pen and paper and practice your observations. What do you notice about the man in the picture? What story can you surmise through observation? Final Thoughts: From Notes to Draft In order to write a thorough, useful set of expanded field notes focusing on transforming space into place, we recommend that you: 1. Plan to stay at your site observing and taking notes for at least one or two hours. Remember that it takes time to turn a new city into home. This is also true of turning your research site into place. 2. Sketch a detailed map of your site (see the section on Mapping Your Site). Make multiple sketches and remember that it is not artisic quality that counts, but how well the map generates deeper thoughts on your part. Include physical details and an explanation on how people use the space. Look for historical clues to flesh out the story of your site. 3. Write a first draft of expanded field notes, translating your jottings into full sentences. Separate your notes into observations, feelings, and analysis so that when you use this primary data source for the final paper, it will be easier to see patterns in your notes. 4. Review your map and read through your field notes and begin to write a comprehensive and detailed description about the place. Try to take every descriptive sentence or phrase and write at least two or three sentences of written description. Use all five senses to transport your reader to the place. 5. Review your field notes (yes..again!) and write about your thoughts and feelings at the site. Write several sentences about WHY you think you were feeling those emotions and having certain thoughts. 6. And finally, think about the future. What are you curious about now that you have spent time turning your space into place? What are possible future areas of investigation about the site? Why? Mapping your place is a useful visual tool. It will help you practice transforming abstract space (a blank piece of paper) into a detailed place (with your drawings). By creating a map you will also have a visual rendering of your place to reference when you are writing your drafts. Depending on your artistic qualities, you may choose to draw your map using three dimensional line perspectives, or simply use a two dimensional overhead map. Remember, artistic quality is not as important as the details you incorporate into your map. Whether you create one master map, or several maps, consider the following things: Objects, furniture, walls, doors, etc. Consider the purpose of objects in your place. For instance, the purpose of this cabinet... Will be different than the purpose of this safe. Note the differences of such things and consider their location. Ask questions like, "Why is this safe on this side of the room?" and "What is its function?" Pay attention to decorative objects in your place. Note the colors and details of these objects on your map. How do these objects contribute to the vibe of your place? Also note how light or how dark your place is. Is this intentional? Note the objects that purposefully either illuminate or darken your place, and consider their effect on the atmosphere of your place. If your place is outside, note how being outdoors affects your place. Consider the difference if your place was moved indoors, or vice versa. Consider places of more authority, like this desk for instance. What clues suggest that this desk is used by a person with higher authority than say... this chair? Power dynamics between people can yield interesting observations. Note places where people actually congregate. Ask yourself why people choose to interact in certain places as opposed to... other places. Note the movement of people as well. Where are people interacting, and how do they move about this place? And finally, try to be as detailed in your map as possible. Try to note things you would normally overlook. Take this vent for instance. Maybe this room is icy cold. Is it cold intentionally? Or maybe its stifling hot. How does temperature affect your place? And what other small details contribute to the vibe of your place? Here are some inspirational videos of transforming space into place. Again, your artistic abilities are nowhere near as important as your attention to detail. Keep in mind what these artists are doing with lines and shading, you will be doing with well thought observations and words.
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