Third places are important to a sense of community and belonging. Are they at risk of disappearing, or are they still attracting people who want to hang out somewhere together? For this Data Workshop you will be doing a short ethnography of a third place. You’ll investigate the social setting of a local hangout using participant observation. Refer to Chapter 2 for a review of this research method. You are encouraged to pick a place where you, or others you know, hang out for real, as this background knowledge can help with your analysis; in this case, you’ll also be doing an autoethnography.
It doesn’t matter which kind of hangout you choose; it could be a bar, restaurant, gym, park, student union, or bookstore. What’s important is to make sure that it’s a real hangout, someplace where people linger, that they return to regularly to socialize. Part of your work will be to determine just what constitutes a good hangout. So think a bit about your own habits and those of your friends, and choose what you think is a good hangout to study where you’ll be both a participant and an observer. Begin by spending about a half hour or more at the third place you’ve chosen to study. Even if you’re already familiar with the setting, try to have a beginner’s mind and take in as much detail about what’s happening as possible. Be prepared to write some informal ethnographic field notes describing both the physical and social setting. Examine the items of material culture and the physical layout of the space. Watch the people and note how they interact around (and perhaps with) you, listen for snippets of conversation, and be aware of your own role as both a participant and observer.
Once you’ve completed your field notes, you’re ready for some analysis. Consider these questions:
● What is the physical space like, and why is it conducive to people hanging out?
● What makes this place a good hangout for the people there?
● Can you distinguish who are the “regulars” and who are not? How do you tell a
one-time visitor from a regular?
● How do people establish themselves as regulars?
● What kinds of interactions take place at the hang-out? Are people congregated in pairs
or small groups, or are they mostly alone?
● What kinds of activities are people engaged in at the hangout?
Finally, approach one or two people you think are regulars and ask them the following questions. Alternatively, if you’re a regular, you can answer these questions yourself:
● What does the third place mean to the regulars who go there?
● How does the hangout function in the course of their everyday lives?
● In what respect is being a regular at the hangout a part of someone’s identity?
In writing up your analysis, include some examples of the particular idioculture you find—the distinctive customs, values, and language expressed in the place and in the interactions of the people who hang out there.
Conduct ethnographic research at a field site. Write a two- to three-page essay answering the questions provided. Use specific excerpts from your field notes to support your analysis and make sure to attach your field notes to your finished paper.
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