Context, Boundedness, and Structure: The Apprehension of Place in the Development of Information Environments

Context, Boundedness, and Structure: The Apprehension of Place in the Development of Information Environments

Elin K. Jacob (Indiana University-Bloomington, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-020-2.ch007
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Abstract

In distinguishing between space and place, one approach is to contrast the physicality of space with the sociality of place: space directs attention to the material configuration of the physical environment while place indicates an individual’s understanding of the social behaviors that are appropriate within that environment. However, such a distinction juxtaposing the physical configuration of space to the social orientation of place is, on consideration, too limiting in its applicability. A more effective and generalizable distinction between space and place must also consider perceptions of context, implications of boundedness, and the influence of organizational structure. This broader approach to analysis of space and place can lead to the identification of meaningful differences that influence the functional activities of an information system and contribute to a greater understanding of what it is that constitutes an information environment.
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The Physicality Of Space And The Sociality Of Place

Dourish (Dourish, 2001; Harrison & Dourish, 1996) attempts to capture both the distinction between space and place and the potential applicability of this distinction when he differentiates between behaviors that are shaped by the space in which they are performed, and those which reflect the individual’s understanding of what is acceptable or expected within that place. Accordingly, he contrasts the physicality of space with the sociality of place: space directs attention to the material configuration of a physical setting while place focuses attention on the individual’s understanding of the social behaviors that are appropriate within that environment. Because the individual’s apprehension of place is governed by practices and conventions relative to a community of interest (CoI), it reflects the social knowledge that is shared across the members of that community. Thus, a sense of place focuses the individual’s attention on those behaviors that are facilitated by an understanding of what is possible within a socially construed environment rather than on those activities that may be afforded by the physical arrangement of three-dimensional space. Dourish (2001, p. 89) illustrates this argument by pointing to differences in use that separate meeting rooms from dining rooms: although the material contents and the physical configuration of space is similar for meeting rooms and dining rooms, the behaviors that occur within each place are shaped by conventions and expectations associated with the encompassing social environment of business or home, respectively. It is unfortunate, however, that Dourish’s attempt to illustrate the socially construed understanding of place relies not on the individual’s understanding of what behaviors are acceptable within a specific place, but on very general categories (or kinds) of spaces.

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