Explaining the Transformation Oldenburg’s Third Place Transformation in the 21st Century: An Investigation about Real-Virtual World Interaction in A Context of Citizens’ Leisure Time

Document Type : Original Article


PhD Candidate, Faculty of Urban Planning, College of Fine Arts, University of Tehran


One of the key influential elements on various aspects of 21st century life is undoubtedly the development of the virtual world and digital technologies. When Oldenburg presented his Third Place theory in the late 20th century, it was all based on the real world. This necessitates a recontextualisation of this theory for the 21st century: what the present paper aims at. Studies hitherto done on this matter have mainly focused on the influence of the powerful presence of digital technologies in attaching the Third Place to virtual social groups and channels. What the present paper pays attention to, however, is not the study of the concept in the virtual world, but the way the two worlds interact to shape a 21st century version of Oldenburg’s concept. Thus, the paper uses contextual theory as well as 50 in-depth, semi-structured interviews to explain codes, categories, mega-categories and nuclear categories forming the 21st century experience of Oldenburg’s Third Place experience. Due to multiplicity of extracted codes, and in order to structure the output of the contextual theory method, Gephi software is used for inter-elementary network coding and drawing. The results show that five mega-categories of ‘strangers’ mechanisms’, ‘virtual world networks and groups’, ‘the physical-functional structure of the real world’, ‘accessibility and usability of the Third Place’, ‘a home away from home’, within the two nuclear categories of ‘virtual world mechanisms’ and ‘real world mechanisms’ have caused transformations in eight characteristics of Oldenburg’s Third Place under the influence of interactions between nuclear categories: in the 21st century Third Place the ‘neutral context’ has transformed into ‘neutralised context’, and ‘levelling’ into ‘levelness’. ‘Dialogue making’ has remained as it was, though. In the 21st century the Third Place is strongly associated with consumerism, so much that it no longer connects with permanent visitors but with ‘permanent consumers’. The ‘seductive appearance’ has substituted ‘the simple looks’, and ‘the friendly aura’ has been replaced with ‘isolated intimacy’. The 21st century third Place has transformed the ‘looking-like-home-but-being- different-from-it’ characteristics into ‘a home away from home’.


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