Appropriation of public space on and offline

Michel de Certeau and Henri Lefebvre are interested in the production of space and practices in everyday life and how actors challenge the spaces where they spend their everyday life. They believe in people’s creative potential and argue that users of public spaces are actively creating culture as well as urban space. According to them, space is molded by everyday practice, but how and by whom a space is used is influenced by the physical structure of the place. The “appropriation” process takes place via practices and activities through which actors occupy the room, make it their own, and shape it according to their needs and visions while simultaneously leaving it open for appropriation by others  (Lefebvre, Ohlsson). I have found their theoretical perspectives and approaches useful in investigating how urban parents use and appropriate their everyday environment (both the urban and the virtual), shaping it in different ways to suit their own preferences. Users reshape the room through activities and repetition and adjust it to fit them, for instance parents with children can make a café their own by using it as their social arena, in other words appropriating it and in that process often rearranging it according to their needs. The owner can structure and constrain this process and even forbid it and other customers may want to appropriate the same place at the same time. Don Mitchell points out that appropriation will always be about a sort of struggle and a question of power relations.

A flower installation Turku, Finland

Henri Lefebvre stresses that appropriation does not mean that we own a room or exclude others from a room. However mothers and fathers and other customers and cafe owners do not always form the “harmonious alliances” which Lefebvre (Sören Olsson) argues are a condition for different groups and individuals to live together in public space and live side by side as equals. Björn Andersson has used Habermas in analyzing young people’s social patterns in urban settings. Habermas believes that the public emerges when people gather in public space to discuss private matters. This results in a sphere of its own – a meeting place which is both private and public. In my study this concerns both the urban and the digital sphere. “Real” space is, according to Lefebvre, the space of social practices. This could include the virtual reality, which in Lefebvre’s terms may also be considered “lived space”. Some parents emphasize that the virtual arena is as real as any other social arena – it is not physical, but nevertheless real. The abbreviation IRL (In Real Life) is, however, still used by most parents at online forums and blogs and refers to the world outside the virtual life.

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