Third space

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But when doing so with Thirdspace we are in danger of missing the main point of this idea of space and spatiality. Thirdspace is always open to interpretation, always flexible, vibrant, controversial and moreover radically open. We should be careful with a fixed definition since Thirdspace is based on the radical openness and the lack of dogma in the work of Henri Lefebvre. It is grounded in the post modern thought of seeing a conclusion as never being final but instead as a starting point for further exploration.


Edward Soja - Third space

Thirdspace.jpg Thirdspace is a concept developed by the American Geographer Edward Soja in his book Thirdspace, journeys to Los Angelos and other Real and Imagined places. Thirdspace is radically different way of looking at, interpreting and acting to change the embracing spatiality of human life (Soja, 1996, p.29). It is the third aspect in a new way of thinking about space and spatiality. Thirdspace is based on the work of a number of social scientist, most notably Henri Lefebvre. Lefebvre introduces thirdspace in slightly different form and under a different name: ‘Spaces of representation and can also be seen as ‘lived space’. It is not the name however that matters, it is the idea. Thirdspace is the space we give meaning to. A rapidly, continually changing space in which we live. It is the experience of living.

First and second space

Thirdspace can only be understood through First and Second space. First space is space seen from the top of a skyscraper. It is the mapping and compartmentalization of a space. It gives a wide, rational perspective. Secondspace is the conceptualization of Firstspace. We represent the space we live in by art, advertisements or any other medium. Any human being works with First and Secondspace. We have an idea of how for example Nijmegen is mapped and structured. And in Secondplace, if asked to describe Nijmegen, we would describe it as the oldest city of the Netherlands as well as a student town. In Thirdspace we are concerned with how the laborers in the poor neighborhoods actually experience living and give meaning to their city. We are interested in how businessmen move around the city and we would study the homeless person trying to sell a map to one of these businessman.

Thirdspace however is not just distinct from First and Secondspace. It also encompasses the other two. It is the space in which all spaces come together because if we map our environment we use Firstspace and if we sing along with our national anthem we conceptualize space but we should never forget that while doing so we are living in Thirdspace.

Examples of thirdspace

  • 1. An example of Thirdspace could be a market. First space would see a market as a geographical area in the centre of a town. Second space would see it as a place where goods are sold and bought. By looking at the market from a Thirdspace point of view one would see the market as a place where people come together to socialise, gossip and buy local produce. They give meaning to this space by socialising and every person experiences it in another way.
  • 2. Another example could be that of the pyramids in Egypt. The first space shows its position on the map and what kind of area it is situated in. Also the piramids itself and their specifications are part of it. The second space shows the many tourists and inhabitants of Egypt that are accompanying the area. The people's relations between eachother and the emotions accompanied with it complete this space. When looking at Thirdspace it shows a ´working´ system of people that live together and share their knowledge and ways of perceiving the world. People´s emotions are combined with the area and the way it is perceived by both tourists and inhabitants of Egypt.
  • 3. A third example of thirdspace can be found in the traditional Moroccan Hammam (bath house). During my stay in Morocco this period (first semester of 2012) I have learned a lot about this phenomenon. Thus far it seems an excellent example to describe first, second and third space and that’s why I’ll discuss it here. In a sense of firstspace, the Moroccan traditional hammam can (in a geographically way of speaking) be found all over Morocco. In almost every area in the city there is one. So it is clearly visible. It is physically present. In a sense of secondspace, the hammam is a place where people come to clean themselves. This is how it is conceptualized. Although the true purpose is somewhat disappeared because nowadays people have their own showers and ways to clean themselves, its original purpose is cleaning of the body. From a thirdspace point of view, the hammam is much more than the first and second space combined. The hammam is, especially for women, a place to discuss their marriage, maintain social contacts and gossip. In this case I mention it is especially important for women, that is because inside the hammam the man has no authority at all, which is exceptional in arab worlds.
  • 4. We can find another example of thirdspace in the civil war that is raging through Syria at the moment of this writing. If we look at this conflict through the firstspace look, we see that a large part of the Syrian population tries to throw the government of Assad over. They do this because of serious state repression, they want freedom. In a sense of secondspace we see that the situation in Syria was a next step in a serie of rebellions against governments in the Middle East and Northern Africa, called the Arabic Spring. In that way, it was a more or less predictable situation that fitted in the "discours". Also thirdspace can be used with regard to this situation. Every actor in Syria has a personal story and he or she experiences everything in his or her personal way. There is the perception from the member of the freedom fighters, from a woman that tries to gather enough food for her children and from the president that desperately tries to keep his country together.
  • 5. A persons home can also be considerd as thirdspace. In this case, firstspace is the geographical position of the home. The feelings, emotions, imaginations a person has about his/her home isn't geographically positioned. Literally, on every geographical sight in the world or outer space a person can think about his/her home, which generates feelings and imaginations of the home. The thirdspace of the home is were the first en second place come together. The person is now accoriding to geographical positions at home en altough he is in the physical environment and can directly sense the home, he can also sense the secondspace of his/her home. By having imaginations, dreams, thoughts of the home while being in the home.
  • 6. Another example of third space can be sketched at a soccer club in Nijmegen. In first space you only see the geographical position of the soccer club in Nijmegen-Oost for example. In second space people can see it as a place where several people come together to play a game of soccer. But in third space this soccer club is some much more than was adopted in the first two spaces. People come to the soccer club to play soccer, drink beer, socialize with eachother, watch soccer games or to work. For several people the soccer club feels like their second home and a big part of their social live is in the soccer club and all their different members. All the members see the soccer club as a different social produced place.


Soja, E.W. (1996). Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places. Blackwell Publishing: Oxford.

Atkinson, R (1996). Review on Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places (Electronic Version),

Moles, K (2008). A Walk in Thirdspace: Place, Methods and Walking, Sociological Research Online (Electronic Version)


  • Published by Henk-Jan van Maanen & Ingram Smit
  • Edited by Bert Hegger on October 9th 2012
  • Page enhanced by Paul van den Hogen--PaulHogen--PaulHogen 22:55, 24 October 2012 (CEST)
  • Text added by KamilNuijens
  • Page enhanced by KamielNuijens
  • Page edited by Michiel van Rijn--MichielVanRijn 15:03, 26 October 2012 (CEST)
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