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In my room. Personal Spaces and their Cultural Meanings. ‘Places’ are central to everyday life We develop strong feelings about places and also have a sense of ownership (“My place or yours?) and a sense of belonging (or not belonging)

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In my room

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In my room l.jpg

In my room

Personal Spaces and their Cultural Meanings

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  • ‘Places’ are central to everyday life

  • We develop strong feelings about places and also have a sense of ownership (“My place or yours?) and a sense of belonging (or not belonging)

  • The room is a key component of space or place. It usually has clear boundaries, a measurable size, points of entry – but a room is much more than just a volume of space. It has meaning and function.

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Victorian Terraced Housing

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A Terraced House (1900)

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The Victorian Parlour

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The Parlour

  • When I grew up in the early 1900s, the parlour of any house on our working class housing estate was a very stiff and starchy affair. No-one ever went in there apart from Sundays and highdays and holidays. Our parlour was a cold room for most of the year because we only had coal fires for heating and the parlour fire had to be lit specially - which was extra work for my mother as well as additional expense. The kitchen in contrast, was always warm and cosy.

  • The parlour was at the front of the house. Our parlour was probably fairly typical of all the front parlours on the estate and there was quite a lot in it. There was a suite of two armchairs and a sofa upholstered with a brocade type of material in green and brown and four upright chairs.

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The Parlour

  • The fireplace was black with the coloured tiles at each side. The fender was also black and had to be black leaded when cleaned. Over the mantelpiece of was a drape, rather like a curtain net. It was velvet and a deep plum colour, with large gold daisies embroidered on it, beautifully worked by my Aunt Lene. A large black and gold framed mirror hung above that.

  • There were also three occasional tables. One was bamboo, another was a polished table with that three twisted legs. On the these tables were the much treasured aspidistra plants in large ornate plant pots. My mother really looked after her plants: she washed them regularly with chamois leather and fertilised them with tea leaves


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The Parlour

  • It seems strange to us now that most houses of a few generations back contained a room that was hardly used except for funeral receptions. It was as if even the smallest house had a room used as a shrine in which to store the family's most treasured artefacts: heirlooms, pictures of deceased relatives, ‘best’ cutlery and crockery etc. This tells us a lot about the priorities and perceptions of those people. What can our design and use of rooms tell us about today’s culture?

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Why Space and Place is important to us

  • “Come on over to my place” is a familiar saying and the title of a well known song by the DriftersLittle girly you look so lonesome, I see you are feeling blue,Ain’t no use in staying home, I know what you can doCome on over to my place, Hey you, Were having a party,We'll be swinging dancing and singing, Oh baby come on over tonightWell you don't need the address, to find out where we'll be,Cause you cant help, but hear a little music,Halfway down the street…..So BabyWhen we get tired of dancing and things start getting slow,Well that's the real best part of the evening to turn the lights down to low.So baby babyChorusYeah YeahYeahYeah

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In Music

  • This isn’t the only reference to personal space in popular music.

  • These are the lyrics of In My Room by the Beach Boys (1963)

  • There's a world where I can go and tell my secrets toIn my room, in my roomIn this world I lock out all my worries and my fearsIn my room, in my roomDo my dreaming and my schemingLie awake and prayDo my crying and my sighingLaugh at yesterdayNow it's dark and I'm aloneBut I won't be afraidIn my room, in my roomIn my room, in my roomIn my room, in my room

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Different Meanings

  • The two songs show very different aspects of our personal spaces.

  • In the Drifters’ song ‘my place’ is a social space; somewhere to invite friends into and have a party. There is also an undertow of meaning as we are invited to guess what might go on ‘when we get tired of dancing’

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Different Meanings

  • For the Beach Boys, ‘my room’ is very individual and private, a place for crying and sighing, a world ‘I can tell my secrets to’

  • In the Beach Boys’ song the room is a metaphor for the innermost part of consciousness – rather like the ‘Closed Self’ in the Johari Window

Gary Usher who co-wrote the lyrics with Brian Wilson further describes that "Brian was always saying that his room was his whole world." Brian seconds this opinion: "I had a room, and I thought of it as my kingdom. And I wrote that song, very definitely, that you're not afraid when you're in your room. It's absolutely true.“ (Wikipedia)

Note on the Beach Boys

Brian Wilson the creative genius behind the band spent many years struggling with mental illness after the group’s early success.

In the early 70s he retreated to his bedroom for three years, spending his time sleeping, eating and taking drugs.

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Meaningful Places

  • John Agnew (political geographer) identifies three aspects of place:

  • Location

    Where is it?

    Relation to other places?

    Fixed or stationary?

  • Locale

    The shape of the place as determined by its boundaries (walls, streets) and by its purpose (work, leisure)

    The material structure of the place (even places in fiction are represented in terms of their physical properties)

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  • Sense of Place

    The personal and emotional attachment we have to a place

    Do any examples of the following arouse strong positive or negative feelings?



Holiday destination






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  • One of our AS key concepts is power. But how does power contribute to the meanings and ‘sense of place’ we attach to rooms?

  • The ability to configure (build, alter, arrange, decorate) the spaces we inhabit is an important aspect of individual freedom and self-expression

  • How much power do you have to configure:

    • Your bedroom?

    • Other rooms in your house?

    • Rooms at work, college?

    • Your street, neighbourhood?

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Whose Room Is This Anyway?

  • Power is also significant in the right to deny or allow access to your space

  • How is access controlled?

  • How is privacy determined?

    • Knock to enter

    • Security viewers

    • Your Own Key

    • Windows in the door

  • Is your room still your room when you leave home?

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    Me and My Room

    • Another AS Key Concept is Identity and this is certainly an important aspect of place

    • Many of see our rooms as a way of developing and projecting our identities, similarly to clothes, body adornments and personal possessions

    • This idea is powerfully reinforced by manufacturers and advertisers who are keen that we should ‘express ourselves’ or ‘make a statement’ by buying paint, furniture, wallpaper, posters etc.

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    How could you make the following statements by room configuration?

    • I am wealthy and sophisticated but I do not wish to flaunt my wealth or sophistication – just make sure that people are gently reminded

    • I hate the world. I don’t care what anyone thinks about me and I want them to know that.

    • I am scatty, unpredictable and whimsical yet I am also creative and visually aware

    • I am loveable, friendly and very much in touch with my inner child. I don’t want to grow up

    • I am careful, orderly and disciplined. I like to be in control

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    Fit the identity to a room

    • I am a happy go lucky extrovert. I love music

    • I am intelligent

    • I am a social animal. I live to party

    • I am environmentally aware and in touch with nature

    • I love new experiences and travel. I am a non conformist

    • I want to be noticed, liked and respected by others

    • Who Would Live in a House Like This?

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    Cultural Value, Cultural Taste

    • As with other forms of communication, we make judgements of rooms based on hierarchies of taste

    • What I may see as tasteful and sophisticated, others may see as common or kitsch

    • Kitsch (German for trash) is used to describe cultural products that are considered, tasteless, tacky, of dubious quality. Kitsch items are often sentimental, vulgar or pretentious

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    Kitsch and Chintz

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    Kitsch or Cool

    • But is kitsch always ‘low taste’? Sometimes artists, designers and decorators use kitsch ironically to show how cool they are

    Flying ducks on the wall –

    used to be tasteless now they’re trendy

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    Unreal Rooms

    • Set designers, location choosers, writers and film-makers are very well aware of the meanings conveyed by rooms. If you can describe or show a room and then associate it with a character we make all sorts of assumptions about the personality or identity of the character

    • Look carefully at the decor, furniture, ornaments, fixtures and fittings in the following slides. What do they tell us about the inhabitants of the rooms?

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    Abigail’s Party

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    Carrie’s Apartment, Sex in the City

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    American Psycho

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    The Royle Family

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    Gosford Park

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    The Duchess

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    Mad MenExecutive office in Madison Avenue ad agency c.1960

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