This study looked at the form discourse takes in an environment of commonplace rhetoric. Public discourse has transformed over recent years and we are now finding that the “public sphere” involves coffee shops. Coffee shops allow a chance to meet with friends and talk about issues that matter to individuals, whether the issues are personal or involve the community. These “third place environments” provide a location away from home and work for people to come together with whomever they choose, whenever they choose. Using Hicks and Langsdorf’s “Regulating Disagreement, Constituting Participants: A Critique of Proceduralist Theories of Democracy,” a narrated conversation by participants will be analyzed using their four criteria to discover whether an everyday coffee shop location, such as Starbucks, is producing discourse.
A man name named Patrick was interviewed about his frequent visits to coffee shops. The interviewer asked, “Do you make coffee at home?” Patrick replied “No. Never. Isn’t that odd? I don’t even own a coffee machine. Because, I mean, that’s the whole thing. I drink coffee because I want to be out among people. Like my mom bought me an espresso machine 3, 4, 5 years ago. I don’t even remember. I gave it away the day she left [after a visit]. I don’t drink coffee. I meet people. That’s the whole f*ckin’ point. The draw for me is the people there; contact with other people,”
(Thompson and Arsel 635).
According to a Starbucks 2008 Fact Sheet, there are over 7,000 company-operated stores in the U.S. and an additional 4,000 licensed stores (such as those found in grocery stores). California has the most at just over 2,000 stores. According to Starbucks’ website, Kansas has 62 stores, including licensed stores. That may or may not surprise you, but statistically, for the population of Kansas, there are 0.164 Starbucks per 10,000 people (StateMaster.com). For a moderately populated state, Kansas has a fair amount of Starbucks. This is only considering the Starbucks in Kansas – not any other chains or local coffee shops.
Through research and collecting information from Starbucks customers, I took a close look at what it is that people are talking about when they go to Starbucks. What type of discourse is happening? Is it unique to the types of discourse we find elsewhere?
During my experience working at Starbucks for the past year and a half, I have gained particular interest in what draws so many people to the company. Many of the “regulars” come by at least once a day. Most of them come inside and have a seat for hours, either working online or meeting up with acquaintances.
I have often asked myself what it is that brings them to Starbucks. Why do they not meet at home? Is the three to five dollars they spend on coffee giving extra meaning to their life? It was not until recently that I began to understand the impact of third place environments, and coffee shops in particular.
Third place environments have gained much recognition over the years for their great success and large followings.1 For many people, third places such as coffee shops have been seen as a place to simply get a cup of coffee. Now many people view them as a place to get free Internet and to work away from work.
The environment of Starbucks is part of what makes Starbucks an ideal place for their customers to get away from work and home. From the smell of the fresh ground coffee, to the varietal soundtrack, Starbucks evokes a distinctive ambiance.
Starbucks coffee shops are also able to “provide the rhetorical resources for creating coherency in the context of the seeming cultural chaos that is constitutive of post modernity” (Dickinson 10). One possible result of the environment of Starbucks on patrons is that it brings one out of everyday chaos and provides opportunities for discourse – which will be discussed further in the implications.
One author, when talking about Starbucks, said: 1 For example, – Store numbers rose faster from 1999, up from 2498 to 12,440 by the end of 2006′s fiscal year. (“Speedy Starbucks has grown too fast. September 3, 2007. http://www.brandingstrategyinsider.com/2007/09/speedy-starbuck.html)
I wanted to be in a ‘third place.’ A place where I could hang out, be part of the stream of life (and this is very important for those of us who work at home), read without falling asleep. Long ago, say 15 years back, our third place choices were pretty slim. There was the library, where you couldn’t talk, or the diner, where you couldn’t really read (and had to tip)… Then along came Starbucks and suddenly we had the kind of public life we had not experienced since the death of Main Street. People lingered, mingled. They lingled. (Skenazy 11)
Skenazy is just one example of individuals looking for a place to work and meet up with people and to be around something out of the ordinary.
The purpose of this research is simple. Coffee shops have taken off across our country. They are popular places for people of all ages to visit, meeting others, or work. Something is attracting people everywhere to be part of the craze. What do people talk about when they enter a coffee shop? Within Greg Dickinson’s “Joe’s Rhetoric: Finding Authenticity at Starbucks” lies the reasoning and purpose for this research. Dickinson states, “Rhetorical critics and theorists determined to get after the consequential materiality of rhetoric can turn to the places of the practices of the everyday. We can turn, in short, to Starbucks,” (Dickinson 6).Dickinson explains why Starbucks is the ideal third place to stay:
It serves as a good place to further explore the materiality and everydayness of rhetoric precisely because it has become so intertwined in the everyday lives of so many people. Starbucks is by far the largest chain of coffee shops in the world. More than that, it has become a cultural institution that filters
through a range of other popular discourses including journalism, film, television, and novels. What is crucial about Starbucks, though, is the ways it is at once a globalized consumer institution and a local place in which the mundane daily activities of sipping coffee, writing in journals, and conversing with friends are practiced. (Dickinson 6-7)
Dickinson perfectly describes why Starbucks makes an ideal case study for this research. Dickinson states that Starbucks is able to filter different types of discourses. Research Question: How is discourse regulated at Starbucks?
Many different concepts and terms have been created to examine the public sphere, the third place, and what these spaces provide. This literature review will look at the “public sphere” and “third place environment” – which are critically important concepts to understand when looking at the discourse of coffee shops.
Habermas defines the public sphere as “a sphere between the realm of civil society and the state“ (Prince 145). The third place, coined by Oldenburg, describe places that individuals go for the sense of a “home away from home” where people can come to communicate outside of work and home life. The literature review will also examine briefly several case studies of coffee shops that have had great success regulating discourse to promote democracy.
Jurgen Habermas has been a very influential leader, examining the public sphere. He coined the term “public sphere” in 1962 in his work: The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Since then his work has lead many others to seriously consider what it is that is happening in places such as coffee shops. Most of the research found relating to third place environments involves Habermas’ term.
The Public Sphere
Habermas discusses how the public sphere is a distinct and unique place from the home, work, church, and government. The public sphere is a place where people often come together to talk about daily life.
Habermas’ term has become quite influential since the publishing of his book and a great deal of research has taken place over this concept. It is enthralling to see how many people have come to view these spaces as their home, as somewhere to see others from their community, and to disccuss life topics that matter to their neighborhood. One major benefit of the public sphere is that “access is guaranteed to all citizens” (Durham and Kellner 102). The public sphere allows for anyone to participate.
The public sphere can be defined as “a sphere between the realm of civil society and the state” (Habermas, 1989, xi). Habermas emphasizes the importance of voluntary associations on the basis that they are the core institutions of a civil society and, being egalitarian with an open form of organization, have “essential feature(s) of the kind of communication that can ’institutionalize’ problem-solving discourses on matters of general interest inside the framework of organized public spheres” (Prince 145).
Many theorists over the years have debated …the relative merits and historical accuracy of Jurgen Habermas’ conceptualization of the ‘bourgeois public sphere’ and his account of its subsequent ‘transformation’. At the heart of these debates have been questions of democracy – that is, what constitutes a democratic and properly functioning public sphere. (Prince 145)
The Third Place
Ray Oldenburg, a sociologist, has also done research in looking at the concept of the communities comprising a public sphere. He looks at many types of places that people come together to discuss their life happenings. Oldenburg discusses the community building that takes place here. He calls the first place one’s home and family life and the second place one’s work life. Oldenburg uses the term “the third place” to describe places that individuals go to for the sense of “home away from home”, a place where people can come to communicate outside of work and home life. For the remainder of this paper, these places throughout the community will be referred to as “the third place.”
Oldenburg claims in his book, The Great Good Place, that community building cannot happen at home or at work. Community members need a place they can come together to discuss community life. A third place allows people to discuss without interruption as if they were meeting at their own home.
According to Oldenburg there are eight characteristics of a third place: neutral ground, a leveler, conversation is the main activity here, assessable and accommodating, has the regulars, maintains a low profile, has a playful mood, and home away from home. All of these characteristics allow for a place where people can come to communicate their thoughts and opinions openly.
Additionally, third places must “exist outside the home and beyond the work (of) lots of modern economic production. They are places where people gather primarily to enjoy each other’s company” (Oldenburg and Brissett 269). Oldenburg and Brissett also state that the third place provides opportunities “for important experiences and relationships in a sane society, and are uniquely qualified to sustain a sense of well-being among its members” (Oldenburg and Brissett 269).
Numerous benefits accompany third place environments. Two of the major benefits of third places are diversity and novelty. Oldenburg and Brissett found that following the Industrial Age, people were exclusively spending time with family.
They found that the “suburbanizing of America produced a dependable, secure social existence in which the American family could exercise its options in a predictable, and monotonous, fashion” (Oldenburg and Brissett 274). People in general were growing further apart, rather than keeping in touch – especially with those of opposing viewpoints.
Coffee Shops Promoting Discourse
One coffee shop near an army base forty miles south of Seattle, COFFEE STRONG, is a veteran owned and operated coffee house that supports war resistance. Although it maintains the appearance of your average coffee house, there is information for soldiers on how to get out of the war. COFFEE STRONG “provides a space off-base for soldiers to question their service, talk about the war, and explore the possibilities of GI resistance” (Lazare 2009). This is a great example of discourse happening in an everyday location.
Another case study found a coffee shop promoting discourse just down the road in Lawrence, KS. A study on Henry’s Coffee House found that there are several types of communities that gather there frequently. These groups range in size and can be either formal or informal. Author Kerns found that “while the community at Henry’s serves as a forum for (a) limited amount of political activity”, it does appear as though conversations aid in “establishing the members’ opinions and influencing their political persuasion” (Kerns 2005). Even those not participating in the conversation are influenced through hearing the opinion of those around them. While these are simply two examples there are many situations wherein people are coming together to discuss – is Starbucks one of them?
In looking at Starbucks, and third place environments in general, one can find that the enviornment does in fact regulate the discourse in this space. As Dickinson previously explained, Starbucks has become “a cultural institution that filters through a range of other popular discourses including journalism, film, television, and novels” (Dickinson 6-7). There is a way in which Starbucks is forming “talkers.”
Research Question: How is discourse regulated at Starbucks?
The importance of this question, in light of the rapid growth of coffee shops in general, and Starbucks in particular, is not difficult to see. A movement of citizens engaged in rational discourse has deep implications for the integrity of small scale democracy. But is Starbucks really a location that promotes such discourse? The importance of this question arises because of the enormous following of Starbucks. If Starbucks is succeeding in regulating discourse in a way promoting open, public,
and rational discussion, then it very well may be helping bridge the gap that our cultural trend toward confinement in homogenous communities has caused.
If Starbucks is succeeding as a third place then it should be succeeding, at least in part, at promoting democracy; given the brand’s growth, this has implications for the future of democracy. Implications of Starbucks’ pervasive presence are important regardless. If Starbucks, despite of their rapid growth and appeal, is nevertheless failing to be a third place, this has important implications for the very future of the notion. In other words, the ideal of these spaces may be, for whatever reason, not applicable to the cultural climate of the 21st century American—at least with the massive scope of Starbucks.
This question is important to ask because of the serious impact the coffee shops are having on our community, based on shear ubiquity. If coffee shops continue to be successful, third places may very well be where democracy on a small scale begins and takes form. It is necessary to understand the potential coffee shops have to help promote positive discourse and engaged citizens.
A proceduralist model of deliberation was conducted in order to understand the types of discourse taking place at a potential third place environment day-to-day. A proceduralist model is one that is thought to be different than a debate and/or dialogue because of procedures that set up a deliberative environment. Starbucks is one possible third place that may be creating a type of “talker.”
To learn more about what kind of discourse is happening at Starbucks, and whether there are trends in what people are discussing, the proceduralist model, by
Darrin Hicks and LenoreLangsdorf, allowed a closer look at conversations. This approach best answers the research question through an inside look at actual conversations happening at Starbucks. An interview or a survey would give factual and brief information. An analysis of a conversation, however, gives researchers a look at a text that can be analyzed for many different criteria such as those listed below. According to Hicks and Langsdorf, a proceduralist model:
…presupposes a dialectical theory of argumentation and views deliberation as a method for regulating disagreement and resolving differences of opinion through critical discussion, understood as a method that shifts political power from interest groups and ethical commitments to an institutional framework constituted by a set of rules for managing difference. (140)
Simply put, Hicks and Langsdorf argue that a proceduralist model is used in order to regulate disagreement. It assumes that through critical discussion following the rules and procedures of rational discourse a democratic body will arrive at a rational and ethically justifiable decision.
Hicks and Langsdorf’s method from “Regulating Disagreement, Constituting Participants: A Critique of Proceduralist Theories of Democracy” was used in looking at the public sphere and democracy. According to Hicks and Langsdorf:
“Proceduralist theories work from the presupposition that disagreement is an enduring feature of democratic society, and hence, an interminable element of its political institution” (141).
Proceduralist theories “do not advocate avoiding or quarantining disagreement, but rather, managing or regulating it in ways that make it amenable to the democratic resolution of disputes” (Hicks and Langsdorf 142). Proceduralist theories imply that disagreement is necessary and important in a healthy democratic society. This project aims to reveal just how much of this is occurring at third places today.
Hicks and Langsdorf’s theory has four parts through which one can evaluate criteria. In looking at Hicks and Langsdorf’s theory “criteria” is used to mean the systematic and objective parts by which the theory was developed. The four criteria are identity, locution, substance, and forum (Hicks and Langsdorf 144). All four criteria are important and relevant in the research. The forum is simply where the discourse took place. For each participant it is true that it took place at the same potential third place environment – Starbucks. However, other aspects may drastically vary.
All of these conversations are in a way defined by their forum, in that it is the same for each. The forum for the individuals regulated discourse because it was in a public location with other people nearby so that the way of discussing needed to be appropriate for the quiet, peaceful setting that is Starbucks. It would be inappropriate for someone to yell or make a scene in a setting such as this. Thus, communication was regulated through people wanting to act in a manner considered socially acceptable for the setting they were in.
For the purposes of this research, identity primarily focuses on who is participating in the discourse. Identity also implies that each participant had an equal opportunity to participate and that they were able to openly discuss.
Participants were asked to describe the type of people that participated and engaged in their conversation.
Identity was found to regulate talk due, often, to either the relationship they had with the individual or the personality type of that person. For example, one participant talked on a “surface” level to another by simply discussing school and work while another had a deep conversation about religion and struggles they are facing. These individuals do not always discuss these exact topics in public spheres, but it is probable that due to the people they were with and their life circumstances that day, these were the types of things discussed.
Locution pertains to how the participants deliberated. Locution considers whether the conversation was formal or informal, the tone, and the type of storytelling or discussion that took place. It even includes the type of greeting that began the conversation. The locution regulates talk by simply tracking whether the discussion is either formal or informal. People discuss different topics and take a certain tone depending on the formality of a conversation.
Lastly, substance looks at what types of topics were discussed in this public sphere. In determining whether or not the topics are “unique” from those of homes and work places, I am interested in finding the topics that individuals bring up while sipping coffee at their local coffee shop. Substance of discourse will likely vary for each participant, although it will be interesting to see if the conversations have a common theme. What is the content that comprises the conversations? Substance and forum are hand-in-hand in that being in a public space regulates the conversations, as people do not discuss certain personal things they do not want to be overheard.
For the purposes of this research, I will be looking at all of these aspects to determine the range or type of discussion that took place. In analyzing the conversations from participants, the identity of individuals was noted to find out if there are similarities within the types of people making Starbucks their third place. With locution, using communication keys, notes were taken of the tone, nonverbal cues (if noted by participant), greeting, and additional information from their dialogue in order to discover what it “feels like” for each individual to go to Starbucks and dialogue. For substance, basic content was analyzed to investigate whether there were key themes or whether people were discussing personal, unique matters at these third places. Most importantly, I determined whether or not Starbucks is a deliberative space.
There was variety in the type of people who participated in the research. Participants varied from young college students to lawyers to independent business owners meeting together weekly to discuss politics and other topics. The variety of participants was helpful in ensuring a good test group which consisted of ten individuals.
The question for the participating individuals was developed with the purpose of getting textual evidence of an actual experience that participants had at Starbucks. The answer needed to involve the four criteria listed above and therefore the question had to subtly make a plug that the subjects answer in such a way. For example, it probed individuals to reply giving information about the people they were with, how and what they discussed, if it was formal or informal, and arrived at the basic type of discourse they participated in.
The following is the actual question participants were given:
The purpose of this research is to look deeper at what kinds of conversations happen at coffee shops. Please recreate a typical conversation you personally would have with one or more persons(s) at the coffee shop in the form of a narrative. If you remember a conversation well enough, please describe that one specific conversation. Otherwise, please simply be as specific as possible with what topics(s) you were discussing. Please also describe the person(s) you were in conversation with, the type of conversation (for example: storytelling, politics, and/or community building) and whether or not the conversation was formal or informal.
It would be helpful to the research if you could describe the content and tone of the conversation. In other words, what does it feel like for you to talk at a coffee shop?
Please write as many details about that one conversation as you can within one page.
Ten participants shared details of a particular Starbucks experience. About half of the participants were people I have never held a conversation with and the other half were regulars that I often talk to while I am at Starbucks. Several discussed general topics of a weekly meeting. Some discussed a conversation with a close friend that recently occurred at Starbucks. Out of the ten participants over half hit Starbucks at least once a week. Others reserved Starbucks trips for more special occasions to meet with friends they do not see as often.
The analysis portion of the procedure included gathering all of the narratives and closely reading the discussions to decipher the identity, locution, substance, and forum. Locating the criteria was difficult at times as there were not always clear details, which made the analysis difficult.
After identifying these criteria, I coded them and then analyzed the components of the criteria to pull them all together: The topics participants discussed, where they were, who they were with, and how they discussed. It was then determined how the conversation they engaged in was regulated by the criteria. For example, looking at whether or not the conversation was argumentative or relaxed was considered when defining the forum.
Analysis of Results
In order to better understand how the discourse is regulated by the four Hicks and Langsdorf criteria – forum, locution, substance, and identity – the conversations were picked apart and the following was found.
The analysis revealed several interesting findings. First, the most common substance/content generated through conversations were topics of everyday life. Specifically, many people discussed their schoolwork, dating relationships, and religion. Some people found comfort in Starbucks visits because it gave them a brief escape from everyday life.
One particular instance of a participant going to Starbucks for an escape was a young man in his twenties. He explained that to him, “coffee shops always give me a place to step away from it all, be myself and know I can escape from most anything to an extent. My conversations relate to positive life experiences and that is why I share them in that environment.” The young man is a frequent coffee shop visitor similar to many others and is just looking for a place to unwind and step back from life.
Several individuals expressed how they went to Starbucks to meet with close friends to “catch up on life” – which usually meant telling stories about their latest happenings. Often, people found themselves either asking for or giving advice to others about current issues in their life.
One specific participant discussed her frequent visits to Starbucks with her aunt during the time her aunt’s husband was deployed to Iraq. She found that often the conversations were sad, but the environment allowed for them to discuss how the war was affecting them and family members. She said that Starbucks allowed “an environment where you could sit and talk for hours without feeling guilty or being bothered by wait staff.” I think that she, among others, found comfort in the relaxing and “home-like” environment. For this individual, the forum was relaxed and it offered comfort in a difficult time.
A group of four middle-aged men met every week to discuss politics. The identity of these men molded their weekly conversations because they were all members of the same political party; each is a successful business man with a flexible schedule that allows him to meet up every week during the business day. They are all interested in similar topics.
Their discussion is more formal in that they usually have a familiar agenda from which their discussion is bred. The locution of their conversation would often change in that they could joke about politics, give each other a hard time, argue, and still leave feeling the same about everyone. The men said that Starbucks gives them somewhere to discuss politics. It helps them to stay in touch and to vent about current issues at hand. In this example, Hicks and Langsdorf’s four criteria regulates their conversation because their identities are all very similar: the subject is one of interest for all of them. While they do not always see eye-to-eye, they always discuss the same basic political topics in the same manner. Starbucks provides a place for these men of similar identities and interests to meet up once a week and they choose Starbucks because of the environment.
A couple of other participants have routine meetings at Starbucks where they meet with friends. Many of them discuss events of life, but all of the groups that meet routinely do discuss political issues and lately these issues have been about health care and the economy. They joke around, but do have times of disagreement, which leads to very serious discussion similar to the group of men previously mentioned.
These individuals go to Starbucks to discuss these issues because they do not feel comfortable doing so at work or home. It gives them a middle ground by which they can meet with friends casually. The fact that Starbucks feels like a home-away-from-home allows people to be themselves while in a public space where strangers surround them.
Others locution was more “organic” in that they had gone to the coffee shop alone, but met with and talked to people while they were there. Many people find that they meet new people while at coffee shops and have unexpected conversations. Others, however, go with an agenda to discuss particular topics. There are vast differences in the locution of conversations at Starbucks.
The environment certainly regulates the locution of dialogue at Starbucks. The volume of music playing, the number of customers at Starbucks, and the table customers sit at or chairs they choose to sit in can regulate conversation. Spatial differences and volume greatly influence how a conversation will play out. If people sit across a table from one another they are much more likely to have a formal conversation than those sitting next to one another on the couch.
As far as substance, one interesting observation is that every single participant was found to discuss the future in one way or another. Those that discussed political issues discussed the future of our country if certain policies are passed. Those that discussed every day life discussed what they want to do with their life. This sample included topics such as what kind of job they want, the person that want to spend their life with, or what their life will be like when a particular issue either changes or is resolved.
Overall, I found that indeed, based on the locution, substance, forum, and identity of the participants of the research, Starbucks has the ability to generate certain types of talkers. People often come to “catch up” with others, but even so they are discussing issues that matter to them. People at Starbucks are often developing public opinions of current issues and events. While not every single person at Starbucks may be doing this each time they visit, as many people do just come for coffee, you can usually find someone in Starbucks discussing social life and the world around them. Starbucks is also able to create an environment that generates relatively calm interactions from individuals, which is likely due to the fact that people around you can hear your conversation – making it relatively public.
While Habermas has had a major influence on the understanding of the public sphere, his ideas of deliberation are idealistic. Critics argue: “Habmeras’s work is based upon outdated ideals of public discourse that valorize face-to-face dialogue over mediated deliberation” (Hass 179). Habermas’ works have critiqued capitalism and he thinks that these public spheres can suppress dialogue rather than support it. Habermas does not see the great potential that third place environments offer for a democracy.
Hicks and Langsdorf’s proceduralist model is more fitting to analyze than the work of Habermas because their criteria allow a look at how the space regulates the conversation. Habermas believed that public spheres could not work in a capitalist society. Hicks and Langsdorf, however, believe that the public sphere will be able to successfully transform conversations to be more democratic, through an explict focus on how identity, locution, forum, and substance shape a citizenry.
These findings are important to communication research because understanding the types of discourse happening in communities is important culturally. It is valuable to know that there are people discussing the wellbeing of your society while sipping coffee. There is a phenomenon happening with coffee shops today. From an academic communication point of view it is valuable to understand what about these environments is bringing people in so often.
Discourse is regulated through the environment at Starbucks. People want to remain calm through what could be heated conversations because of the atmosphere they are in. The locution at Starbucks is appropriate for that setting. Patrons of Starbucks regard the coffee shop as a place to work and meet up with friends, so their tone and style will be appropriate for a public setting.
The identity of people may be influenced by the people they meet with at Starbucks. While there is diversity in the type of people that go to Starbucks, each person may be molded in their thinking through the people they interact with there. Due to the findings that many people going to Starbucks for advice, political discussions, and talks about the future, it is certainly possible that Starbucks is facilitating the molding of similar people, creating a place for “regulars” to have recurring meetings with friends to discuss the aforementioned issues. The substance of the various conversations of the Starbucks patron participants seem to appear relatively similar. It could be inferred from these findings that when identities and locution are similar, the types of issues discussed will most likely also be similar.
Are coffee shops a generational trend or will this third place stick and become the primary forum for people to come together to talk in the future? It will be interesting to see if Starbucks is able to maintain its massive influence throughout upcoming years or if local coffee shops will be able to stand their ground against such a major corporation. Will coffee shops in general maintain significant community influence?
Citizens are changing in public spheres through engagement. Coffee shops provide people the benefit of engaging and sharing their opinions, rather than sitting at home and being told what they should believe from the news. They offer opportunity to dialogue with people that come from a different backgrounds and experiences. It was previously mentioned that a major benefit of third places is the diversity that they present, which may be unlike many other everyday places. In Manhattan, Kansas alone, the diversity of the local Manhattan Starbucks patrons consists of students, professors, and military personnel—not to mention the local community.
Third place environments have great potential. These environments allow people to come be active citizens participating in discourse through discussing the topics that matter to them. Coffee shops provide a place for democracy to take form. Citizens can come to a coffee shop to meet with friends and to share their opinion without being told they are wrong in front of a large crowd. When meeting with friends, people feel safe and vulnerable to be open about any topic—whether personal or public.
As academics in the Communication Studies department, there are many skills we ought to expect our students to gain before leaving to enter the “real world”. Communication means more than either delivering or analyzing a good speech. With third places becoming a large part of our communities, students in Communication Studies should be able to leave and understand how to be a citizen and that means understanding how to dialogue with others.
In my personal experience, there were only a few classes that really gave me any guidance in how to deliberate and/or facilitate a discussion. Garnering the ability to engage in discourse at a third place is a valuable tool; I am fortunate to have some training in the area. However, I know many individuals in the Communication Studies department at Kansas State University did not have the opportunity to take a course where third place discussion facilitation was taught. I recommend that all communication studies departments offer these courses—and offer them every semester. In this way, communication studies students will have opportunities to gain useful tools for fitting in with the world around them.
Starbucks is the biggest coffee chain in the world and while at the end of the day, Starbucks’ main goal is to sell coffee and make a profit. However, their success lies in the environment they create for their customers. It is unique: they welcome people to sit, chat, and to stay a while. Starbucks creates an environment that allows people to feel at ease and at home. Starbucks is able to produce a space unlike many others because one is not pressured to spend money in order to work or stay and talk for hours.
In reading the narratives from participants, I saw that people have seemingly grown quite fond of the atmosphere that coffee shops, and Starbucks in particular, create. Many people have important conversations there, whether it is reconnecting with old friends or discussing the future. People feel they can be honest as a result of the environment.
Third place environments can give us something to look forward to during a mundane workday. Coffee shops have become part of everyday life for many people and US Americans can see a coffee shop just about anywhere they go. The environment of Starbucks, whether through design or pure chance (though it seems to be design), is able to facilitate the discourse that emerges from their customers. These third places have great potential to promote democracy and form engaged citizens.
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