AHO Logo

A reason to interact: Interaction among strangers in urban public space

Type of project
01.09.2016 -> 30.06.2021

This project has been completed

About the project

This PhD project sets out to investigate conditions that support interaction among strangers in urban public space.

A political activist more or less successfully attempts to make contact with passersby; two men seated side by side at a café terrace start chatting; bystanders to a street performance exchange glances and smiles. Interaction among strangers, of which the city dominantly consists, is integral to urban life. Yet to engage in contact with persons whom one does not know, most individuals would need a reason to do so. This thesis explores such reasons, or conditions, that support interaction among strangers in urban public space. It does so primarily based on close and lengthy observation of daily life as it unfolds in four public squares of inner city Oslo, Norway.

A major rationale for the current public space renaissance in Western countries, is to create arenas for citizens to gather and interact. But more specific knowledge is needed on mechanisms that can stimulate strangers who share the same physical space to actually interact. Employing a broad approach, the overall research question posed is: What are the conditions that support interaction among strangers in public spaces in Oslo?

Combining perspectives from social science and design disciplines, this thesis aims to provide a broad perspective on an aspect of urban public life that mostly has been studied through a single disciplinary lens or by addressing individual factors. In so doing, it strives to advance the understanding of an everyday social phenomenon that speaks to larger issues, but which finer workings it takes an extended and attentive presence to more fully reveal.