Flash Mobs: Social Construction of Public Spaces as Places for Sociability & Public Discourse
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According to Young’s normative definition, public spaces should be cosmopolitan places where people from different backgrounds can meet and learn from each other, resulting in new insights and new tolerant social relationships (Young, 1990), however, many scholars have pointed out to the apparent decline in importance of public space for sociability and public discourse (Sennett, 1977, 1992; Sorkin, 1992; Mitchell, 1995). Nonetheless, the flash mob phenomenon, as an ephemeral and partially extemporaneous social event occurring in public space, might provide counter argumentation to the apparent decline of public spaces. Recognizing its increasing popularity and practice over time, scholars in the field of anthropology, sociology and media studies have examined the sociological and ICT aspects of flash mobs (Rheingold, 2003; Nicholson, 2005; Gore, 2010; Molnàr, 2010; Rodriguez, 2010), yet, no urban geographical research has attempted to understand this phenomenon and its relation to the public spaces where it occurs. Thus, utilizing a humanistic approach to the geography of flash mobs, this study aims to understand the affect of the flash mob phenomenon on the social construction of public spaces. Through Lefebvre’s (1991) spatial triad of space construction and Tuan’s (1977) perspective of experience, the research will examine how people socially construct public spaces through their ephemeral flash mob experiences. Moreover, considering previous research claiming a cultural and societal difference in the effects and types of flash mobs for the developed and developing societies, this research focuses on two case studies of Amsterdam, The Netherlands and Skopje, R. Macedonia, attempting to elucidate whether and how the flash mob affects vary in different societal contexts. Could something frivolous as a flash mob socially construct public spaces as places for sociability and public discourse?