Alfred Lang

University of Bern, Switzerland

Research Project 1991

Psychology of the Dwelling Activity: People with their Things in their Rooms

[Wohnpsychologie: Menschen mit ihren Dingen in ihren Räumen]



47 / 51KB  Last revised 98.11.14

In collaboration with Daniel Slongo

Research Project proposed to the Swiss National Foundation for Scientific Research (September1991)

Reports form the Institute of Psychology, Univ. Bern, Group for Environmental and Cultural Psychology, 1991-3

© 1998 by Alfred Lang

Scientific and educational use permitted

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1. Summary of the Research Project

2. Detailed Project Description

2.1. Brief Sketch on present Research in the Field

2.2. State of our own Research in the Field

2.2.3Auswahl Studentischer Arbeiten aus der Gruppe / List of Student Thesis Work

2.3. Detailed Research Project

I. Social attitude and the person-and-room-constellation in dwelling conditions

II. Living in alone or in small groups: a comparative study focussing on communicating by objects and spaces

III. Communicative-regulative thing-conventions in residential settings

IV. Communicative-regulative thing-conventions in urban settings

2.4 Time Schedule

2.5. Probable Impact of this Research

1. Summary of the Research Project

The activity taking roughly a third of the life time of human beings, viz. living in ("Wohnen"), is obviously of highest importance in life. However, its psychological understanding is extremely weak, almost nonexistent when compared e.g. with the amount of research directed at work or education. That a psychological understanding is indispensable can be derived from the fact, that (a) it is human individuals and groups who, by their acting, produce the residential settings and their major contents, the everyday things, and (b) it is human individuals and groups who are constantly surrounded and obviously influenced by these settings, not only in their actual behavior but also in their ontogenetic development. In the main this environment can be described as (a) spatial structures such as rooms, dwelling units, houses and the structured spaces between those elements, and (b) objects of smaller or larger scale such as personal belongings, furniture and other elements, some made or arranged by the people themselves, some produced by others, contemporaries or predecessors, most of them selected and placed by the inhabitants in spatial structures mainly made by others. In fact, objects and spaces are only separable by abstraction, in that objects are necessarily in space and space is necessarily structured by objects (see the overviews by Lawrence 1987 and Tognoli 1987). In addition, the continuing transactions between people and their residential settings must be considered a major product and, at the same time, a major source of cultural change, both in the people and in the physical and spatial structures involved.

In the past few years, a small but important research tradition has been established in the field of residential activity. To the dismay of many participating, it has become a rather heterogeneous field of many quite separate approaches. Such a state of affairs might be furthered by very strong indeed practical needs in the field; on the other hand, without a good theoretical foundation findings and recommendations might be shortsighted and perhaps even counterproductive to resonable recommendations. The lack of theoretical clarity in the field is often deplored, on the other hand a number of traditions going in the direction of conceiving people and their physical surroundings together as complex systems or ecological units have arisen.

The applicant has many years experience in the field, yet he only recently succeeded in bringing parts of theoretical thinking into a systematic whole, called semiotic ecology . Processes with people in residential settings has been the principal source of theoretical impulses for him, and he deems the field most suitable for putting this theoretical approach on probe. The present project proposes therefore to perform a set of four related empirical studies with the objective of elucidating selected aspects of a new theoretical approach. In the understanding of the applicant, residential activity can be considered to a special although most important (in terms of material resources and time and attention of people taken) case of semiotic exchange between any individual and his/her cultural environment. Communicative and regulative processes , both related to individuals and social identity and development, are at the core of the approach.

The catch phrase in the subtitle of the project: people with their things in their rooms, is deliberately chosen with no verb phrase. The project is an empirical and theoretical attempt at specifying and understanding the multitude of acts and consequences, which exchanges between people and their residential environment can bring to the fore, and what, in turn, their cultural and ontogenetic conditions could be.


2. Detailed Project Description

2.1. Brief Sketch on present Research in the Field

While we have a relatively high standing of research on residential architecture, i.e. of the dwelling as an economical, functional and aesthetic object, relatively little is systematically known about what one would think dwellings are primarily made for, i.e. the relation between dwellings and people.

If we ask the question of why we build residences at all , respondents usually have answers that seem to them as self-evident and trivial as they are insufficient: we need to protect ourselves against influences from climate, weather, enemies, stress etc. Asking why we build exactly the way we build , the answers are again only functional, and that means arbitrary (Lang 1982a; Lang et al. 1987). It is easily shown by cross-cultural comparisons that the usual arguments as to influence of climate or available building material are not at all pertinent (e.g. Low & Chambers 1989). The inference is that we must look for sets of conditions and and processes that root in the cultural or social and psychological realm. A social science understanding of the processes in connection with making and using buildings for what we call residences and of what happens between people and these settings is overdue. Buildings and the objects contained in them can then primarily to be seen as "attempts at influencing by spatial design the manner of life of the group of their inhabitants in some desired way" (translated from Lang 1982a.47).

In the last few years an increasing stream of thinking and research has grown along related ways (see. e.g. Altman & Werner 1985). On the other hand, the larger portion of that research is, to render the analytical judgment of Kaminski (in Fuhrer 1990-91, 2.557), extremely heterogeneous and more often than not incompatible among themselves. The field is urgently in need of good theory (see e.g. Kruse et al. 1990). A case in point was not only the cited gathering of German speaking Wohnpsychologen in Kiel (Fuhrer 1990-91), the same is maintained in pertinent publications in the anglo-saxon environmental psychological journal or edited books.

Psychological research in the area that is marked by terms such as dwelling, residences, homes etc. is, indeed, astonishingly scarce. Usually the field is divided into housing (roughly "sozialer Wohnungsbau"), i. e. the public concern for an humane accommodation of people, and home (zu Hause, Daheim), i.e. the one particular place where I am or we are at home (see Tognoli 1987, Lawrence 1987). Houses are commodities and homes are cultural-psychological entities. Our concern in this project is nearer to the home. However, whereas sociologists or architects tend to isolate the object house and its economical aspects from the people, many psychologists today tend to characterise the environment "primarily in terms of the categories that people use to organise mentally their physical worlds" (Saegert & Winkel 1990.457; see also Rochberg-Halton i.V. 1991): house and home are two perspective that have to be seen together (see below). A number of authors can be pointed out that follow similar lines; among them are Duncan 1982; Boesch, 1988, 1991; Rochberg-Halton i.V. 1991; Heidmets i.V. 1991 or give demonstrating material for such a view (e.g. Nippa 1991). The psychology of the dwelling activity thus has a chance of becoming an important part of a more general psychology of culture (Lang i.V.1991a).

The larger part of the social science literature on the dwelling process has either an aesthetic or a functional preoccupation. The last two decades have seen, in addition, the rise of a semiotic approach at understanding the built in relation to people within the framework of structuralism. Influences come mostly from anthropology but also from history and urban sociology (for an overview see Lawrence 1989). The main problem with these diverse and partly controversial approaches lies in their seldom contested reliance on linguistic models of semiotics. An exception is Minai's (1984) "field" approach to environmental communication; however, the programme has not found an adequate scientific basis so far.


Literature ref 2.2.1

1. Aarburg, Hans-Peter von & Oester, Kathrin (1990) Wohnen: zur Dialektik von Intimität und Öffentlichkeit (Diskussionsbeiträge zum Thema Wohnen). Fribourg, Universitätsverlag. 180 Pp.

2. Altman, Irwin; Nelson, P.A. & Lett, E.E. (1972) The ecology of home environments. Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology. Washington D.C, U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. 201 Pp.

3. Altman, Irwin & Wandersman, A. (Ed.) (1987) Neighborhood and community environments. Human behavior and environment: Advances in theory and research. Vol. 9. Altman, Irwin. New York, Plenum. 298 Pp.

4. Altman, Irwin & Werner, Carol M. (Ed.) (1985) Home environments. Human behavior and environment: advances in theory and research. Vol. 8. NewYork, Plenum. 339 Pp.

5. Barbey, Gilles (1980) L'habitation captive: essai sur la spatialité du logement de masse. Saint-Saphorin, Georgi

6. Baum, A. & Valins, S. (1977) Architecture and social behavior: psychological studies of social density. Hillsdale N.J, Erlbaum.

7. Boesch, Ernst E. (1988) Die Kulturbedingtheit des Menschen. Pp. 339-369 in: Gordan, Paul (Ed.) Menschwerden, Menschsein. (Salzburger Hochschulwochen). Kevelaer, Butzon & Bercker.

8. Boesch, Ernst E. (1991) Symbolic action theory and cultural psychology. Recent research in psychology. Berlin, Springer. 387 Pp.

9. Duncan, James S (Ed.) (1982) Housing and identity: cross-cultural perspectives. New York, Holmes & Meier. 250 Pp.

10. Flade, Antje (1987) Wohnen psychologisch betrachtet. Bern, Huber. 194 Pp.

11. Fuhrer, Urs et al. (Organisator einer Arbeitsgruppe, 1990) Regulation sozialen Handelns in Wohnumwelten (Wohnpsychologie). Pp. 397-407 in: Frey, Dieter (Ed.) Bericht über den 37. Kongress der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Psychologie in Kiel 1990. Vol. 1. Göttingen, Hogrefe.

12. Gauvain, M.; Altman, I. & Fahim, J. (1983) Homes and social change: a cross cultural analysis. Pp. 180-218 in: Feimer & Geller (Ed.) Environmental psychology: directions and perspectives. NewYork, Praeger.

13. Gottfried, Allen W. & Gottfried, Adele (1984) Home environment and early cognitive development: longitudinal research. New York, Academic. 383 Pp.

14. Heidmets, Mati (i.V. 1991) Environmental personalization: theory and practical implications. Symposium on the Cultural Environment in Psychology, in honor of Ernst E. Boesch, Lang, Alfred & Fuhrer, Urs. Merligen (Lake Thun) 21.-24.10.1991. Typoscr. 15 Pp.

15. Hetzer, Hildegard (1930) Zur Psychologie des Wohnens. Pp. 3-13 in: (Beiträge zur städtische Wohn- und Siedelwirtschaft, 3. Teil, Wohnungsfragen in Österreich.) Schriften des Vereins für Sozialpolitik. Vol. 177. München, Duncker & Humblot.

16. Kellett, John (1989) Health and housing. Journal of Psychosomatic Research 33(3) 255-268 .

17. Kruse, Lenelies; Graumann, C.F.; Lantermann, E.D. (Eds. 1990) Ökologische Psychologie: ein Handbuch in Schlüsselbegriffen. München, Psychologie Verlags Union.

18. Lassarre, Dominique (1988) Environnement residentiel et relations sociales: Analyses de quelques modeles theoriques de la psychosociologie de l'environnement. Perspectives Psychiatriques 27(12) 97-104.

19. Lawrence, Roderick J (1987) Housing, dwellings and home: design theory, research and practice. New York, Wiley.

20. Lawrence, Roderick, J (1989) Structuralist theories in environment-behavior-design research. Pp. 37-70 in: Zube, E. & Moore, G. (Ed.) Advances in Environment, behavior, and design.<. Vol. 2. New York, Plenum.

21. Low, Setha & Chambers, Erve (Eds.) (1989) Housing, culture and design: a comparative perspective. Philadelphia, Univ. Pennsilvania Press.

22. Minai, Asghar Talaye (1984) Architecture as environmental communication. Berlin, Mouton.

23. Nippa, Annegret (1991) Haus und Familie in arabischen Ländern. München, Beck. 248 Pp.

24. Rochberg-Halton, Eugene (i.V. 1991) Between play and purpose. Symposium on the Cultural Environment in Psychology, in honor of Ernst E. Boesch, Lang, Alfred & Fuhrer, Urs. Merligen (Lake Thun) 21.-24.10.1991. Typoscr. 23 Pp.

25. Russell, James A. & Snodgrass, Jacalyn (1987) Emotion and the environment. Pp. 245-280 in: Stokols, Daniel & Altman, Irwin (Ed.) Handbook of environmental psychology. Vol. 1. New York, Wiley.

26. Rybczynski, W. (1986) Home: a short history of an idea. New York, Viking.

27. Saegert, Susan & Winkel, Gary H. (1990) Environmental psychology. Annual Review of Psychology 41 441-477 .

28. Selle, Gert & Boehe, Jutta (1986) Leben mit den schönen Dingen: Anpassung und Eigensinn im Alltag des Wohnens. Reinbek, Rowohlt. 264 Pp.

29. Spivack, Mayer (1973) Archetypal place. Pp. 33-46 in: EDRA. Vol. 4, Part 1. Stroudsberg Pa, Dowden- Hutchinson-Ross

30. Stricker, Berhard (1990) Wohnen in der Siedlung. Bern, Zytglogge. 165 Pp.

31. Tognoli, Jerome (1987) Residential environments. Pp. 655-690 in: Stokols, Daniel & Altman, Irwin (Ed.) Handbook of environmental psychology. Vol. 1. New York, Wiley.

32. Werner, Carol M. (1987) Home interiors: a time and place for interpersonal relationships. Environment & Behavior 19(2) 169-179 .


2.2. State of our own Research in the Field

The applicant cultivated an early interest in architecture and later developed the relation between people and the built and designed environment as his psychological working field from the early seventies on when he started giving lectures and seminars in environmental psychology. He soon grew a special interest in processes connected with one's home. In accompanying student research and also in connection with some public interest (Lang 1981 to 1985 et passim, see more items in the publication list) he developed what he called a regulative theory of the dwelling process (Lang 1982a). Built structures were (and are) seen as cultural regulators of both autonomy and integration of individuals in relation to groups and also of groups in relation to larger groups . Three specific regulative domains were described in this approach, i.e. activation, interaction and development (of self and group), and they were conceived so as to ground these regulative processes firmly in general psychological principles (of motivation processes, of spatial behavior and group processes, of developmental and self psychology). For a summary see Lang, Bühlmann & Oberli (1987) and Lang (1988). It has been an useful guide for a number of studies through the years (see the selective list of student theses). Also, in the process attempting to review available research literature in the area of dwelling the set of regulative principles proved to be an helpful organiser of what we know about people and dwellings (see also Fuhrer 1990 and i.V. 1991).

However, in this process I also grew more and more dissatisfied, not so much with the regulative principle as such as with its psychological foundation (Lang 1990; in press). When trying to review theoretical explanations of the making and using of residential settings (Lang 1990), I found the prevailing need-theories (see e.g. Flade 1987) wanting in several respects. The same could be said of theories that, to my astonishment, have not been formulated in the literature, although the respective approach would strongly suggest so: I think of explanatory principles for building and dwelling in the framework of goal-oriented action theory or the cultural-historical approach of Vygotsky and his followers. For a brief comparison and evaluation of these two approaches see Lang (1990a; 1991).

This comparative evaluation of approaches made also more clearly evident that there was a gap in my own approach between the postulated regulative set and their consumption by people in actual settings. Work in apparently different fields (philosophy of science, history of psychology, psychology and semiotics; see Lang 1990b; i.D. 1991c; i.V. 1991a and b; Slongo 1991) lead to a new foundation of the approach that I am presently in the process of explicating in detail.

This is not the place to give particulars, but it might be meaningful to list the most important features of the approach that are guiding the proposed projects. In fact the research projects can be seen from both sides: they are as much a proving field for the theory in its present perspective as they are a "procreative bed" for detailing, concretising and furthering the theory.

The leading question is how to conceptualise the human--environment-system or the person-culture-unit. Or, in other words, how can conditions from inside (needs, goals are special instances) combine with those on the outside of the individual person (objects, spaces, everything made by others) without giving either of them an absolute primate. One key notion is the idea, that our perception and cognition might mislead us in so sharply separating between the inner or psychic and the outer or material. In fact, if it is true that what we call the mind (psychic organisation within each person) is both the result and the basis of perceiving and acting of the individual in the world, then there is no reason to treat the external results of our actions, i.e. the designed, the tools, the objects, the built, the houses, the cities, the traffic systems, the contents of archives and museums, in short, culture, so completely different. For, culture also guides and controls our actions; what we leave as results of our activities are also structures having a potential of informing other structures, be that our own mind or that of our friends, relatives or neighbours. So external structures have the same function of dynamic memory as the mind; comparing internal and external cognitive and actions structures, there are similarities and differences to be investigated (see Lang, 1988; i.D. 1991 a, b, c and i.V. 1991 a, b).

An ecological psychology, hence, focuses with profit on the processes of producing, modifying and using of objects and spaces. How are these external structures, the social memory or "concrete mind" capable of guiding the actions and the development of people? In addition to these structural concepts we need a set of descriptors of the processes going in between the involved structures in an ecological unit or system. We believe to have found excellent concepts and methodological guidelines in a triadic semiotics in the tradition of Charles S. Peirce (see Lang i.D. 1991 b; i.V. 1991 a and b; Slongo 1991). Preliminary results with such concepts and methods are promising; but they need to be carried out in a concrete and rigorous way, i.e. in the framework of empirical research.


Literature ref 2.2.2

1. Fuhrer, Urs (1990) Ortsbindung und die Bedeutung des Zwischenraums. (Antrittsvorlesung) Berichte aus dem Psychologisches Institut der Universität Bern, 1990-1.

2. Fuhrer, Urs & Kaiser, Florian G. (i.D. 1991) Ortsbindung: Ursachen und deren Konsequenzen für die Wohn- und Siedlungsgestaltung. Pp. Kapitel in: Harloff, H.J. & Laage, E. (Eds.) Psychologie im Dienste der Architektur- und Siedlungsplanung. Göttingen, Hogrefe.

3. Fuhrer, Urs et al. (1990-91) Regulation sozialen Handelns in Wohnumwelten (Wohnpsychologie). (Arbeitsgruppe.) Pp. 1:397-407; 2:556-560 in: Frey, Dieter (Ed.) Bericht über den 37. Kongress der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Psychologie in Kiel 1990. Vol. 1 und 2. Göttingen, Hogrefe.

4. Fuhrer (i.V. 1991) Living in our own footsteps -- and in those of others: cultivation as inventive coping. The cultural environment in psychology: Symposium in honour of Ernst E. Boesch, Lang, Alfred & Fuhrer, Urs. Typoscr. Pages Pp.

5. Lang, Alfred (1981) Das Heim und die Familie: Die Bedeutung des Wohnens für die Entwicklung der Menschen. St. Galler Tagblatt (Zeitlupe am Wochende) vom 22.3.81.

6. Lang, Alfred (1981-82) Zum Problem der Gestaltungsqualität im Wohnbereich aus psychologischer Sicht. Strukturierungsstudie im Auftrag des Bundesamtes für Wohnungswesen. f-8071-1982, Bern, Bundesamt für Wohnungswesen. Kommentar 13 Pp. + kommentierte und klassifizierte Bibliogrphie von 250 Titeln, 53 Pp.

7. Lang, Alfred (1982a) Familie und Wohnen: Die psychosoziale Bedeutung des Wohnens. Pp. 62-72 (Kap. 22) in: Familienpolitik, Eidg. Kommission für Familie und (Ed.) "Familienpolitik in der Schweiz". Bern, EDMZ.

8. Lang, Alfred (1982b) Besser wohnen - anders bauen. Schweiz. Zeitschr.f. Gemeinnützigkeit 121 (4) 85-97 .

9. Lang, Alfred (1983) Zur Psychologie des Wohnens: Forschungsergebnisse und Überlegungen zum Zusammenhang von Bauen und Leben. Vortrag, Thun, Kunstgesellschaft. Thun, 2.2.83. Typoscr. 20 Pp. Psychologisches Institut Universität Bern.

10. Lang, Alfred (1985) Wohngemeinschaft Familie. Hauptvortrag, Wohngemeinschaft Familie, Bern, Ehekommission der ev.-ref. Kirche und Christl. Arbeitsgem. für Ehe- und Familienfragen des Kt. 28.1.85. Typoscr. 14 Pp. Psychologisches Institut Universität Bern.

11. Lang, Alfred (1987) Wahrnehmung und Wandlungen des Zwischenraums: Psychologisches zum urbanen Platz. Vortrag, Vortragsreihe zum städtischen Platz, Bern, Schweiz. Werkbund Sektion. Bern, 25.2.87. Typoscr. 19 Pp. Vortragsvorlage: Psychologischen Institut der Univ. Bern.

12. Lang, Alfred; Bühlmann, Kilian & Oberli, Eric (1987) Gemeinschaft und Vereinsamung im strukturierten Raum: psychologische Architekturkritik am Beispiel Altersheim. Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Psychologie 46 (3/4) 277-289.

13. Lang, Alfred (1988) Die kopernikanische Wende steht in der Psychologie noch aus! - Hinweise auf eine ökologische Entwicklungspsychologie. Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Psychologie 47 (2/3) 93-108

14. Lang, Alfred (1990a) Bauen und Wohnen psychologisch zu verstehen: drei theoretische Perspektiven. Vortrag, DGfPs. Kiel, 25.9.90. Pp. 401-402 in Frey, Dieter (Ed.) Bericht über den 37. Kongress der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Psychologie in Kiel 1990 . Göttingen, Hogrefe.

15. Lang, Alfred (1990b) Was ich von Kurt Lewin gelernt habe. Pp. 121-135 in: Grawe, K.; Hänni, R.; Semmer, N. & Tschan, F. (Eds.) Über die richtige Art, Psychologie zu betreiben. (Festschrift für Klaus Foppa und Mario von Cranach.) Göttingen, Hogrefe.

16. Lang, Alfred (1991) Wohnraum als Aussenraum des Innenlebens ein Dialog zwischen Bürgerin und Wohnpsychologe. Der Bund (Bern) Nr. 223 (Beilage: "Bauen -- Wohnen 1991")

17. Lang, Alfred (i.D. 1991a) The "concrete mind" heuristic -- human identity and social compound from things and buildings. Chapter in: Jaeger, Carlo; Nauser, Markus & Steiner, Dieter (Eds.) Human ecology: an integrative approach to environmental problems . (Symposium Umwelt Gesellschaft Person, in Appenberg, 24.-26.5.1989, Geography Dptm. ETH-Z.) London, Routledge.

18. Lang, Alfred (i.D. 1991b) On the knowledge in things and places. Chapter in: Cranach, M.; Doise, W. & Mugny, G. (Eds.) Social representations and the social basis of knowledge . (Proceedings of the 1st congress of the Swiss Society of Psychology, Bern, September 1989.) Bern, Huber.

19. Lang, Alfred (i.D. 1991c) Die Frage nach den psychologischen Genesereihen -- Kurt Lewins grosse Herausforderung. Pp. Chapter in: Schönpflug, Wolfgang (Ed.) Kurt Lewin -- Person, Werk, Umfeld: Historische Rekonstruktion und Interpretation aus Anlass seins hundersten Geburtstages. Bern, Lang.

20. Lang, Alfred (i.V. 1991 a) Kultur als 'externe Seele' -- eine semiotisch-ökologische Perspektive. Hauptvortrag, 2. Symposium, Kulturpsychologie, Gesellschaft für. Mittersill, 9.5.91. Typoscr. 30 Pp.

21. Lang, Alfred (i.V. 1991 b) Non-Cartesian culture: steps towards a semiotic ecology. Symposium on the Cultural Environment in Psychology, in honor of Ernst E. Boesch, organised by Alfred Lang and Urs Fuhrer, Merligen (Lake Thun) 21.-24.10.1991. Typoscr. 22 Pp.


2.2.3 Auswahl Studentischer Arbeiten aus der Gruppe

Baltisberger, Ingrid (1984) Ältere Frauen in ihrem Quartier: Wie unterscheiden sich Gruss- und gegenseitiges Hilfsverhalten älterer Frauen in zwei unterschiedlich gebauten Quartieren voneinander? Diplomarbeit, Bern, Psychologisches Institut der Universität. 184 Pp.

Bos, Gerrit (1983) Die Wechselwirkung zwischen Wohnung und Familie im Wohnbereich: eine explorative Untersuchung zur Wohnpsychologie. Diplomarbeit, März 1983, Bern, Psychologisches Institut der Universität. 83 Pp. + Anh.

Bühlmann, Kilian & Oberli, Eric (1987) Das Altersheim Aespliz: eine umweltpsychologische Architekturkritik. Diplomarbeit, Bern, Psychologisches Institut der Universität.

Escher, Barbara von (1983) Kind Umwelt Freizeit: eine explorative Studie mit 3.- und 6. Klässlern in der Längasse in Bern. Diplomarbeit, Bern, Psychologisches Institut der Universität.

Famos, Sylvia (1989) Dialog junger Menschen mit Dingen im Zimmer -- Bedeutung und Topographie wichtiger Objekte im Lebenszusammenhang. Diplomarbeit, Zürich, Seminar für Angewandte Psychologie. 109 + Anh.

Harnisch, Brigitte & Maurer, Ursula (1983) Bedeutung von Wohnzimmereinrichtungen. Diplomarbeit, Bern, Psychologisches Institut der Universität. 235 Pp. + Anh.

Häberle, Wilhelm (1991) Objekt-Transaktionen: Umwelt- und ökopsychologische Aspekte der Theorie und Empirie objektspezifischen Verhaltens. Diplomarbeit, Mai 1991, Bern, Psychologisches Institut der Universität. 192 Pp.

Kleine, Christoph (1985) Territorialität in der Wohnung - Bewohner und Besucher: eine Pilotstudie. Diplomarbeit, Bern, Psychologisches Institut der Universität. 168 +101 Anh.

Reisbeck, Clemens (1991, eingereicht) Bauen und Wohnen für schwer körperlich und geistig Behinderte: empirisch gestützte Empfehlungen zur Gestaltung und Instrumente zur entwicklungsförderlichen Planung. Doktordissertation, Bern, Psychologisches Institut der Universität.

10. Schüpbach, Anna & Siegenthaler, Katrin (1981) Wohnbedürfnisse, artikuliert anlässlich Umzug. Diplomarbeit, Bern, Psychologisches Institut der Universität. 184 Pp.

11. Slongo, Daniel (1991) Zeige mir, wie du wohnst, -- eine Begrifflichkeit über externe psychologische Strukturen anhand von Gesprächen über Dinge im Wohnbereich. Diplomarbeit, Januar 1991, Bern, Psychologisches Institut der Universität. 135 Pp.

12. Stuber, Lotti (1984) Erarbeiten eines Grundrisses für ein Haus: eine explorative Untersuchung über psychologische Wohnbedürfnisse. Diplomarbeit, Bern, Psychologisches Institut der Universität. 269 + 166 Anh.

13. Vogt, Beatrice & Loder, Beatrice (1982) Jugendliche in ihrer Wohnumwelt. Diplomarbeit, November 1982, Bern, Psychologisches Institut der Universität. 316 Pp. + Anh.


2.3. Detailed Research Project

Four studies are described with emphasis on rationale and prinicipal procedures. More detailed methodological considerations can be given on request.


I. Social attitude and the person-and-room-constellation in dwelling conditions

In 1977 Baum & Valins published a book based on a number of related studies to be incremented later on. Its methodology is almost classically experimental (seldom in environmental psychology) and yet it is done "life". The principal findings can be summarised in few sentences. Students were assigned randomly to two person dormitory bedrooms in either one or the the other of two residential settings: (a) in corridor dormitories, bedrooms were arranged along a long corridor, 18 rooms per floor, (b) in apartment dormitories, bedrooms were grouped by three, going to a small lounge, six such apartments to the floor. Students living in these conditions were then examined in various sorts of social situations. The results were impressively consistent: students from apartments showed socially open and cooperative attitude and behavior, were interested in the other, whilst students from corridors in contrast were socially defensive, avoided others in stressful situations and preferred competitive, all or nothing strategies to cooperation. The design of the several studies strongly suggests the inference that these social attitudes and behavior have been induced by the living conditions and generalised to other settings. Group differences could be demonstrated a few weeks after entry into those conditions; they also lasted some time beyond the sojourn in the dormitories.

One should not interpret these studies as a demonstration of determinative effects of houses on people. Rather careful analysis of conditions points to an intricate ensemble of dwelling conditions of these students. Essentially, spatial structures and persons form one of two particular constellations, the crucial part of which seems to be the buffering or mediating section of space and the quality of interactions happening there or not between the private (one's shared bedroom and "free" behavior) and the "public" (the dorm floor etc. and socially desired behavior): whereas the chance is meeting one of five in the apartment, the odds are one or more of 35 in the corridor constellation, when one comes out of his/her room. Now, nobody can become "familiar" with 35 persons to the same extent as with 5 colleagues. This is not a matter of sympathy! Rather of how confident and competent you are to manage relations on the basis of few or more experience with and feedback from these others. What the investigators observed as defensive social attitude is in some respect comparable to the infant's fear of strangers; only it has been generated by living conditions and it has become a personal habit, generalised to social situations of all kinds, particularly to those incurring stress.

The question arises as the the generalisability of these findings to people in modern (sub)urban living conditions at large. It seems worth to undertake a comparable study in Western European culture and in view of typical dwelling conditions found in densely populated Switzerland. Naturally, the experimental design and many other of the features of the study are not replicable in the ordinary world. Since the differential approach taken by Baum & Valins (studying differences between groups of people) would under the more open conditions of a general population sample require rather large sample sizes, we prefer to concentrate on the developmental approach which also leads at the core of our semiotic-ecological approach. The leading question can be stated as follows: is it possible for adults to change social attitude and behavior by a change in their living conditions described in terms of a private-public space constellation that either enforces a large number of involuntary social interactions or allows for a smaller number of controllable contacts?

The research plan foresees the accompaniment of ca. 40 carefully selected persons moving either from a "corridor"-type dwelling setting to an "apartment"-type one or vice versa. The subjects will be investigated in a selected number of social attitude and behavior situations modelled after the Baum & Valins studies and taken from the social psychological literature. In addition they will be inquired autobiographically as to habits and changes in their social attitudes. The comparison of before-after difference measures between the two moving directions should reveal an answer to the leading question. In addition the study will allow us to make an inventory of architectural features that describe this contrast in everyday living situations.



II. Living in alone or in small groups: a comparative study focussing on communicating by objects and spaces

Although it is obviously interpretable within our semiotic-ecological framework, study I has been primarily inspired by the literature and by the social pertinence of the problem. Study II is based on a thesis that grows directly from the social regulative function ascribed to dwellings in our approach. From the late seventies on, I have tended to name the dwelling the "vessel for the family" (Lang 1980, 1982b), arguing that there are no absolute criteria for distinguishing the individual above and beyond the biological (cell level) and the social (group level) in our understanding of ecosystems (Lang 1988). While the individual is a strong unit by its uniting body, the living group, esp. the family is a weak unit, particularly in a society where the long-effective mythical, economic and legal bonding factors are diminishing. It has no simple physical "body". Building is obviously a social undertaking and its principal effects might also -- without in the least denying the importance of the "short" function circle between an individual person and her proper environment -- be of a social nature; no culture is thinkable except in groups of people. Simplified and in a much too instrumental formulation, dwellings and their constellations can thus primarily be understood as "devices" to keep groups united and to regulate within group and between group social interaction. If this is reasonable, we observe in presentday civilisation a rather "perverse" development, namely that more and more persons, especially in the big cities, tend to live in alone, if they can afford. And they can afford in increasing numbers. We were so far unable to find psychological studies on the phenomenon, although, of course, the many facets of it are described heavily in literary works. And there is enough material available to rise the suspicion that a number of actual social problems in larger cities such as vandalism, lonesomeness, drug abuse etc. might belong together in one picture. In vain and for several years already, although perhaps understandably, I have tried to find students to research the problem, except for one study now in progress. For the same reasons -- many people, especially young and bright persons, want eagerly to live single, and it is chic to do so -- it is probably not a topic to learn much about by verbal methods.

Our semiotic conception of environmental transactions, on the other hand, has lead us to expect that the set of objectivations accumulating and used in dwellings might give a reflex of the character and qualities of the social net a person is involved. E.g. one might expect that the normal absence of important and perhaps intimate partners might be reflected in sets of things to in certain ways locally represent those persons. Also use of things beyond their ordinary functions might be different, if there is none or few considerations to take in view of living in partners that also have and want to display by means of their things. Slongo (1991) has opened a methodological way, after the study by Famos, of reconstructing person-thing-constellations in their development via an interview technique centered on important things in the household. This technique has to be perfected and supplemented by inventories (lists, descriptions, photographs) and observational data (documenting typical life episodes with selected things in their particular "role"). Object distributions and spatial topographies have to documented with imaging techniques; the evaluation of these data is preferably done by a combinations of graphical and statistical procedures. The principal procedure of this developing methodology is what we call semiotic reconstruction . We begin with carefully collected factual descriptions of settings in terms of both objects in their locations (object topography) and the activities the people and objects and spaces are involved. However behind this surface data we attempt at reconstructing series and types of structure formations that can be shown to be significant for the persons involved. While external structures are more or less accessible to us with the kind help of the subjects, what they tell us about their life episodes with these things and places, is just a surface of what is really going on between people and objects. Our theory assumes a certain complementarity between conscious/linguistic and spatial/objectal codes, so we expect a larger part of the processes of interest to us not well represented in consciousness and verbal reflections. It is then our task to infer about internal structures in the people involved and thus about the potential ranges of meaning of these things and places for the people involved.

The study will have primarily descriptive objectives. We think of intensively studying 10 singles and 10 couples to be paired on variables that we hold to remove untopical variance. What will be the object and space related differences in the dwelling activities of singles and groups as seen with the concepts and perspectives of our semiotic-ecological approach? Do the same types of objects carry similar or different communicative (pragmatic) functions in one person households and in group settings? Do the object sets follow the same or different principles of organisation, statically and in terms of frequency of their use? What is the role of objects displayed in view of visitors of different sorts in the two household forms? The material collected and comparatively interpreted in the two socially different settings will naturally contribute to our required basis towards formulating a syntax of object use.


III. Communicative-regulative thing-conventions in residential settings

The results of and the experience incurred in studies I and II together with the parallel student work in related studies will give us, it is hoped, enough knowledge, tools and sensibility to start one or two new investigations that are primarily directed at the role of the communicative processes with things and places for the individual and social regulative processes at the center of our approach. These regulations, as to our present view, can be slightly regrouped in that the framework autonomy-integration regulation is dichototomized in two ways: (a) regulation of which the subject is either an individual or a group, and (b) regulation that pertains to actual processes or to long term developments. A simple fourfold table summarises these details, widening to communicative processes what we have so far too narrowly and one-sidedly seen as self-display (Lang, 1982; Lang et al. 1987) and more clearly bringing the former three concepts into a 2 by 2 fourfold relational scheme (Lang i.V.a):


Regulatory domains:

actual processes

developmental processes

individual's regulation



group regulation


communication (self-display, individual and group)

The objective of this and the subsequent study is to demonstrate principles and working details of the communicative-regulative connex that characterises in our view ecological units, particularly in the cultural context. Residential activity seems a particularly good example for such an attempt for several reasons:

Not only do we hope to bring one of the least researched yet most important life domains into focus. We also think that by the richness and diversity of objects and processes incurring in that domain we have a good chance of putting our semiotic-ecology approach to a hard and fair test in the sense of asking it difficult things to achieve. Furthermore it is mandatory, in contrast to more traditional contents of psychological research that are more mental or cognitive (symbolic) to refrain in this field from early definitions of communication and code; in fact the field of communication by objects, as we understand it now, gives an opportunity to study social interaction where codification spans the whole range from spontaneous and singular to formalised and ritualised. We expect occasions to show the emergence of new code, a singular proposal of one person for an object to carry a meaning which is then taken up by the other person as a sign and going back and forth several times while meaning changes with the same sign, until, eventually, a fixed element of a (private) language is established that might eventually even be taken up by other individuals.

From what we know so far, things and places can carry the whole gamut of semantic and pragmatic variation. Less clear are syntactic relations, i.e. how do spatial and objectal elements build gestalten and complexes to convey meanings beyond simple qualities? Are relational or even argumentative connexes in this communicative mode to be observed? If yes, how do they compare to linguistic sign complexes and how are they used by the people involved. While we believe that they are to be different from the linguistic orders, we are not satisfied with the simple and nominal answer that things and places were not a language. What else then? There is certainly a gamut of communication that is neither purely instinctual nor formally linguistic. It is not well researched today, perhaps in part due to repudiation from scientific interest incurred by science's preference for the universal and unequivocal over the singular and historically evolving.


IV. Communicative-regulative thing-conventions in urban settings

The same objectives and expectations pertain to study IV, the only difference being in the field of examples chosen for data. In study III within-household exchanges are researched; they can be located both within the dwelling and in its immediate semi-private surround or dependencies, but the people involved in the communicative and regulative interactions are all known to each other, present in person or referred to as named individuals in narratives. In study IV, in contrast, we want to enlarge the approach to public settings, i.e. exchanges between "exchangeable" persons. Starting from a combined view of architecture and psycho-social processes taking place on urban squares (Lang 1987 and work in progress) it seems promising to look for public communicative and regulative processes using objects and space. History of cultures is full of examples of such processes; but the outstanding exemplars such as mass gatherings, rituals, monuments and distinguished places or institutionalised events seem to predominate in our understanding. Yet even the largest collective processes must be composed of individuals behaving and acting in coordinated manners.

We think we have a chance from the basis or our semiotic ecology to approach such processes from bottom up, so to say. Can we identify and specify in the communicative-regulative system using objects and space sections that characterise or even constitute larger and anonymous groups? Thus, study IV in a way focusses on the public subset of interactions thematised in study III, and, at the same time, in envisions a superset of communicative forms and regulative procedures which might serve as a resource from which the domestic processes investigated in study III necessarily must borrow while eventually the origin and the renewal of the said resource lies exactly in exchanges within the small residential and similar settings.


2.4. Time Schedule

Studies I and II are planned to run in parallel and take the first and the second year of the project. Both studies demand a certain amount of method adaptation and development with trial data collection. We expect to come to the main data collection phase at about 10 months after the start and to take data gathering about 4 to 6 months. Data evaluation and reporting will take the rest of the second year.

In the third year of the project we shall, depending on the cooperators then available, take up either one or the other among studies III and IV and carry them up to the point of data gathered, or taking again both themes in parallel and bringing them to the point of being ready for data collection. Studies III and IV should heavily profit from the experiences made with the two foregoing studies and selectively use some of their methods.


2.5. Probable Impact of this Research

The present project is primarily one of basic research into a new understanding of the people-environment-relationship. It is also a basic study into a relatively neglected field of communication, viz. coommunicative processes in between the formal codified and the instinctual. It gives a chance of observing and analysing processes of becoming and change and perhaps even abandon of communicative forms or codes. It is exemplary in the sense that it proposes to look at a particular and concrete context in order to see general principles at work. Criteria for selecting particular research questions were primarily taken from the theoretical approach.

We are in a research strategic phase, I would say, that is somewhere in between the context of finding and the context of justifying knowledge. Our approach, both in its substantive (non-Cartesian) and in its methodological (semiotic) aspects is new and bold enough that some patience is in order. We believe to have found an interesting regulative principle that is not new in itself but new in its application to the dwelling activity, although we have some provisional evidence for its fruitfulness from the earlier studies from our group. We propose an entirely new way of semiotically conceiving the regulative processes in terms of communication by objects and external structure formation. What we can expect from our studies is to empirically describe such communicative and regulative processes, develop instruments for their representation, and perhaps give first glimpses into their functioning. The planned studies, of course, are not aimed at hypothesis refutation. Naturally, it would be fatal to our thinking about human-setting-units, if our results would not obtain some correlation between the person-room-constellation and social attitude in study I or if things in single's dwellings would "behave" exactly the same as in group settings in study II. But reasons for that and other suboptimal results could be manifold.

That scientific criteria have lead us to plan studies that are obviously pertinent also to topical questions of our societal condition, is an added bonus. As to study II, in particular, soon, national census results will probably show that more than half of the households in big Swiss cities and more than a third of Swiss households at large are single person units. Increasing individualism might be evaluated simply as a phenomenon of our time. On the other hand, tremendous resources, and many of them rare and finite (construction sites) are put into a seemingly insatiable well. Various local reports time and again demonstrate lonesomeness as the great problem of tomorrows society; this aspect has usually not been a part of the planning of mass housing and other forms of residential architecture. What happens, hence, might also be be seen in relation to what I tend to characterise by the comparative series slogan: single isolated lonesome (einzig vereinzelt vereinsamt). We should attempt to understand this connection before we are forced to break it by sheer necessity with perhaps unclever means. Study I can be seen in a related perspective, In addition, also studies III and IV might contribute directly and indirectly to improving our living conditions.

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