I was introduced to a new term today: social space.
This came from my discovery of Victoria Okoye’s excellent blog post about parks and public spaces in Accra, Ghana. She discusses how people in the city rarely use the designated public parks, instead congregating in a variety of spaces including empty buildings, yards, streets, and any other convenient places.
I really like this term, as it is very inclusive of the types of spaces that are used to build and maintain community relationships. There is no debate over what is ‘public’ or ‘communal’, focussing instead of how the space is actually being used and experienced.
I think the concept of social space will be invaluable when talking about use of space in the past. Instead of getting hung up labelling spaces based on concepts such as ownership, or intended purpose, which are notoriously difficult in prehistory, we can talk about how people were using spaces – one of the strengths of archaeology.
Were people interacting there? Then it doesn’t matter if it was someone’s personal courtyard, a publically accessible institution, or a common park. Instead we can talk about how people were using and co-opting the space, making it match their needs and how the physical reality allowed them to continue to build community.