Lec6_Zeisel_InquiryByDesign_ch7-8_ - Chapter 7 OBSERVING...

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Chapter 7 OBSERVING PHYSICAL TRACES Observing physical traces means systematically looking at physical sur- roundings to find reflections of previous activity not produced in order to be measured by researchers. Traces may have been unconsciously left behind (for example, paths across a field), or they may be conscious changes people have made in their surroundings (for example, a curtain hung over an open doorway or a new wall built). From such traces environment-behavior researchers begin to infer how an environment got to be the way it is, what decisions its designers and b~ers made about the place, how people actually use it, how they feel toward th . i s and generally how that articular environment meets the ~ds Of its "Sea, Researc ers a so begin to form an idea of what people are like Who use that pJ~ce-their culture, their affiliations, the way they present them- selves. Most people see only a small number of clues in their physical surround- ings; they use only a few traces to read what the environment has to tell them. Observing physical traces systematically is a refreshing method because, through fine tuning, it turns a natural skill into a useful research tool. A simple yet striking example of the use of this method is Sommer's observation of furniture placement in a mental-hospital ward and corridor (1969). In the morning after custodians had neatened up and before visitors arrived, Sommer found chairs arranged side-by-side in rows against the walls. Each day, several hours later, he found that patients' relatives and friends had left the same chairs grouped face-to-face in smaller clusters. Among the inferences this set of physical-trace observations prompted Sommer to make was that custodians' atti- tudes toward neatness and their beliefs that furniture ought to be arranged for efficient cleaning and food service were incongruent with patients' behavior and needs. To test these ideas, he rearranged the furniture in the ward, expecting patients to take advantage of the increased opportunities for sociability. For the first few weeks, he was surprised to find, patients and nurses returned chairs to their against-the-wall positions; according to them, the new way "wasn't the way things belonged." Eventually Sommer put the chairs around tables in the middle of the room, and on the tables he put flowers and magazines. When this threshold
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90 CHAPTER 7 of environmental change was reached, changes in behavior took place as wel~ patients began to greet each other more, to converse more, and to rea~ more, a:n staff members began a crafts program on the tables in the ward. And It .all ~eg when Sommer noticed a difference between how custodians left chairs 10 the morning and how patients and visitors left them at the end ~f t~: day. . The following discussion presents (1) significant
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Lec6_Zeisel_InquiryByDesign_ch7-8_ - Chapter 7 OBSERVING...

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