Contemporary knowledge workspaces: a Lefebvrian case study exploring provider and user perspectives

ELLISON, Ian (2021). Contemporary knowledge workspaces: a Lefebvrian case study exploring provider and user perspectives. Masters, Sheffield Hallam University.

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In this study, participant-led photography was utilised to explore socially constructed notions of ‘what mattered about workspace’ with providers and users of two very different workspace case studies in London: a new contemporary office space of an established professional services organisation, and a coworking space for ethical business start-ups. The inductive findings were then considered using Lefebvre’s spatial triad as an analytic framework. The study sought to set aside conventional perspectives from the workspace design and management body of knowledge, to explore whether the qualitative visual research technique called participant-led photography, combined with a Lefebvrian reading of the findings, offered insights into how ‘knowledge workers’ understand, feel about and use their organisational workspaces. A further aim was to explore ways to practically engage with Lefebvrian thinking. If this were possible, Lefebvre’s significant yet esoteric contributions to spatial theory might be better understood and valued more widely in the field of workspace design and management, conceivably benefitting the working lives of many people. The evidence suggests that this visual research method yields diverse topics and issues not typically surfaced through more traditional workspace design and management research approaches. It shows how intrinsic workspace is to our working lives, and so advocates a stronger link between workspace and organisation theory and practice. It also encourages further application of novel research approaches in the discipline. By embracing Lefebvre’s notion of space as socially produced, the case study evidence also suggests that ‘space-making’ (foregrounding the management of built facilities) and ‘place-making’ (enabling communities of people; akin to urban design’s ‘placemaking’) can be regarded as contrasting approaches to the production of knowledge workspace, which can afford qualitatively different experiential outcomes. Engaging with Lefebvre in this way is less about workspace judgements, and more about opening up possibilities to holistically critique organisational context and appropriateness. Theoretically, by openly inviting engagement with Lefebvre’s ideas, it extends workspace theory beyond Cartesian understandings of physical objects in geometric space, toward Kantian notions of workspace as lived experience, acknowledging that the spatial and the social are irrevocably and politically intertwined. The study demonstrates an opportunity to positively reframe the often-polarised debate surrounding workplace provision. It is exploratory in nature and makes no claims to any universally valid findings. Instead, its contribution is in showing new possibilities through alternative workspace analyses and research approaches.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Thesis advisor - Wyton, Paul
Additional Information: Director of studies: Dr. Paul Wyton
Identification Number:
Depositing User: Colin Knott
Date Deposited: 22 Jul 2022 12:09
Last Modified: 11 Oct 2023 12:32

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