This project, an empirical and qualitative study of the campus of Oslo University College, was conducted to assess the friendliness and accessibility of localities and information services in terms of social and cultural diversity. The main research questions were as follows:
- Does the use of public spaces at the campus of Oslo University College by students and employees produce and reproduce differences between people or create forms of fellowship?
- What is the relationship between the accessibility of information technology (IT) and the quality of study, work, and social relations?
While conducting this study, we kept the concept of diversity open and focused our attention on empirically founded diversities. We studied the challenges that students and employees encounter during their everyday activities and let them identify the sources of their problems. Our study mainly focused on experienced diversity and experienced exclusion and inclusion. Our findings showed, among other things, that there is no straightforward relationship between students’ experience of inclusion and exclusion and the way in which these phenomena are defined by researchers, politicians, college administration or society in general.
Our empirical points of departure were space accessibility and information accessibility. However, we discovered other interesting phenomena and important problems that have to do with diversity and the inclusion and exclusion processes, such as differences in language, clothing, and eating habits. Because the goals of this project were to improve services and document relationships between the accessibility of technology services and the multicultural and international environment, we also include some of those findings in this presentation.
Mapping the Space and Information Technology
Oslo University College is committed to developing a diverse, multicultural, and international study and work environment. One of the strategies to achieve this goal involves offering public rooms for prayer, quiet zones, handicap facilities, and technology facilities for students and employees. Another strategy is to make information services accessible for all students and employees. Oslo University College’s approach to improving the quality and efficiency of education and research activities is the development of teaching, working, and information services through IT solutions. In White Paper no. 19 (2008–2009), titled Ei forvaltning for demokrati og fellesskap [Administration for democracy and fellowship], we are presented with some principles to guide us in our efforts to establish efficient, user-friendly, and fair IT services (Direktoratet for forvaltning og IKT [Difi], 2009). These principles work as a framework for the public IT architecture and are obligatory to state functions when developing new IT solutions or during essential changes of current solutions. Some of these architecture principles for IT are as follows: accessibility, security, flexibility, and scalability. Even if these principles are designed for IT, information services are not limited to the IT solutions. Based on our research, we believe that some of these principles may be useful in evaluating information services in general.
We understand that IT forms part of a cultural and social context, which is differentiated in terms of demographic variables, such as gender, age, income, and ethnicity. An important aim of this project was to examine this wider social space (i.e., on the campus of Oslo University College) that surrounds IT.
Because of its complicated and vague status in the social sciences, the term space in our study must first be explained. The space/place dualism transforms every discussion that touches this subject into an almost endless philosophical debate (Casey, 1996; Relph, 1976; Tilley, 1994). For the purpose of this study, we focused on space as it is understood by our informants—as a physically limited area. Although the college campus is a physically limited space, it is never a neutral one. Physical space always becomes a social space and is invested with conceptual and symbolic notions that are themselves tied to social structures and processes. In their summary of the works of Pierre Bourdieu, Low and Lawrence-Zúñiga (2003) stated the following: “Because social practice activates spatial meanings, they are not fixed in space, but are invoked by actors, men and women, who bring their own discursive knowledge and strategic intentions to the interpretation of spatial meanings” (p. 10). By exploring the various conceptions of (usage of) space, which are created by different human activities and practices, we are able to understand and describe society.
The campus is loaded with meanings, feelings, symbols, and social interactions. Through their everyday experiences and practices, the students and employees make the campus what it is (Bourdieu, 1996; Ingold, 2000). Not only do we create spaces but spaces also create us (Low, Taplin, & Scheld, 2005). This mutual process is an important part of our identity, especially in places of work and study where our activities are formally designated to real rooms. These spaces influence our professional and emotional lives and strengthen or weaken our motivation, self-esteem, willingness to cooperate, and so on. They comprise those places we choose to be, whereas some of them are not accessible to us. Therefore, instead of seeing only rooms, classes, corridors, and canteens, we invite you, through this comic book, to see and interpret the existing network of meanings and social processes that surround us.
Aleksandra Bartoszko, Anne Birgitte Leseth & Marcin Ponomarew
Printed comic book and contact: anthrocomics (at) gmail.com
Bourdieu, P. (1996). Physical space, social space and habitus (Rapport 10: 1996). Oslo: Universitetet i Oslo, Institutt for sosiologi og samfunnsgeografi.
Casey, E. S. (1996). How to get from space to place in a fairly short stretch of time: Phenomenological prolegomena. In S. Feld, & K. H. Basso (Eds.), Senses of place (pp. 13–52). Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press.
Direktoratet for forvaltning og IKT (Difi) [Agency for Public Management and eGovernment]. (2009). Overordnede IKT-arkitekturprinsipper for offentlig sektor, versjon 2.0. Retrieved from http://www.difi.no/filearchive/2009-10-08_arkitekturprinsipper_sjyod.pdf
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Low, S., Taplin, D., & Scheld, S. (2005). Rethinking urban parks: Public space and cultural diversity. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
Low, S. M., & Lawrence-Zúñiga, D. (2003) Locating culture. In S. M. Law & D. Lawrence-Zúñiga (Eds.), The anthropology of space and place: Locating culture (pp. 1–47). Oxford, England: Blackwell Publishing.
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Tilley, C. (1994). A phenomenology of landscape: Places, paths and monuments (Explorations in anthropology). Oxford, England: Berg Publishers.