A Space of One’s Own

Like Prahelika and Daniell, I was thinking a lot about our discussion last week regarding the differences between Goffman’s civil inattention, Kim’s non-social transient behavior and Wirth’s urbanism concept, and which one seems most applicable to our subway system. I stand by my thoughts that subway riders dominantly practice civil inattention.

A perspective that I didn’t think about until later is the concept of perceived space ownership. When one boards a Greyhound bus, as Kim did, you pay a fare to occupy a specific seat (not necessarily reserved, but one ticket equals one space within the bus). I wonder if the figurative seat “assignment” encourages more territorial, and sometimes hostile, interactions among bus riders. You have afforded yourself the ability to not be bothered by others and also not engage with them. Kim writes, “The nonsocial transient space is a symbolic boundary privatized by virtue of the disengagement of the occupant from others who share the space” (p. 5), but what if the personal bubble exists as a result of the way people perceive their entitlement as a bus rider, as well?

Now thinking about the subway, you pay for a ride in the system, not a seat. You do not enter a train car expecting to get a seat (although, you hope you will!). The subway benches themselves are not individual seats, as the way they are on Greyhound buses, trains or planes. Even the ones on the B and D trains that have seat boundaries marked on the benches are easy to ignore. Maybe we all politely disengage from each other because we don’t really have the entitlement to do otherwise, nor does the setup really encourage any hierarchy or distinction. Public transit as a great equalizer. I don’t know, just a different, perhaps more structural, way of looking at it.




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