Magazine for Sexuality and Politics

More quality of life through "third places"!

Arne Germann


On 6 and 7 May 2022, the latest meeting of the German-French Working Group (DFAK) of Business Psychologists (for more information on the DFAK, please see below) took place in Strasbourg focusing on the topic of "third places".

In addition to getting to know the concept and discussing it, the programme also included a visit of the "KaleidosCOOP" (1), a cross-border third place currently being founded in the old harbour district of Strasbourg. .

While in France the concept of "third places" was in the pre-Corona era already politically defined and promoted as being worthy of nationwide support, in Germany presumably few people have become acquainted with this concept, not to mention the term itself.

So what then is a "third place"? What exactly is the concept all about? And what kind of potential does it have to offer?

"Third Places": Definition & purposes

In the field of Sociology, the term "third place", or the less frequently used term "great good place", describes places of community that are intended to offer a balance between family life and work (2).

The model can be traced back to the American sociologist Ray Oldenburg, who presented his concept of the "third place" as early as 1989 in his work "The Great Good Place". In his view, the "first place" serves family life and the "second place" serves working life. The "third place" offers a balance to both and serves as a meeting place for the neighbourhood community.

An essential basic idea of the concept is, therefore, that there should be "third places" for people in addition to a personal, private, protected and intimate space for themselves and people of all kinds who are close to them (= "First Place") and the classic workplace (= "Second Place").

According to Oldenburg, a "third place" should have eight characteristics (2):

1. it is located on neutral ground, i.e. everyone, except the people working there, can come and go as they like.

2. it is basically open to all classes of people and social differences are mitigated.

3. conversation is encouraged.

4. "Third places" are easy to get to.

5. they have regulars.

6. the physical appearance of the “third place” does not override its function.

7. the atmosphere is playful, leaving overly serious topics at the door.

8. the "third place" serves as a second home or second family.

Ideally, "third places" thus serve as a balance to private and working life as well as creative, social and cultural encounters by and for everyone. This means that they are accessible without any forms of discrimination and are thus inviting to everyone. In this way, they should enable participation, integration and innovation and counteract disintegration, loneliness and isolation in the local community.

Examples of Implementation and best practices for "third places" in France and elsewhere

Traditional examples of typical "third places" include coffee houses in Vienna, English pubs, beer gardens and libraries (2). However, the compulsion to consume in a gastronomic establishment can have socially exclusionary effects, which contradicts the basic idea of "third places". Moreover, a very broad definition does not exclude all kinds of public living spaces such as parks and walking paths (3).

In France today, "third places" tend to take on the form of civic centres, community centres and district centres. They often integrate work opportunities as shared workspaces, cultural and event spaces that can be booked by everyone, educational opportunities and exhibition spaces for local and regional initiatives as well as generally spacious, inviting and freely accessible public areas for exchange and encounters (4).

In the implementation in France as well as in the growing discourse in Germany, special consideration has also been given to the promotion and development of rural regions which, due to spatial and functional fragmentation, often lack community structures beyond private rooms and work spaces or, as the case may be, have lost them over the course of time due to social developments depending on the individual case. Equally, however, "third places" can, of course, also be missing in more urban areas and could prove to be helpful there. (3)

From "Work-Life Balance" to "Private-Social-Professional Balance" through "Third Places”

Since, according to Oldenburg, the concept of "third places" is essentially about creating and maintaining a balance between central human needs that are each lived out in different places, it can be helpful as a starting point to tie them in with the widespread concept of "work-life balance".

However, while "work-life balance" as a two-dimensional conception contrasts "(gainful) work" and "life" as poles, as if "work" and "life" were "opposites", the concept of "third places" adds a social and cultural component as a third dimension and, at the same time, dissolves or, as the case may be, loosens the questionable polarity of the concept of "work-life balance".

For these social needs to be able to unfold their positive and creative potential, binding and fixed places are needed, for private life the "first place" and for working life the "second place" – the "third places".

Social and cultural needs are by no means only a means to the end of promoting needs in the two other areas of life. And they need their own "third places" where people can experience themselves as social beings as part of a larger community, where community is creatively shaped and developed in an integrative manner and community always constitutes, of course, a fundamental part of being and experiencing.

Nevertheless, "third places" can very well exert a positive effect on the two other areas of life, "private life" and "working life":

- Concerning working life, creative, innovative impulses can be exchanged, absorbed and further developed in an informal, open, playful environment in the "third place", which can also give rise to new start-ups and joint projects.

- With regard to private life, lively forms of inspiration and encounters in the "third place" can enrich the predominantly private relationships and love life in the "first place", which can be very strained, especially in today's widespread models of life in the nuclear family or if one happens to be living alone.

Last but not least, the Corona period has made clear to many not only the possibilities but often also the limitations of the "first place", since on the one hand exchange activities in non-virtual space were largely prevented and, on the other hand, the activities in the classic "second place" have also migrated to the "first place". However, anyone who has ever had to "satisfy" professional needs in their private spaces in addition to intimate privacy needs over a longer period of time knows that this can mean special demands, burdens and stress.

After all, the complete functionalisation of the "first room", which, thanks to the internet, delivery services and friendly visitors, one preferably no longer has to leave, seems more like a dystopia than a desirable end state. The concept of "third places" thus counters the trend towards "cocooning" with a concrete and potentially enriching alternative.


The basic idea of the concept of "third places", which is that people are social beings who need a balance between their private and working lives, social interactions and suitable places for this, is certainly not revolutionary in any novel way and can also be discussed critically with regard to certain aspects. However I do think that the concept deserves appreciation and promotion especially in today's times. A progressive commercialisation of public spaces, a tendency to retreat into the private sphere or into certain homogeneous "bubbles" as well as an erosion of integrating community structures have led over the years to an increasing disintegration of parts of society, loneliness and the loss of participation and sense of belonging. This can be a threat to the individual quality of life not to mention to the democratic basis of societies and also to the innovativeness and capacity for renewal of communities.

"Third places" can make an important contribution to overcoming such negative effects. At the same time, the topic is dynamic because, unlike "first places" and "second places", "third places" often have to be (re)created locally and filled with life. This requires initiative, trust and also public financial resources if commercial purposes are not to be the sole focus.

Finally, one suggestion worth seriously considering could be to speak of a "private-social-professional balance" instead of the worn-out formulation of "work-life balance" in the future. Especially for the (re-)revival of social life in the post-Corona era, helpful impulses can possibly be introduced into corresponding debates and discourses in this sense and understanding that I have outlined and discussed here.


accessed 27.06.2022

Information about the German-French Working Group (DFAK)

The German-French Working Group (DFAK) is dedicated to intercultural exchange on a wide range of topics in business psychology. To this end, topic-related meetings are held at least twice a year in France and Germany. You can find more information about the DFAK on our website.

We also invite you to network with other members and interested parties in our LinkedIn group and to keep up to date with our activities.

Photos: front page: unsplash_Ajmal MK / header: unsplash_Robert Bye

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