Work, Rest and Play

P. Atkinson, 'Work, Rest and Play: The Pesonalisation of the Workspace'
Design Cultures, Proceedings of the 3rd EAD Conference, Vol. 1 , 1999, pp 26-56.


Many aspects of status in the environment of the office are objects which are supplied by a company for its staff - the type and size of office furniture or company car; and it could be argued that the choices made around those objects could, to some extent, reveal something about those people's self-perception and how they are perceived by others, However, the objects which are not part of this attempt to maintain the status quo of corporate hierarchy are a different matter.

Much has been written about the choice of objects and their display in the home environment (Bourdieu, 1984; Putnam and Newton, 1990; Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton et al, 1981), but these objects are to a large extent private - seen only by a select, controlled few; and even though they may speak volumes, they speak quietly, When, on the other hand, people choose objects to personalise their workspace, under the pretence of personal meaning, a blatant expression of self, open to public gaze, is made.

This paper examines the results of a study into this arena of display. An analysis of semi-structured, in-depth ethnographic interviews points to how these objects may act variously as status symbols, role setting objects, markers of exclusion or subversion, denoters of life stages and cultural difference, or merely providers of comfort.

If Marx was right in saying we define ourselves largely through our work, then the personalisation of the workspace may hold an even more important role in self-definition than the personalisation of domestic space.

A pdf of this paper can be downloaded here.