The magic of the marketplace: Sociality in a neglected public space

Watson, S.

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Watson, S. (2009). The magic of the marketplace: Sociality in a neglected public space. Urban Studies, 46(8), 1577–1591.

This study explores the potentiality of markets as public space where multiple forms of sociality are enacted. Research was conducted in eight UK markets. The research revealed that markets represented a significant public and social space for different groups in the locality as a site for vibrant social encounters, for social inclusion and the care of others, for 'rubbing along' and for mediating differences. The article concludes by arguing that the social encounters and connections found in markets contradict pessimistic accounts of the decline of social association, offering a contrast to the shopping mall and providing the possibility for the inclusion of marginalised groups and for the co-mingling of differences where these are increasingly relegated to more private spheres.

Main finding
The studied UK markets were found to provide easy opportunities for social interaction, vibrant social atmosphere, playful and personable interactions between traders and customers, and interactions and relationships across demographics. Additionally, markets provided a place for people-watching, particularly for the elderly, as well as an open space less encumbered by permanent design features. Places that offered food and drinks, and spaces to sit and gather, were more likely to attract people and foster interaction. Through co-presence and mingling, the author argues that these markets serve as valuable social spaces for co-existence and care of others.

Description of method used in the article
The author made detailed observations, took photographs, and conducted short interviews with traders (n = 10–20), shoppers (n = 20–40), and managers (n = 5–10) at each site, including in-depth interviews with managers of seven large market associations.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Field Observations Interviews Photo / Video / Sensor
Physical types
Geographic locations