“Third Places Aesthetics: The Experience of Bars, Cafes, Coffeeshops and Pubs”
Aaron Meskin (University of Georgia)

part of: Toward a Third Place Aesthetics: An Afternoon Symposium on the Aesthetics of Communal Life
April 22, 2022, 2:00pm - 3:00pm
Department of Philosophy, New School for Social Research

Theresa Lang Community and Student Center (Rm. I202)
55 W 13th St
New York
United States

This will be an accessible event, including organized related activities

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The paper is an introduction to, and defense of, the significance of third place aesthetics. I shall argue that the aesthetics of third places have been unjustifiable neglected, that there are rich aesthetic topics to explore here, and that the contribution of third places to human flourishing is dependent, at least in part, on their aesthetic character.

The first section of the paper briefly introduces third places and the existing discourse about their value. I focus on Oldenburg’s account of the third place and discuss the individual and social values that he locates there.  

It might seem that the aesthetic dimension of third places would be a natural topic of interest for those working in the domain of everyday aesthetics. Nevertheless, philosophers working in the everyday aesthetics tradition have not, as a matter of fact, attended seriously to the aesthetic dimension of third places. In the second section of the paper, I offer a diagnosis of this neglect. Among the contributing factors, are narrow conceptions of the everyday which associate it with “daily routines or patterns” (Melchionne), the commercial nature of most third spaces, and the fact that, as Oldenburg points out, "As a physical structure, the third place is typically plain.” None of these, I shall argue, justify the neglect of third space aesthetics.

But what does justify philosophical attention to the aesthetic dimension of third places? In the third section of the paper I start to make the case for that attention by outlining the many aesthetic dimensions of third places. Putting aside the architectural and interior design features of third places, as well as the aesthetic aspects of what may be consumed there (about which much has already been written in other contexts), I turn to some aesthetic aspects of third places that are not much discussed in contemporary Anglo-American aesthetics: the atmosphere or ambiance of third places, the style (both individual and general) of these places, the creativity manifested by third places, and – perhaps most significantly—the aesthetic features that are associated with the activities of visitors to those third places. In a third place, Oldenburg suggests, "the playful spirit is of utmost importance.” I suggest that there is something right about this, at least in many cases. Third places, when they work, often lead to something like “aesthetic striving” gameplay as described by Nguyen—a temporary focus on various ends (drinking a beer or two, having a cortado) for the sake, at least in part, of the aesthetically valuable activities that lead to, or are associated broadly with, those ends.  

In the final section of the essay I argue that attending to the aesthetic richness of third place experiences provides insights into the way in which they contribute to well-being. Third places enrich our lives by providing rich contexts for aesthetic experience and, especially, aesthetic activities. This fills in a gap in the growing literature on aesthetics and well-being. 

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