The Death and Life of “Social Factors” (Apr 2011, California)

The Death and Life of “Social Factors”
Reexamining Behavioral and Cultural Research in Environmental Design
College of Environmental Design, University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, CA, USA
April 29 – May 1, 2011
Deadline for abstract submission: 15 November 2010

Ever since William Whyte observed New Yorkers taking lunch breaks in urban plazas and Amos Rapoport demonstrated the role of social and cultural factors in shaping traditional houses, research on the two-way relationship between people and the environment has been part of the field of environmental design, including architecture, landscape architecture, and planning. This interest in the social quality of space has been taken up by many different researchers, from New Urbanists to sociologists such as Elizabeth Shove and Simon Guy. Meanwhile, theoretical and methodological developments in our field, such as Clare Cooper Marcus’s study on Easter Hill Village or Christopher Alexander’s pattern language, set grounds for our own and other disciplines, respectively. Throughout the last 40 years, psychologists, behaviorists, sociologists, anthropologists, and historians, among others, have contributed to a body of knowledge applicable to design at many scales through a broad spectrum of methodological and theoretical orientations.

Given the variety and the dynamism within this field, this conference aims to start a dialogue about the present and future of social research in environmental design. From its early days, where there was an alignment with behavioral determinism, to more recent approaches such as anthropological studies of space, social factors has been a diverse — and divisive — topic. Even though “the social” is still a major concern in environmental design research today, methods have shifted in response to the adoption of participatory design and the influence of post-modern and post-structuralist modes of inquiry. Moreover, other fields also have staked a claim to the analysis of social issues related to space. In this conference, we ask how contemporary research addresses the idea of “the social” in space, not only from those in our field, but also from those in emerging fields of research, to understand how we might address critiques such as the disconnect with design practice and our use of social science methods. Thus, we aim to connect researchers across dispersed fields, and to provide a platform for working together to define a common set of interests, research questions, and set a new direction for our field.  In short, we seek the rebirth and redefinition of social factors.

We encourage papers, workshops, and intensives that are concerned broadly with aspects of the relationship between built and natural environments and human experience. Possible themes include, but are not limited to, attitude and behavior, cognition and perception, territoriality, culturally specific spatial practices, cross-cultural comparisons, anthropological approaches, the role of ethnography, place-making, vulnerable populations, distributed participatory design, crowdsourcing, retail servicescapes, body-mind-space, the implications of theories such as actor-network theory or practice theory, design to increase quality of life and health, the impact of social research on policy and design, public space and the public realm, histories of building types, post-occupancy evaluation or evidence-based design, social aspects of green design and sustainability, design that addresses the social, spaces produced by non-architects, and the consequences of everyday practice.

The committee also welcomes other ideas, such as integrative work, innovative research methods, histories of the field, visions and provocations for possible futures.

Conference Call:
The conference co-chairs and committee seek submissions in the following tracks:

  • Papers
  • Panels (moderated three paper presentations organized around a specific theme)
  • Posters (presenting research or research design in progress)
  • Workshops
  • Field trips
  • Alternative representations: works of video, poetry, installations, or other modes of communication not included in the above categories.

Contributors are strongly encouraged to assemble a panel of related research. Preference will be given to papers submitted as part of a coherent, focused panel.

Please submit a 500-word abstract and 5 keywords by November 15, 2010, at  Panel proposals should provide a 250-word introduction to the panel and upload individual abstracts as a paper.

Updates about the conference and submission details, including information on alternative media, can be found at
Please email with questions.

About Fil Salustri
I'm a design methodologist and Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada. Adjectives that describe me include: secular humanist, meritocrat, and long-winded. Some people call me a positivist too, as if that were a bad thing. Go figure. My real home page is

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