Phenomenology can be understood in two ways: as a disciplinary field, or as a historical movement in philosophy. This post will focus on the disciplinary side of this philosophy. The subject of phenomenology can be defined as an ideology that seeks to understand things as they appear to us, or as we experience them. This philosophy has been applied to many fields, to include geography. A phenomenological approach in geography focuses on experience and place. As stated in Pauline Couper’s book A Student’s Introduction to Geographical Thought, phenomenology in geography seeks, “to examine the ways in which humans-as a species, in groups, and individually-relate to their surroundings” (Couper 92). Furthermore, phenomenology in geography looks at, “the ways in which people produce and experience places and environments in their everyday lives” (Couper 93). One of the ways in which to see how people interact with their environment is to look for changes in behavior when they enter a certain place. For this project, the idea of phenomenology was applied to understand how a change in place influences an employees performance. In this case, it looks at how a change in place influences or brings upon different aspects of a person’s identity. This study was performed at a clothing store in a mall, which targets young teens who have a decent amount of money. In this study, the behavior of two employees were analyzed based on how they acted on the floor of the store. The results to this were than compared to how they acted in the stockroom. Along with this, the 2 employees, Hanna and Grace, were also asked “how are you?” once in both the store and in the stockroom. For the purposes of privacy, the employees were given fake names to hide their identities.
A change in place can often elicit a certain reaction or changes in behavior. This change in behavior is apparent when the two employees first walk onto the sales floor and when they walk back into the stock room. The store is where customers shop for clothes and employees sell and assist customers. The store consist of 5 sections: the front, the middle, the back, fitting rooms, and the Aerie store. The front of the store is where customers first enter when they come in through the doors. The overall store is set up with men’s clothing to the right when you enter and women’s clothing to the left. To the left as you walk in is the Aerie store where they sell underwear and intimates for women. As you continue through to the middle of the store, there is a set of 4 cash registers in the center. Towards the back of the store there is clearance clothing and an opening to fitting rooms to the left as you enter. Towards the back of the store is a door to the right as you enter. This is the door to the stockroom. The stock room is filled with moving shelves of clothing and accessories. There is also a table with chairs once you enter the stock room, where employees sit on their breaks. Towards the very back of the stock room is the office where managers work and hang out.
In terms of behavior in the front of the store, both were very similar in the way they acted. In terms of Hanna, when asked “How are you?” she responded with, “I’m doing good.” Hanna spent most of her shift towards the front of the store and was very happy and “bubbly” towards customers when she greeted and assisted them. Hanna asked customers questions such as “How are you?”, “Welcome in?”, and, “Can I help you?” Hanna also had a smile on her face when talking with customers and had an open posture with her arms by her side and was also very engaged with the customers and her work. Like Hanna, Grace also had a very similar behavior. When asked “How are you?”, Grace responded with, “I’m doing well, thank you.” Grace spent most of her shift in the second room by the cash registers. Grace was also very welcoming but not as bubbly as Hanna. Grace also greeted customers with “How are you?”, and, “Did you find everything okay?” Like Hanna, Grace had a smile on her face when talking and greeting customers and also had an open posture with her arms by her sides. Grace was also very engaged with the customers.
In terms of behavior in the stock, both employees were much more at ease and felt free to act less constricted to the standards in the work place. For Hanna, when asked “How are you?” again, Hanna responded with, “I’ve been better.” Hanna then continued to talk about how she was struggling to make rent and wants a raise. Hanna also sat in a chair with her arms crossed and had a neutral face and seemed more relaxed. Furthermore, when continuing on with casual conversion, Hanna used more informal language and tended to cuss more. Like Hanna, Grace had very similar behavior. When asked ,”How are you?” again, Grace responded with, “I’m okay.” Grace then continued on about how her boyfriend wanted to join the marines and was worried about it. Like Hanna, Grace sat slumped in the chair with a relaxed posture and used informal language such as cursing.
Identity is the distinguishing character or personality of an individual. There are multiple aspects to a person’s identity that can be expressed in many ways. In this case, the employees demonstrated 2 parts that make up their identity. These parts included their relaxed identity and their work identity. Based on the results, both employees tended to show the more relaxed side of their identity when entering and staying in the the stock room than out on the selling floor. Along with this, based on the consistency of their behavior out on the sales floor, it also shows how working as an employee requires taking on a certain side of one’s identity. In this case, employees out on the floor must act in a positive and engaging way, while sitting in the stock room on a break does not require taking on that side. Furthermore, the change in place also indicates a direct correlation with changes in behavior as employees tended to take on their work identity out on the sales floor and their relaxed identity once they entered the stock room.
Couper, Pauline. A Students Introduction to Geographical Thought: Theories, Philosophies, Methodologies. Sage Publications Ltd, 2015.