Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


Sociology and Anthropology

Committee Chair

Rachael A. Woldoff.

Committee Co-Chair

Daniel Renfrew

Committee Member

Joshua Woods


Much attention is given to Ray Oldenburg's (1989) concept of third places as environments that offer visitors friendship and a sense of community. However, given that coffee houses have moved from small-scale businesses to chain-owned and many people now use them to work on laptops, this idealized image of the coffee house also may be changing. Few empirical studies have addressed such possibilities. Using unobtrusive observation data on three independently-owned coffee houses and three chain-based coffee houses, this research examines the concept of third places to better understand the ways in which modern coffee houses live up to Oldenburg's social expectations of this often romanticize setting. The two key findings reveal that: 1) people increasingly use coffee houses less as a social sphere and more as a private zone to work, read, use electronic devices, and listen to music on headphones; and 2) chain coffee houses, though often criticized for their sanitized lack of character, may better meet the new third place needs of customers because of the greater variety of amenities (e.g., types of seating, food, and media), free services (e.g., Wi-Fi), and fewer time restrictions.