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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Karen Messer, Individualized Program

Relational Space: An Entangled Exploration of Office Space Research

Date & time
Thursday, February 25, 2021 (all day)

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Daniela Ferrer



When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


Drawing on interdisciplinary concepts of physical space as a way of understanding and framing organizational experience, this study explores the aesthetic, sensory, and embodied relationships between the staff of a not-for-profit, youth health organization (Head & Hands) and the day-to-day office encounters of its staff members during a significant relocation. This period of change, which increased the staff’s interaction and awareness of the office environment, offered a unique glimpse into the transformative impact of physical space on the organization. By highlighting everyday moments between the staff and the space, a rich picture of their experience emerged through nuanced emotions, tacit knowledge, and aesthetic understanding. Despite consistent interest in the affective qualities of physical space, the entwined nature of the social and the material is noticeably lacking in organizational studies, where research on space is often presented in objective or quantitative terms. This paper examines possible reasons for that absence and explores some potential ways forward. Key to future research is the ontological positioning of space as an inseparable and active participant in the organization. Framing space as something central and entangled frees it from objective, external binaries by positioning it alongside, and possibly within, the social, subjective sphere. This ontological shift creates an emplaced, relational, and more-than-human understanding within which to frame the emotional, sensory, and atmospheric experiences that happen within the office.

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