Dr. Andrew Wood
Office: HGH 210; phone: (408) 924-5378
Email: wooda@email.sjsu.edu
Web: http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/wooda

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Reading: Reading: Murphy, A.G. (2002). Organizational politics of place and space: The perpetual liminoid performance of commercial flight. Text and Performance Quarterly, 22:4, pp. 297-316.

Study Guide: Focus on (1) definitions of place and space, (2) airplanes as a certain kind of cultural performance, (3) name for early-year flight attendants, (4) airline responses to skyjacking prior to 9/11, (5) Murphy's example of flight attendants and passengers creating a sense of community

In her essay, "Organizational Politics of Place and Space," Alexandra Murphy explores the construction of community within places that apparently restrict such a phenomenon: airplanes. Doing so, she offers a distinction between place and space. Citing Michel de Certeau, she defines place as a reflection of bureaucratic rules and authorized practices, while space refers to the momentary responses and choices one may bring to such a place. Thus, "a place is stable and univocal, while a space is transitory and polyphonic" (p. 299). From this theoretical perspective, Murphy explores airplanes as places that limit the construction of community space.

So, what kind of place is an airplane? Murphy notes that, architecturally, the airplane appears as a minor extension of the airport: "As passengers board an aircraft, it is never entirely clear that they have left the airport" (p. 301). Moreover, both airports and airplanes organize their spaces in a manner that discourages conversation or other forms of socialization among their inhabitants. She argues that these practices reinforce a hierarchical segregation marked by class. Intriguingly, Murphy describes airplanes as perpetual liminoids - places between places that reflect the rules and practices of more "authentic" places while, themselves, remaining apparently devoid of meaning. To create this sense of authenticity, airlines work to convince their consumers that airplane travel is no more a strange practice than visiting a restaurant or catching a movie at a shopping mall: "As people catapult through time and space, they are literally removed from the realities of everyday life, yet their space is filled with the simulated distractions of these very realities" (p. 307). Of course, within these perpetual liminoids, one may find both strategies of power and tactics of resistance - a blurring of place and space.

As space for movement continues to shrink on most airplanes, some passengers employ various tactics to claim places of their own - but, generally, passengers play relatively passive roles. Partially, the passivity of consumers may be explained by flight attendants' success at emphasizing their roles as keeper of airplane safety. Following the 9/11 hijackings, though, passengers find that they must sometimes form communities to confront the threat of terrorism, to create "their own communal space through tactics that [resist] the dominant strategies working to keep them apart" (p. 312). Murphy concludes her essay by noting that this phenomenon of blurred place and space has become increasingly mirrored beyond the unique environments of airplanes and airports. Indeed, as "real life" becomes more like "airport life," as employees become more like corporate tourists, we do well to explore the ways in which we attempt to create authentic places -- little islands of order -- within increasingly fluid spaces.


Select a brief scene from a film that depicts an airport or airplane. For your Show and Tell activity, provide three specific aspects of this scene to illustrate one or more concepts explored in the Murphy piece.