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Abstract

Within the social sciences, literature on third places attempts to assist in the construction of a social concept of “place”. This notion of a place is an idealization of the bridging space with home and family on one side, and work with the rule-based impersonality of life in mass society, on the other. Like the idea of work-life balance—as seen through the vocabulary of placemaking—third places provide people with a place in which there is a balance between the emotive attachments of home and family and the challenge striving for merit and reward in the marketplace. To date, third places have been treated as a unified construct. This paper makes the case that both the discourse and design models used to make sense of third places are significantly different. After reviewing and placing third-place literature in its historical context, we distinguish communitarian, commercial and digital third places. These three types of places—in both their physical and virtual forms—are important parts of the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. Subsequently employing a cui bono approach or who benefits framework, we highlight the ways in which ideological points of view imbedded in the varying versions of third places have implications for practice and theory.