Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Assignment 4: Reading and Reviewing

Taylor purposely sets out to highlight the differences between neighbourhoods and investigates the level of responses to disorder. He clearly delivers his ideas, educating us with the key facts needed to understand his arguments. Very quickly Taylor begins to talk about the sources he used to gather his information to write the journal. This evidence-based report relies strongly on the data gathered in research such as resident surveys, census information, on - site assessments and crime rates from 66 randomly selected neighbourhoods. From this research he is able to use the facts gathered to conduct other tests but also to make conclusions about the information gathered – context does affect how responsive we are.

Expansive research provides us with a great understanding of the underlying theme of the journal; context affects response. Taylor talks about how neighbourhoods help shape a community and also an individual. Although this point is discussed, further reading that helps reinforce this idea by looking into specific areas is “Stencil Graffiti”. Different neighbourhoods have different types of graffiti – each provoking a different level of response depending on the context in which they are placed. The environment in which individuals are placed serve as a backdrop where changes in it act as stimuli to individuals. (Manco 2002:5)

So why does context affect our responses to certain things? Taylor answers this successfully by highlighting a large amount of sources and manages to keep his personal opinions out of his writing, creating an unbiased report. Making a neutral point and then backing it up with a source meant that on reading, his report appeared creditable. Talking about local communities, Taylor presents ideas about the sense of community and value of community and refers to some local communities as “a complex system of friendship and kinship networks and formal and informal associational ties” (Kasarda and Janowitz, 1974:329; see also Hunter, 1974). Sometimes results from Taylor’s experiments placed a negative spin, for example on African – American neighbourhoods. He appeals directly to the reader that although there is significant evidence that renders this true, he also asks us to take into consideration that not every neighbourhood has been studied and so results are entirely random. By presenting us with this additional information, we are aware that he is sensitive to the fact that not every neighbourhood was part of the study.

Another method used to present sources was including test results in which Taylor asks people a number of questions about their neighbourhood (how attached they are to their neighbourhood? would a neighbour stop graffiti?, are there dangerous places to avoid?, etc), providing an honest response from local people. The results of this test reinforced the idea that different neighbourhoods work differently and that people in different neighbourhoods have different response levels to those in other neighbourhoods. Different neighbourhoods pose different threats so by creating interviews with a large variation in questions a deeper understanding can be gained when researching different opinions on a context.

One factor of a neighbourhood that acts as a threat is graffiti. Graffiti is associated with crime; place this in a neighbourhood context and the mood changes almost immediately for people. Graffiti is not the only catalyst of the change of behaviour from an individual but placed with the right conditions people become nervous and feel vulnerable – maybe because they are not exposed to graffiti on a regular basis. Taylor explains that in ‘high class’ neighbourhoods there is an uproar about graffiti because residents are not subjected to this everyday. Some residents view their neighbourhood simply as a place to live, nothing more. In contrast, other residents in neighbourhoods feel a strong sense of social attachment and are familiar with everyone in their street (Taylor 1996:42). Associations that aim to maintain high standards are now introducing schemes to help promote a better standard of living. ( (21 November 2009))

With the aim to educate people in ‘Environmental Psychology’, Tony Cassidy expresses his idea that personality doesn’t control behaviour but that setting is the reason behind our reactions. With so many questions surrounding the area of context and behaviour, the author tries to answer as many of these questions as he can using a number of sources and experiments.

One of these includes an experiment conducted by Roger Barker and Herbert Wright in 1947. Although this source is slightly dated, the information gathered is still relevant in portraying the idea that environmental factors are more important than personality. This meticulous 25 year long study by Barker monitored the effect of context on behaviour of 100 children, studying them until adulthood. At a time when video equipment was not available, the results were extremely detailed allowing reliable conclusions to be drawn from these.
“…the behaviour setting provided information in which allowed explanations for the behaviour observed. Individuals move through a wide range of behaviour settings each day, and it is not personality traits which control behaviour.” (Cassidy 2003:47)
The conclusions drawn from Barker’s experiment are very accurate due to the fact that there was so much information gathered. Comparisons could be made due to the vast amount of research collated and the number of participants that took part in the experiment and it could be concluded that there cannot be a separation of behaviour from its setting. Context can influence our experience so by watching lots of different individuals, results could be compared on their placement. By repeating similar aspects of this experiment making use of video equipment, recordings could be watched repeatedly to gain a greater understanding.

Another source, Bronfenbrenner, argues that behaviour settings offer inadequate reasons as an individual’s experience of context is not included. He argues that “behaviour settings provide incomplete explanations because they do not include the person’s experience and appraisals of the context” (Cassidy 2003:51). Bronfenbrenner disputes that response to a place is specific to an individual and personality does in fact come into it. Individuals are all brought up differently and are taught to behave differently so by placing a number of people in certain contexts they are likely to behave slightly differently - this is not due to the context but to their own individual personalities. Memories also play an important part in explaining Bronfenbrenner’s theory because an individual will remember how they behaved in an environment previously or how someone else behaved, thus influencing how they respond.

From presenting these conflicting sources, Cassidy feels strongly enough to present his own ideas about how small changes in context can have a massive impact on behaviour. These might take the form of either physical or social aspects provoking a positive or negative response from an individual. When people are presented with things that they are unfamiliar with, their behaviour changes. For example, if a person from a high class neighbourhood was presented with graffiti they may feel uneasy and threatened whereas a person from a rough neighbourhood may not respond in a negative way. Something that we are subjected to often will in time have little effect on us - presented with something new and we are more likely to respond.

Although both sources have similar underlying themes, there is a slightly different content in each source. Taylor specifically talks about behaviour in neighbourhoods and how individuals within a community can have a positive or negative response to their surroundings. Raising the issue that these small changes within context can have a massive impact, designers are now trying to accommodate these problems and are trying to come up with solutions. Designing Safer Environments echoes what is said by Taylor but shows specific examples of how each context has different problems that have been understood to enable better design solutions. For example by changing the orientation of buildings so that they overlook public spaces, we are more conscious as individuals of what is going on around us (Stephen 2006:7). By studying contrasting neighbourhoods using crime rates and photographs, one could conduct a mini experiment in which observations could be made about the design of a neighbourhood.

Instead of highlighting the small changes in contexts that can affect our behaviour, Cassidy presents us with different environments that are the most influential in imposing change to our normal behaviour, e.g. school, home, neighbourhoods. Experiments in each of these areas are presented in extensive detail creating a greater understanding of the objective, the advantage of this being that a large number of experiments have been conducted so that stronger conclusions can be made. The sources offered to us from Cassidy are all very reliable but compared to Taylor’s they are a little outdated, with one of experiments commencing in 1947. Lasting 25 years there is no denying that this experiment is extensive but conditions in these times were very different to what they are like now so it is hard to compare the results with the current circumstances. Problems faced in that period would have been different to the problems faced nowadays and a more up to date experiment could be conducted so that results could be compared from two different eras. Newspapers such as The Guardian are up to date sources about the latest attempts to try and tackle crime within a community but also they document designer’s attempts to try and solve these problems. ( (2 December 2009))

Each day in different contexts, small changes can alter behaviour. An artist who uses this as a platform in which to present his work on is Banksy. It is clear that most of his designs are created to draw a response, sometimes positive but mainly negative. As Taylor and Cassidy both stress, these small changes can affect people differently and Banksy manipulates this to gain attention. By placing his stencils in the places he does he is rewarded with the maximum response and can communicate his opinions. As a designer it is important to understand certain things such as where a product is best suited and who it is best suited for. Although Banksy ‘writes on walls’, a lot of thought from his behalf goes into researching the area that will receive the most response. With different attitudes to this work it is clear that the upbringing of an individual plays an important role in interpretation, something that Taylor and Cassidy both convey - but what if they are wrong? A report by Nuffield council on Bioethics asks the questions if our genes have more to do with our behaviour than context and if anti – social behaviour has got anything to do with our upbringing? A little more research into this topic would provide a better understanding to the relationships between genetics and upbringing and the response to context. We cannot choose to ignore this source, as it may be vital in explaining other issues that context cannot.

Context and behaviour is such an interesting topic and as an Interior and Environmental Designer it is important to consider every aspect of our design and be sensitive to an environment's needs. Extensive research is required when trying to understand a context and the people that inhabit it - get this wrong and you risk upsetting whole communities!


Banksy, 2006, Wall and piece, Arrow Books Ltd, United Kingdom.

Barker, R.G. & Wright, H. 1955, Midwest and its children, Row and Petersen, New York.

Bronfenbrenner, U 1979, The ecology of human development, MA: Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

Cassidy, T 2003, Environmental psychology, Psychology Press, East Sussex.

Dudman, J 2008, The wow factor, The Guardian, viewed 2 December 2009, <>.

Hunter, A 1974, Symbolic communities, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Kasarda, J.D. & Janowitz, M 1974, ‘Community attachment in mass society’, American Socialogical Review, vol 39, 328-339.

Kennedy, I 2002, Genetics and human behaviour, Nuffield Council on Bioethics, London.

Manco, T 2002, Stencil Graffiti, Thames & Hudson, London.

Muir, H 2009, Kent police attribute massive reduction in crime to neighbourhood teams, The Guardian, viewed 21 November 2009, <>.

Stephen, S 2006, Designing safer places, The Scottish Executive, Edinburgh.

Taylor, R. B. 1996, ‘Neighbourhood responses to disorder and local attachments: the systemic model of attachment, social disorganization, and neighbourhood use value’, Sociological Forum, vol. 11, no.1, pp. 41-74.

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