Quality & Quantity 32: 367–381, 1998.
© 1998 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
A Study of the Symbolic Aspects of Space Using
Nonquantitative Techniques of Analysis
SERGI VALERA, JOAN GUÀRDIA
and ENRIC POL
Department of Social Psychology, University of Barcelona, Spain;
Department of Methodology,
University of Barcelona, Passeig de la Vall d’Hebron, 171, 08035 Barcelona, Spain
Abstract. This article has two aims: ﬁrst, to deﬁne and analyse the theoretical implications of the
concepts of social urban identity and symbolic urban space (Valera, 1993, 1996, 1997; Valera and
Pol, 1994) from within the integrated perspective provided by Environmental Psychology and Social
Psychology; and second, to present an empirical study of these concepts based on nonquantitative
data collection and analysis. Texts recorded in discussion groups were studied using Contextual
Content Analysis (McTavish and Pirro, 1990) to determine the social identity of the inhabitants
of a neighbourhood within the city of Barcelona and the meaning given to those spaces which
they consider to be symbolic or representative of the neighbourhood. Finally, the results, as well
as the advantages of this type of analysis, which are rarely used in Environmental Psychology, are
The urban space is the conjunction of a multitude of elements organised in such a
way as to produce a speciﬁc physical structure. The dynamic nature of this urban
structure leads to the appearance, disappearance or transformation of the distinct
elements from which it is comprised. Thus, a given spatial element can change its
name or location (in the case of monuments, for example), undergo restructuring,
or change its use.
However, other changes occur, which are perhaps not so immediately evident:
urban spaces evolve also in terms of the meaning given to them by the social
structure in which they are immersed; they are attributed affective and symbolic
elements by their users, which are added to or alter the meanings deﬁned “a priori”
by their designers or planners. Occasionally, this “a posteriori” meaning, acquired
through the sociospatial interaction over the years, might be quite the opposite to
its original meaning. Social change transforms either the physical space, the sym-
bolic space or both simultaneously, while the urban space can provide the support
(the basis) for the birth or the maintenance of social group or community identity
located in a speciﬁc physical environment.
The use of nonquantitative data gathering and analysis techniques are of great
interest in the study of the social nature of environmental meanings.