Do you mind if I smoke here? Exploring the insights that public benches bring to public health research

Abstract

In this commentary, we illustrate how exploring the meanings and uses of everyday, seemingly mundane, public objects can advance our understanding of health-related practices and the social norms that shape them. We use the example of the public bench and smoking for this purpose. By observing the design of public benches, the places where they are found, the meanings people attribute to them, and the way people use them, we can learn what health-related practices (e.g., smoking) and who (e.g., people who smoke or who do not smoke) are included and excluded as part of local community life. We thus consider the idea that public benches can be instructive in helping us understand how our health-related practices may be shaped by what can be seen enacted on or from public benches. We ultimately demonstrate how this type of object-based experiential exploration, largely absent from public health research, can provide a novel and insightful perspective to public health research.

Résumé

Dans ce commentaire, nous illustrons comment l’exploration des utilisations et des significations attribuées aux objets publics quotidiens apparemment anodins peut avancer notre compréhension des pratiques liées à la santé et des normes sociales qui les façonnent. Nous utilisons, à cette fin, l’exemple du banc public en lien avec le tabagisme. Le design des bancs publics, les endroits où ils se trouvent, la façon dont ils sont utilisés et le sens qui leur est attribué peuvent nous renseigner sur les pratiques liées à la santé (p.ex. fumer) et sur les personnes (p.ex. les gens qui fument et ceux qui ne fument pas) qui font partie intégrante ou, à l’inverse, sont exclues de la vie communautaire. Ainsi, nous considérons les apprentissages que les bancs publics nous permettent de faire pour mieux comprendre comment les pratiques liées à la santé sont influencées par ce qui peut être vu en y étant assis ou en observant ceux qui y sont assis. Enfin, nous démontrons comment cette exploration expérientielle basée sur l’objet, largement absente en santé publique, peut offrir une perspective de recherche novatrice dans ce domaine.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the research team of the Interdisciplinary Study of Inequalities in Smoking project for their generous feedback.

Funding

This work was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (project MOP-137046).

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Correspondence to Josée Lapalme.

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Lapalme, J., Glenn, N.M. & Frohlich, K.L. Do you mind if I smoke here? Exploring the insights that public benches bring to public health research. Can J Public Health 112, 71–73 (2021). https://doi.org/10.17269/s41997-020-00338-x

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Keywords

  • Urban health
  • Social norms
  • Smoking
  • Residence characteristics

Mots-clés

  • Santé en zone urbaine
  • normes sociales
  • fumer
  • caractéristiques de l’habitat