Culture, Politics and the Plaza: An Ethnographic Approach to the Study of Urban Public Spaces in Latin America
This chapter outlines an ethnographic approach to environment-behavior research of the plaza that emphasizes sociocultural processes. It utilises the term to refer to a methodology and type of analysis that identifies cultural patterns of meanings and interpretation. Colonial and economic imperialism, not just cultural ignorance, have created a situation in which the very act of research is fraught with economic and political overtones. The Spanish- American plaza in Costa Rica was designed as the integrating central space of gridiron plan towns established by the synthetic forces of indigenous and colonial city planning. The chapter also outlines an "ethno" methodology for environment-behavior research comprised of ethnohistorical, ethnographic, semantic, and proxemic methods and analytic techniques. The researcher faces a number of complications when attempting to undertake environment-behavior studies to understand the local architecture and landscape. The chapter focuses on the study of urban public space by selecting illustrations and examples from fieldwork on plazas in San Jose, Costa Rica.