The dwelling is a central setting in people’s everyday life. People use their dwelling and residential environment for a large variety of activities and purposes. The Meaning of Activities in the Dwelling and Residential Environment systematically relates activities, settings and meanings to improve the insight into people-environment relations which is called a meaning structure approach. Over 600 people, living in either a city centre, suburban or rural type of residential environment were asked about their everyday activities and the meanings thereof. The results show that meanings are important for the way in which people use their dwelling and residential environment. The meaning structure approach allows for a high level of aggregation identifying general meanings of the dwelling, such as a place to be together with family and friends. It also allows for a low level of aggregation, for example, using internet at home has for many people become part of everyday life, providing them with easy access to a wide range of information. This illustrates the usefulness of meaning structures as a tool for investigating people-environment relations.
Before writing a preface to my thesis, I tried to recall just when I had taken the first steps towards a PhD. My earliest memories of this ‘vocation’ go back to my third year at university, when I was doing an internship at a consultancy firm. My supervisor there, Janine Boers, had asked me what I wanted to do after graduating. Though I didn't know exactly what kind of job I would be looking for, what I knew for sure was that I didn't want to do a PhD. That would mean more years of being cloistered within the university, while I was curious about the real world and wanted to get to work in it. Well, life took an unexpected turn, and after graduation I actually took a position as a PhD student. And from the very first day on the job, I have enjoyed working at the university. The result of that work lies here before you.
I got off a good start; there was a well-defined research proposal waiting for me, and I was placed in a group with many experienced researchers (on housing systems) who were always willing to help. Henny Coolen, my daily supervisor, wrote the research proposal and developed the conceptual framework for this study. As befits a dedicated supervisor, he never tired of explaining the theoretical concepts. Yet he also gave me ample room and opportunity to grapple with the concepts myself and to come up with my own ideas. Peter Boelhouwer, my promotor, kept an eye on the whole project. After each meeting it was always clear which step to take next. The members of the theme group ‘housing preferences’, whom I bombarded with presentations about ongoing work, never hesitated to give feedback on my work.
Sylvia Jansen contributed in several different ways – in the first place, by being a great office-mate. We had many casual chats about how we had spent the weekend or other non-work related activities. In the second place, having earned her PhD already, she could cheer me up, when I felt things were taking too long, or when I got bogged down with my data. Conveniently, she is also an expert on statistics, so, besides cheering me up, she taught me a lot about performing logistic regressions and interpreting statistical analyses. Janneke Toussaint started at the OTB as a researcher at almost the same time as I did. Thus, we have shared the ups and downs of doing a PhD. The experience proves that shared joy is double joy, but also that frustration, when shared, is not all that bad in the end. From my work at the editorial office of the Journal of Housing and the Built Environment, I was lucky to know Nancy Smyth van Weesep. Nancy has very good language editing skills, and I am very grateful that she took on the job of editing the whole manuscript. She has improved the thesis both in structure and style, even making it a pleasure to read.
Many people outside the university were also involved in this thesis. First of all, I would like to thank everyone who participated in this research for their generosity in freely giving us half an hour of their time to talk about their everyday lives. Second, I would like to thank my friends from Communione e Liberazione in Leiden, who never failed to inquire how I was progressing. Through their continued interest they showed me the value of friendship. Finally, I would like to thank my family. At first, my mother Elly was a bit skeptical about investigating why people consider it important to sit in their garden or why they consider watching TV important. Her critical stance stimulated me to think about how the data could be applied to improve house building (something I might do in the future). My father Jos passed his enthusiasm for housing on to me. My brother Mike and his wife Saar managed to have three children in the same amount of time that it took me to get my PhD, and they still found time to meet me regularly to share a meal. My sister Susan and her husband Raymond always showed strong interest in my research and were willing to ponder the interpretation of the findings. And last but not least I would like to thank my grandmother. I have no idea how many candles she burned for the sake of making good progress in my work, but her efforts might have caused considerable smog in Bergen op Zoom.
All these people, in many different ways, have helped me complete this thesis. Doing this PhD has been a valuable and meaningful experience that I would not have wanted to miss. I'm glad that my life took a different turn than anticipated. Indeed, I hope there will be more unexpected paths like this one opening up for me in the future.
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