The Meaning of Dwelling Features. Conceptual and Methodological Issues relates the research areas of housing preferences and the meaning of a dwelling with each other and with aspects of the means-end approach as applied in marketing research. It results in a conceptual and methodological framework for studying the meaning of preferences for dwelling features. These features are viewed as functional for achieving the goals and values that people pursue. The meaning of dwelling features lies in these functional relationships. The model presented in this study therefore relates preferences for the features of a dwelling to the meaning they have for people. These relationships are called meaning structures. Meaning structures are measured by a semi-structured interviewing technique, which is an adapted version of the laddering technique for measuring means-end chains, and network methods are used for the representation and analysis of these meaning structures.
Around the turn of the century several researchers at the OTB Research Institute for Housing, Urban and Mobility Studies who were involved in research on housing preferences and housing choice, started to wonder whether it would be interesting to investigate people's motives for their housing preferences: not only find out what people want but also look at why they want it. This wondering resulted in a paper entitled Housing and Values, co-authored by Joris Hoekstra, which I presented at the ENHR conference in Gävle, Sweden in 2000. In this paper the means-end approach, which at that time was only known in marketing and advertising research, was introduced in housing research, and it turned out to be the prelude to several research activities. As a starting point for many of these activities, Peter Boelhouwer and I prepared a research proposal entitled Housing Experience and Housing Choice Behavior, which was subsequently subsidized by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). This proposal aimed at the close cooperation of two researchers, who were to elaborate the research proposal further. They would then carry out the research plan and would realize two doctoral dissertations. Since I co-developed the proposal I was supposed to be one of these researchers. The NWO project envisaged two main phases in the research: the first phase consisted of the development of the conceptual and methodological framework, while the second phase emphasized more the justification of the framework. Because it took a while to find a co-researcher for the project, I set out on my own to develop the conceptual and methodological framework and performed several pilot studies which were to give some insight into the feasibility of the framework. When Janine Meesters started as the co-researcher on the project in the fall of 2004, she hooked up with the ongoing research. After having worked together for a while the outlines of the two dissertations became clearer: my study would focus on conceptual and methodological issues, while the dissertation of Janine, which in this book is called the companion study, would become a survey study of the meaning of activities in the dwelling and residential environment in which the framework would be fully applied. Since I did not want the results of my research to be hidden away in my computer for years I followed an established pattern for each of the chapters in this book. A draft version of each chapter was originally written as a conference paper for either an ENHR or an IAPS conference. Subsequently, each paper was revised, submitted, and, except Chapter 6, has eventually been published in an international scientific journal. Now that the book is finished I consider the research presented in it more as the rounding off of my dissertation project rather than as the end of the research project. Since part of the data still has to be analyzed, I intend to publish several follow-up articles in the near future.
Soon after I started the research on the dissertation project Peter Boelhouwer became my promotor. I want to thank him for his thoughtful advise during the whole project, and for the freedom he gave me in elaborating many facets of the project. I also want to express my gratitude to Joris Hoekstra for taking up the challenge to write the Housing and Values paper with me and to subsequently revise the paper for publication in the Journal of Housing and the Built Environment. It goes without saying that this paper would become Chapter 2 in my dissertation. From the beginning the collaboration with Janine Meesters has been exemplary. Thank you for the many discussions we had, which often sharpened my own ideas, and for being such a pleasant and cheerful colleague. I also want to thank the theme group Housing Preferences of OTB for giving me the opportunity to discuss all the facets of my research project and for being a critical but constructive forum over the years.
Last but not least I want to express my gratitude and love to the home front. Beth, Rosa and Danny have given me their warm support by just letting me go my own way. They only started asking questions about when my dissertation would be finished when the end of it was already in sight.
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