Third space

Eeva Anttila

The notion of a third space was included in the PIMDI project from the beginning as a possible space of ‘suspension’ from daily life where imaginative dialogues through art could be situated. The concept was coined by postcolonial scholar Homi K. Bhabha (1949-). It offers a frame to understand (cultural) difference as a possibility for something new to emerge. Third space, thus, refers to a liminal, or hybrid space where difference is being performed and simultaneously transformed and mutated. This performative act involves mutual recognition of cultural difference (Bhabha, 1994; see also Anttila, Martin & Svendler Nielsen 2019). According to Bhabha, a third space emerges at boundaries where different cultures meet and where “the boundary becomes the place from which something begins its presencing” (1994, p. 5). This is how bridges that “escort men to and fro, so that they may get to other banks,” (1994, p. 5) may emerge. For such bridges it is important to “focus on those moments and processes that are produced in the articulation of cultural differences” (Bhabha 1994, p. 2). The emergence of a third space involves more than “an act of communication between the I and You” as the production of new cultural expressions, forms and meanings, or understandings requires that participants become “mobilized in the passage through a Third Space” (Bhabha 1994, p. 36). 

ExampleThe Master programmes for dance and theatre pedagogy at University of the Arts Helsinki have developed a course entitled ‘artistic-pedagogical event’. The course is based on the idea of the group as an artistic agent, and it culminates in a public, participatory event. Due to the pandemic in 2021, the students worked in three, smaller groups. The focus was on the processual, open, and porous nature of performance, as well as on the relationship between the performers and the audience. These qualities present opportunities for encounters and change, and in so doing, connect art with pedagogy. Additionally, the aim was to become aware of the ethical questions of participatory performances so that the participants felt respected and cared for, similar to the aim in pedagogy. The subtle connections between artistic and pedagogical skills are at stake here. One common denominator is reciprocal interaction and dialogue; a heightened sensibility about how the performer is both affecting and affected by others and the environment. One of the three groups named their event Third Space. The group explored and developed ethical, non-forced modes of encountering others in embodied ways. (see

Relevance for PIMDI

Third space may help us transform frictions, tensions, or conflicts into creative, collaborative possibilities. This requires that we are able recede, yield, and give space for the other, to Otherness. For a third space to emerge, we cannot colonize or patronize the other, but breathe, open, and receive the other’s Otherness, let it become part of our experience, our life. Third space, then, is a sensitive space of letting go and giving up. It is an ethical act, a gesture of peace, respect, and transformation. It requires detachment of one’s own immediate needs and aims and a readiness to wait and receive something unexpected, something unknown. These kind of principles may support intercultural and interdisciplinary  arts education practice within PIMDI. Crossing boundaries and encountering differences without trying to overcome or dissolve them is a key principle in the PIMDI project. Third Space, thus, can be seen as a key element for developing pedagogies of imaginative dialogues.


Anttila, E., Martin, R. & Svendler Nielsen, C. (2019). Performing difference in/through dance: The significance of dialogical, or third spaces in creating conditions for learning and living together. Thinking Skills and Creativity. E. Vass (Ed.), Vol 31, 209–216. 

Bhabha, H. K. (1994). The location of culture. Routledge.