Social Encounters of 4 Kinds: A Field Guide to Markets

A big reason we enjoy markets are the plentiful opportunities for conversation

Social Encounters of 4 Kinds: A Field Guide to Markets
Munich's Viktalienmarkt (shown below) displays the great variety of interactions that we as humans love

Editor's note: It's well documented that conversations occur more naturally at public markets than at supermarkets.  Our longtime colleague Steve Davies—who's consulted for markets all over the world—outlines the ways markets get people talking.

Why do people talk to each other so often at markets?  Markets are some of the most sociable of public spaces, and there is now an abundance of research that identifies the different types of socializing that have characterized marketplaces since ancient times.

Transactional Encounters: Shoppers Meet Merchants

At the heart of a market’s social experience is the connection between customer and vendor. Research shows that the transaction itself —the exchange of money for product—breaks down  barriers between us.   Even among people from vastly different cultural backgrounds,  the act of buying and selling  builds trust, mutual understanding, and even friendship.

Planned Social Experiences: Let's Go to the Market

People tend to shop at markets with friends and family in tow, because a trip to the market is not a chore but an experience to be shared. That’s one reason why gathering places—especially places for people  to sit in groups—are a key element for a successful market.

Serendipitous Encounters: Market Meet-Ups

People seem particularly drawn to markets that attract a diverse set of visitors. The energy of a market offers plenty of reasons for strangers to strike up a conversation—becoming strangers no more—and allows us to "bump" into neighbors and friends.

Shared Community Place: Agora-philia

Market’s public spaces can become hubs of community life, hosting all kinds of social activities and special events that attract folks who otherwise wouldn't visit.