15 Groups in Context

The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual.
The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community.
Williams James, Harvard University

Just as individuals are embedded in groups, so groups are embedded in physical and social environments. Groups alter their environments substantially, but in many cases, it’s the place that shapes the group. As Lewin’s law of interaction, B = f(P, E), states, group behavior (B) is a function of the persons (P) who are in the group, but also the social and physical environment (E) where the group is located.

  • How does the physical environment influence groups and their dynamics?
  • What is the ecology of a group?
  • What are the causes and consequences of a group’s tendency to establish territories?
  • How can group places, spaces, and locations be improved?

Chapter Case Study

The Crew of Apollo 13: The mission of the Apollo 13 is described, cataloged, and examined on many pages on the web, including one at NASA and one at About Space

General Resources


Chapter Case: Apollo 13

  • Apollo 13: The NASA Mission Reports, edited by Robert Godwin (2000), provides complete documentation of the mission, including press releases, transcripts of the crew debriefing, the text of the committee investigations of the cause of the accident, and recordings of the crew transmissions during the flight.
  • Lost Moon: The Perilous Journey of Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger (1994) is a forthright summary of the Apollo 13 mission with details about the group’s dynamics and relations with ground control teams and family members.

Groups in Context

  • Handbook of Environmental Psychology, edited by Daniel Stokols and Irwin Altman (1987), contains chapters written by leading researchers and theorists in the field of person–environment relations. The 22 chapters in Volume One focus on basic processes, and the 21 chapters in Volume Two consider applications and cross-cultural implications. The updated Handbook of Environmental Psychology, edited by Robert B. Bechtel and Arzah Churchman (2002), supplements the 1987 edition with expanded coverage of topics dealing with environmental preservation.
  • Environmental Psychology by Paul A. Bell, Thomas C. Greene, Jeffery D. Fisher, and Andrew Baum (2006) is a comprehensive text dealing with environmental psychology in general, but with key chapters focusing on topics of interest to group researchers, including ecological perspectives, personal space, crowding, and territoriality.

Small-Group Ecology and Territoriality

  • The Environment and Social Behavior by Irwin Altman (1975) remains the definitive analysis of privacy, personal space, territoriality, and crowding in groups.
  • The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg (1999) is an inspiring analysis of third places where groups often congregate: in comfortable, public establishments that provide the setting for socialization and support.
  • Personal Space by Robert Sommer (1969) takes an entertaining look at interpersonal distancing processes.

Designing Group Spaces

  • Creating the Productive Workplace, edited by Derek Clements-Croome (2006), is a compendium of chapters written by engineers, architects, and design experts who explore, in detail, the physical, psychological, and social demands of the 21st-century workplace.
  • “Towards an Environmental Psychology of Workspace: How People are Affected by Environments for Work” by Jacqueline C. Vischer (2008) provides a thorough and up-to-date review of the research literature examining how people’s workplaces can be made both more comfortable and more efficient.

Groups in Extreme and Unusual Environments

  • Bold Endeavors: Lessons from Polar and Space Exploration by Jack Stuster (1996) draws on interviews, historical documentation, and empirical research to develop a comprehensive, detailed analysis of the dynamics of groups that live and work in atypical environments, such as bases in Antarctica and space stations.
  • “The Environmental Psychology of Capsule Habitats” by Peter Suedfeld and G. Daniel Steel (2000) examines the social and psychological consequences of prolonged stays in secluded and dangerous environments.
%d bloggers like this: