In sociology and in particular interactionist approaches there has recently been lot of interest in ‘everyday aesthetics’ and ‘practical aesthetics’. At the Participations 2015 conference in Basel in June a panel was organised by Saul Albert and Yaël Kreplak that explored how aesthetics and aesthetic judgement feature in dance (Saul Albert @saul; Leelo Keevallik), in the camera-work in TV productions (Mathias Broth), in the installation of art works (Yaël Kreplak) and in the performing arts (Darren Reed). Save for the panel at the Participations conference, there have been various publications that play into these debates: about a decade ago Christian Heath and I published “Configuring Reception”, a paper that introduced “practical aesthetics” as a practice through which people in everyday situations like museum visits produce situations in which they see and make sense of works of art and constitute them as aesthetic objects. Most recently, Lucia Ruggerone and Neil Jenkings published a paper in Symbolic Interaction “Talking about Beauty” in Symbolic Interaction where they examine participants self-reported aesthetic appreciations in relationship to their life-style.
There is a renewed interest in museum visiting and the practices of doing so. Only this weekend (October 9th, 2014), Stephanie Rosenbloom published an article in the New York Times that explores “The Art of Slowing Down in a Museum“. Rosenbloom refers to Daniel Fujiwara’s (now Director at SImetrica) study of the impact of museum visiting on people’s enjoyment of life as well as on James O. Pawelski’s work in the area of positive psychology. All these studies are of great interest and very helpful in highlighting the impact of the arts on people’s lives. It would be great if such research that is primarily interested in measuring impact and focuses on individuals as experiencing subjects, would include also the influence of the presence of other visitors in museums, both companions and others. It would seem that in order to follow the arguments and suggestions on how to organise a museum visit would require prior negotiation with those we are with in a museum. Statistics of museum visiting clearly show that people not only primarily come with others to museums but also that one main reason for the visit is socialising and interacting with others, whereby works of art (and other exhibits) providing hubs for concerted activities.
Considering that Pawelski, Fujiwara and others show that spending more time with a work of art increases feelings of happiness and satisfaction and that people enjoy interacting with others in museums, exploring how we can facilitate sustained social activities around works of art and other exhibits in museums seems to be an obvious avenue to pursue.
vom Lehn, Heath, Hindmarsh 2001. Exhibiting Interaction: conduct and collaboration in museums. Symbolic Interaction. Vol.24(2): 189-216
Despite the long-time talk about the demise of the street-market as an inefficient place to make money street-markets, flea-markets and car-boot sales are booming. People seem to have discovered these places not only as markets to buy and sell objects but also as places for leisure activities. In London and other big cities street-markets have become major tourist attractions. In recent years, they have been redeveloped to increase their attractiveness and possibly also to give them a more trustworthy, clean and orderly look. Moreover, they often are equipped with surveillance cameras and security staff who police trading and behaviour more generally. Yet, what has remained largely the same over the past years is that sales are produced in interaction between traders and customers, people who first show an interest in a particular stall or sales item and then make a purchase, or sometimes leave without buying anything. “Price” and”price information” plays a particular part in the interaction between traders and their customers. In “Timing is money” I consider pricing not so much as a process of calculation for the participant to get the best value out of the interaction, although this may play a part in this as well, but as a communicative practice that traders and customers deploy in the interaction. The paper examines the moment when and the way in which traders and customers use “price” in their interaction, e.g. when do they use price in an offer or request of a sales item? It turns out that price is often deployed as a technique to manage the ‘floor’ and the interaction at the stall. For example, when customers display an interest in an item but are not yet committed to buying an item offers, including price information, are designed in a particular way that encourage the customers to commit to make a purchase.
The paper uses “focused ethnography” as a research method. Alongside other recent developments in ethnography, such as “short-term ethnography” (Pink and Morgan 2013) Hubert Knoblauch developed “focused ethnography” (2005) an observational research methods that often supported by video-recordings examines in detail particular settings and activities while spending only relatively short periods of time there.
Knoblauch, Hubert (2005). Focused Ethnography [30 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 6(3), Art. 44, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0503440.
I have just come back from a workshop at a museum where we discussed the use of labels and mobile systems, PDAs, Audioguides, or mobile phones to support or even enhance people’s experience of exhibits and exhibitions. As in other museums, the managers and curators still largely think of abele and electronic systems as information sources for individual visitors. Hence, information is written or recorded for an individual visitor to retrieve. This is somewhat surprising for a number of reasons, including the observation of the same managers and curators that devices and systems like movie phones, touch-screen systems, PDAs and Audioguides encourage people to spend more time with the systems than with with exhibits. When managers and curators report their observations in exhibitions they talk about visitors reading labels and looking at the screens of digital systems for considerable time whilst spending considerably less, sometimes no, time with the works of art hung along the gallery wall.
Research conducted over the past 20 or 30 years confirms the observations by these managers and curators about the distracting impact of information sources in museums. Together with recent research in the learning and cognitive science also suggests that if one wishes to enhance people’s experience of and learning in exhibition that there is not a need for more or more complex information sources and system but for information delivered in a way that encourages social interaction and discussion between people. Quasi-experimental studies and naturalistic, video-based studies of visitors’ interaction in museums suggests that it is not only the design of systems, i.e. the small screens and interfaces that undermine social interaction but also the content and the structure of the content delivered by labels and electronic systems. What would be required are naturalistic experiments with label content and the content of audio-guides that through questions, references to exhibit features and maybe game-like activities that involve more than one visitor in concerted and collaborative forms of looking, examination and experience.
If anybody has seen examples like this, please let me know.
Over the past few years, together with comments at the Work, Interaction & Technology Research Centre (Christian Heath and Helena Webb) at KCL, Will Gibson at the Institute of Education and the optometrists Bruce Evans, David Thomson and Peter Allen I worked on research and knowledge exchange projects exploring the practical work of optometrists and developing communications training material. some of the research now has been written up and a few months ago a paper “Engendering Response: Professional Gesture and the Assessment of Eye Sight in Optometry Consultations” was published in Symbolic Interaction. This paper focuses on a particular procedure, the so-called Subjective Refraction that involves optometrist and patient in a sequence of interaction through which some of the characteristics of any corrective lens the patient might need, are determined. Some may recognise the test as the better/worse test as it is characterised by a procedure during which the optometrist alternates a patient’s vision by placing a lens in front of their eye as asking, “better with or without”. Our study here was particularly interested in the practice of placing the lens in front of the patient’s eye, a practice that we described as “professional gesture”. Although not specifically taught in optometric training the optometrists in our research deployed the lens by moving it in a particular way in front of the patient’s eye. The gestural movement of the lens in front of the patient’s eye followed almost exactly the same route through the air in all consultations that we filmed. Our analysis reveals that such a carefully designed gesture is required for the optometrist to be able to arrive at reliable and robust data about the patient’s sight. They need the patient to respond to a series of different stimuli presented in front of them without reflecting about it.
Here is a video-abstract on the YouTube channel of Symbolic Interaction in which the lead author of the paper, Helena Webb, discusses the content of the paper and shows the gesture.
A bit of self-advertisement… in May my book “Harold Garfinkel: The Creation and Development of Ethnomethodology” was published by Left Coast Press. The book discusses Garfinkel’s creation of ethnomethodology, its anticipation of and important influence on a range of contemporary developments in sociology, including the sociology of science and technology, the new sociology of knowledge, the sociology of work, gender studies and others.
The book is based on and expands the German version published by UVK Verlagsgesellschaft in 2012.
Harold Garfinkel: The Creation and Development of Ethnomethodology (Left Coast Press.)
In the social sciences as well as media and communication studies there is an increasing interest in everyday technologies, like the cellphone and the webcam. Already in 2004 Paul Levinson, Professor of Communication & Media Studies at Fordham University in NYC, student of Neil Postman, and author of science fiction novels, published his book “Cellphone. The Story of the World’s Most Mobile Medium and How It Has Transformed Everything!“. The book situates the cellphone that in the UK is called “mobile phone” or simply “mobile” and in Germany “handy” within the development of other media before and alongside this highly mobile communication tools. At the centre of this highly readable volume are the new forms of communication and the mobility that the “Cellphone” enables. These characteristics of the mobile phone have given rise to a number of opportunities and challenges that Levinson discusses, not without comparing them to the emergence of other media, such as the radio and television or the desktop computer.
Levinson highlights in particular that in the age of the mobile personal communication we have the possibility to reach out to others wherever we are whilst at the same time being reachable by others all the time. In fact, we expect of each other to be reachable at any point in time and have to account for moments in which we do not pick up our cellphone. The further advancement of the cellphone technology that has turned the “handy” into a highly mobile personal computer with access to email and social networking sites has increased the expectation of permanent reachability. Not surprisingly therefore people report that work increasingly interferes in private lives, work email is checked at family dinners and the Internet is being searched for news in sometimes inappropriate situations. Moreover, Levinson discusses the opportunities offered by video-cameras built into cellphones and its potential impact on news reporting, an impact that in recent years, we have seen being played out when news channels increasingly use video-clips shot with cellphone cameras by people present at events such as the London riots or the London bombings in 2007.
Although Levinson’s ‘Cellphone’ is more than 10 years old it still is very relevant. It could do with an update that reflects the increasingly wide distribution of smart phones, includes research on cellphone use in social situations and discusses some of the solutions that people have developed to deal with the problem of omni-reachability, i.e. the use of multiple-phones for different purposes, phone stacks, digital etiquettes and technology shabbaths.