Object Handling with Contemporary Craft Objects: An observational study of an embodied, social and cognitive process

Bruce Davenport, Neill Thompson

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This study focuses on the ways that people interact around contemporary craft objects. The ambiguous quality of these objects holds people’s attention and inhibits autobiographical narratives. The study focused on the relationship between the perceptual language used by participants and the ways in which they interacted with the objects. The analytical approach taken here begins with close observation and careful description of single cases and working towards valid generalisations, rather than imposing an interpretation from the outset by explicitly positing a hypothesis. Six pairs of women were invited to participate in object handling conversations in an art museum setting. The conversations were recorded using digital video cameras. Analysis treated interaction as an embodied process and drew on work which interprets interaction the outcome of social and cognitive processes. We found that the interplay of language and action shifted fluidly throughout the conversations. Not all actions were verbally expounded on and these could only be interpreted tentatively. Utterances could change the meaning or purpose of an action without any apparent change in the dynamics of the action. When attending a complex quality, such as the material nature of an object, the relationship between language and action was correspondingly complex. Participants used a variety of frameworks to understand the objects and these shaped the qualities of the objects that they attended to. Participants’ words and actions could usefully be interpreted in terms of meaning rather than just social action and with reference to findings from cognitive research on perception and action.
Original languageEnglish
Article number16
JournalThe Qualitative Report
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2018


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