Friday, September 26, 2003

We were fortunate to have Fiona Jane Candy visit us yesterday. Fiona is a senior lecturer in the design department at the University of Central Lancashire. She talked about the results of a study that she's been doing on denim clothing. Here's how she described it for the 2003 Designing Pleasurable Products And Interfaces Conference in Pittsburgh, PA. (session "Stigma and the sensorial experience of objects"): "This paper introduces a project that intends to utilise research methods derived from experience within Art and Design, to investigate the sensory and emotional experience of wearing denim clothing in public....The project is based on the premise that as a 21st century mass-produced product, denim typifies the processes inherent within design and commercial culture." Fiona also presented a version of this paper at this year's International Visual Sociology Association conference in Southampton. On a methodological note, I especially liked a technique Fiona used to elicit responses from participants: she set up a video camera and placed the interviewee in front of it, standing in their denim, much like a photo-shoot. She then asked questions and watched their body language as they stood there, some of them comfortable in front of the camera, but most of them fidgety and anxious. What I like about this is how it responds to certain ethnographic orthodoxies which decree that the ethnographic scene strives for naturalism (e.g. putting the subject at ease, placing them in their "native" context, etc.)--that the only "real" data we get emerges out of natural environments. Fiona was canny about how she used her video data, seeing it in what seems to me to be a kind of psychoanalytic light, i.e. we reveal ourselves in our anxieties. It's excellent work, and the results will be emerging over the next few months I think. Look out for them.