Published! An object handling paper.

It’s been ages since I posted in my poor, neglected blog. In large part, this is because I’ve been doing lots of reading for research at work that is really interesting but nothing to do with objects. (It’s one of the joys and perils of being a researcher for hire.) Anyway, there has been progress on the object-related front which was a good reason for catching up with this blog.

A couple of years ago, I did a Psychology Masters and my dissertation was all about object handling. I didn’t write much about it at the time as I was hoping to get some of the work from the dissertation published. Happily, I have now had one paper published from that dissertation.

The dissertation work was based around giving pairs of people a sequence of contemporary craft objects to handle and then observing what happened. I used contemporary craft objects because there is something ambiguous/unfamiliar about them which stifles the sort of autobiographical response that you get when you give someone a social history object (e.g., “Oh! My mum had one of those!”). Instead people stay focused on the object and explore it in more depth, which is what I was interested in. (You can see pictures of the objects in the paper.) I had also learnt, from previous projects, that I tend to talk too much; so, for this project, I endeavoured to shut up as much as possible. That didn’t entirely work as the participants oriented towards me as the expert on the objects and asked questions of me. Nonetheless, I tried to be as quiet as possible.

Inevitably, I needed some sort of theoretical framework to work from and this is where all these years spent reading and blogging about object handling came to fruition. Here in the blog, I’ve tried to read/write widely about object handling and I had worked my way towards a position that recognises the object handling conversations as the outcome of cognitive, embodied and social processes. That puts me at odds with all sorts of people whose work I admire and have drawn on, so I spend some space in the paper marking out and justifying my approach. (My co-author on the paper was my dissertation supervisor and he really pushed me to reflect on and articulate my position, which I am very grateful for.)

I’d like to think that the paper is useful and provides some insights into object handling that are of value both academically and practically. I guess that judgement is up to the reader. Anyway, the journal is open access so people outside of academia can read it should they wish. (The editorial team at The Qualitative Review are great – really thorough and supportive.)

This, I hope is not the end of the line for this strand of work. In the paper, I hardly discuss the conversations based around ‘Metropolis’ pieces by Lubna Chowdhary.

‘Metropolis’ pieces by Lubna Chowdhary

These objects were the focus on intense scrutiny. They are like small, 3D collages of urban forms and they resisted easy interpretation. They also seemed to disrupt the normal processes of interaction so I would like to write another paper just about these from a conversation analysis / workplace studies perspective. But first I have to get more deeply into conversation analysis. My RA post has been move to an open-ended but 4 days per week contract, which (happily) gives me some free-time to develop this.

Meanwhile, a conversation has restarted about writing a funding bid with the Great North Museum for a research project looking at their work with young children. This will be focused on the objects and spaces in the museum and takes me closer to the work that got me started on this track many years ago at the Shipley. Hopefully, there will be more object-related posts in the near future.

About Bruce Davenport

Research associate at Newcastle University. Previously a museum educator and researcher.
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