Breaching Objects

Breaching objects

As part of the “Social Objects For Innovation and Learning” (SOIL) Project, I am conducting my PhD research on how objects’ physical characteristics are explored, made sense of, and ultimately employed by people as resources in their everyday. To study this theme I design “breaching objects”: artifacts that do not conform to our expectations of how things should be – in terms of form or materials – and look closely at how people react to these objects, move differently with them, and introduce them in their practice.

The project My PhD on “breaching objects” is part of a bigger project studying objects in social interaction, and asking how objects contribute to how people do what they are doing together. This way to look at objects acknowledges their materiality as a resource that people build upon to create meaningful social interactions. As a designer, my specific interest in how the shape, materials, physical and kinetic characteristics of things are made sense of, and employed by people to create this meaning in social interaction, and how – in more or less explicit ways – objects affect the way people move and accomplish their activities.

Breaching Objects I am carrying on the project at the intersection of two disciplines: Research Through Design and Ethnomethodology. The former sees the creation of designed artifacts as a tool to conduct research, explore possibilities and “what ifs”. The latter, ethnomethodology, is more analytical and interested in the way people display their understanding of the world in their everyday actions and interactions.
One way ethnomethodologists have studied at the “seen but unnoticed” rules that govern our social interaction is through disruptive, “breaching experiments”, that is “violations of commonly accepted social rules or norms, in order to study how people react to these violations – and what their reactions can tell us about the ”hidden” or unconscious rules that govern social interaction”. Borrowing this term, and integrating it with the “making” focus of Research Through Design, I propose “breaching objects” as a tool to investigate our assumptions about what everyday objects are, and what they are for.

How things make us move In the first part of the study I have produced a number of “modified” pieces of cutlery, where the handles of forks and spoons were substituted by a ring. These objects have been then tested in real life dining situations, with two families and a group of friends. Through detailed analysis of the video recordings I am looking particularly at one aspect, that is how things “make us move”. With new objects, the way people move their body is substantially different. When the known movements related to eating are disrupted, people need to find their way again, through fitting tests, eating trials and demonstrations to each other. Not only objects influence the way people move for eating, but also suggest new or old gestures, where playful experiments with movements through the tools become expressive and social.
“The power gesture”. When wearing the fork in a fist, the movements of the child become more expressive and aggressive, and he can “punch” his pasta.
The introduction of modified objects influences how other objects are perceived. Here a traditional fork is used as a support to roll spaghetti.

Related publication Caglio, A., Larsen, T. & Wagner, J.(forth). Breaching embodied routines – redesign as a means to make visible skills for the manual use of objects. International Institute for Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis conference (IIEMCA 2015). Kolding, Denmark.

Contact Agnese Caglio (E-Mail)