Street-market interaction and pricing #sssi #marketing

interaction, markets, Price, Videoanalysis

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.

References

Knoblauch, Hubert (2005). Focused Ethnography [30 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research6(3), Art. 44, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0503440.

Llewellyn, N. and Burrow, R.. (2008) Streetwise sales and the social order of city streets British Journal Of Sociology 59: 561-583.

Pink, Sarah & Morgan, Jennie (2013). Short-term Ethnography. Symbolic Interaction Vol.36(3) 351-361

vom Lehn, Dirk (2013). Timing is Money: managing the floor in sales interaction at street-market stalls. Journal of Marketing Management. (Early View)

Museum Experience: individual or social?

exhibitions, interaction, interactivity, mobility, museums

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.

Relevant Literature

Heath, vom Lehn. (2004) Configuring Reception. Theory, Culture and Society Vol21(6): 43-65

Heath, Luff, vom Lehn, Hindmarsh, Cleverly. (2002) Crafting Participation. Visual Communication. Vol1(1): 1-33

Hindmarsh, Heath, vom Lehn, Cleverly. (2002) Creating Assemblies in Public Environment. CSCW Journal Vol.14(1): 1-41

Leinhardt, Crowley, Knutson 2002. Learning Conversations in Museums. Routledge

vom Lehn, Heath 2005. Accounting for Technology in Museums. International Journal of Arts Management Vol7(3): 11-21

Research Paper on Openings in Optometric Consultations

Uncategorized

As part of the ESRC funded project The Practical Work of the Optometrist Helena Webb, Christian Heath, Dirk vom Lehn, Will Gibson and Bruce Evans have published an article concerned with the opening of optometric consultations in the journal Research on Language and Social Interaction. The paper particularly explored the sensitivity clients display to the use of the word ‘problem’ in the opening questions of the history taking.

The Problem With “Problems”: The Case of Openingsin Optometry Consultations

Abstract

This article contributes to conversation analytic understanding of openings in health-care consulta-tions. It focuses on the case of optometry: a form of health-care practice in which an optometristconducts checks of a patient’s vision and eye health. Patients are advised to attend regularly for rou-tine assessments and can also request a specific appointment at any time. Analysis of a corpus of 66 consultations shows what happens when the optometrist’s opening question solicits the client’s“problems” with their eyes. We find three types of patient response. Patients who have requested aspecific appointment (most often) report a problem with their eyes and establish a problem-purposeencounter. Patients attending for a routinely timed appointment either report no problems and estab-lish a routine-assessment purpose, or if they do have a problem, they delay reporting it or downplay it.We track through what happens subsequently. The findings have practical implications for diagnosisand treatment.

Research Methods paper on Video Transcription in published in the BSA journal Sociology

Uncategorized

As part of the ESR funded project Will Gibson, Helena Webb and Dirk vom Lehn have published a paper that explores new ways in which a reflection on the use of transcript in the examination of video-recorded interaction can aid the analysis.

Analytic Affordance: Transcripts as Conventionalised Systems in Discourse Studies

Abstract

This article explores the role of transcripts in the analysis of social action. Drawing on a study of the interactional processes in optometry consultations, we show how our interest in the rhythm of reading letters from a chart arose serendipitously from our orientation to transcription conventions. We discuss our development of alternative transcription systems, and the affordances of each. We relate this example to constructivist debates in the area of transcription and argue that the issues have been largely characterised in political terms at the expense of a focus on the actual processes of transcription. We show here that analytic affordances emerge through an orientation to professional conventions. The article ends by suggesting that a close reflection on the design of transcripts and on transcription innovation can lead to more nuanced analysis as it puts the researcher in dialogue with the taken for granted ideas embedded in a system.

The article is on Early View at Sociology and with access can be downloaded here.

Posted in U

New Book: “”Harold Garfinkel: The Creation and Development of Ethnomethodology” Left Coast Press

Ethnomethodology, Garfinkel, interaction

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.)

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Eurospanbookstore.com

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Museums and Technology

exhibitions, experience, interaction, interactivity, museums, Technology

This week Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs at the Science Museum in London, made a strong case for the use of technology to enhance visitors’ experience of museums. In his article published in London’s Evening Standard Highfield writes

“When used wisely, computers and interactives have a role in showing our visitors that science is more than just a collection of cold, hard facts, arcane theorems and grey metal boxes. With a little digital magic, all these facets can now all sparkle. This is important for all museums, for London and for the nation’s high-tech industry. We never seem to have enough scientists, mathematicians and engineers. The same goes for designers and the creative industry and, yes, classicists too. Museums need to use all the tools at their disposal to inspire the next generation.”

I could not agree more. Luckily, these days there are plenty of excellent examples of technology in museums that intrigues visitors, allows them to see science, art and design in novel ways, and maybe not at last, attracts people to look at museum objects who without technology would find them boring, uninteresting and maybe also inaccessible. In these cases, technology is an invaluable tool that facilitates and enhances access. Moreover, as Highfield points out in his article technology can make visible aspects of science, art and design that otherwise could not be shown. Examples for such phenomena are miniscule molecular processes processes or the ways in which old objects like the famous washstand by William Burges in the Victoria & Albert Museum would have been used by its owners.

The effectiveness of these technologies in museums has variously been shown. A Special Issue of  Curator: the Museum Journal (2004) elaborated some of the opportunities offered by technology and interactivity in museums, highlighting that technology can facilitate new forms of engagement and learning occurring in museums. Robert West however also pointed at the potential costs of interactivity in museums. Aside from momentary costs West also points to the danger that technology when broken or difficult to use can spoil the museum experience for visitors and that some people for various reasons are intimidated by technology in exhibitions.

This latter point is echoed in a recent research paper by Susie Scott and colleagues that has recently been published in the journal Symbolic Interaction. In their paper “Goffman in the Gallery” the authors elaborate on the emergence of situational shyness at interactive exhibits and explicate ways in which visitors cope with their uncertainty of using an exhibit or hesitation to approach it because they fear they might find themselves in an embarrassing situation unable to use the technology. Amongst other points that Scott and colleagues’ paper makes it suggests that one solution that people find to overcome “situational shyness” is to learn from others. People observe others and use their actions as “replacement scripts”.

The importance of mutual observability in museums for people’s exploration and sense making in museums has been a topic since the inception of the modern museum. Tony Bennett in his well-known “The Birth of the Museum” as well as Norman Trondsen in a paper from the 1970s “Social Control in the Art Museum” have highlighted how the design and layout of museums facilitates mutual observation that allows people to learn @proper conduct@ from observing others, and in turn people behave ‘properly’ because they are aware that they might be observed in their actions in museums.

Robin Meisner has taken this argument one step further by explicating how visitors embellish their actions at exhibits. Their interaction with exhibits becomes a performance that invites others to become an audience. The result are shared experiences at exhibits, that on occasion surprise even those who have designed the exhibits. Meisner’s research has a range of other papers that have been published over the past decade or so highlight the importance of social interaction in museums. People enjoy museums as places for sociality and sociability. They visit them with friends and family and meet other people who are there at the same time.

When social interaction is so important for museum visiting it is rather surprising that we still find so much technology in museums that encourages individuals’ engagement whilst not supporting and sometimes undermining social interaction. Examples for studies highlighting the difficulties that visitors find in interweaving the interaction with technology and the interaction with other people. The trouble is as we have shown in our research that design of misconceives interactivity as facilitating interaction. Examples for technologies that often create interactional difficulties between visitors of museums are conventional touch-screen exhibits and interactive guides like PDAs and mobile phones that prioritise the interaction of an individual with the technology over the collaboration between visitors.

Highfield suggests in his article to use technology “wisely” when deploying systems and devices in museums. So far we know relatively little about what “wise” technology design for museums looks like. However, it is clear that it needs to take into account that museum visiting is a social occasion. Designers of systems and novel exhibitions therefore might need to rethink interactivity and develop assemblies and configurations of objects and artefacts that allow people to embed (some of their) their features within their social interaction. Collaborations between museum experts and technology companies, like the one that led to the recent exhibition of Chromeweblab at the Science Museum, have proven quite successful.

It however might be worthwhile thinking about the inclusion of social scientists in such developments who might help to focus on social and interactional configurations emerging at and around technology on the exhibition floor. Moreover, natural laboratories on the exhibition floor, similar to those the Exploratorium in San Francisco uses, might be a worthwhile investment for museums to enable experiments with new configurations of technology and people in exhibitions.

Notes from “Goffman and the Interaction Order: 30 Years on” Conference in Cardiff

interaction, sociology, symbolic interactionism

the below I posted earlier on the SSSI Blog

http://sssiorg.wordpress.com

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“I have no universal cure for the ills of Sociology. A multitude of myopias limit the glimpse we get of our subject matter” (Erving Goffman, 1983: 2)

On September 27th, a conference was held at the University of Cardiff where participants discussed the influence of Goffman’s concept of the “interaction order” on sociology and related disciplines. Four speakers, Paul AtkinsonGreg SmithRandall Collins, and Susie Scott explicated the origin, application and further development of Goffman’s concepts and analytic devices.

Atkinson delivered a performance that would better be shown as a video-clip than summarised in a written paragraph. He began by highlighting that Goffman’s interest was interaction as it happens and he demanded from his students to “go out and uncover something”, rather than to concern themselves with theory and concepts. By drawing on short video-clips from masterclasses for a tenor Atkinson illustrated some of the aspect of the “interaction order” and highlighted that for Goffman it was important to unpack the intrinsic properties of situations without attributing them to individual participants. This of course is not unproblematic as situations are loaded with a history that can hardly be understood from the situation at hand alone. The sociologist therefore needs to embed themselves within situations, make observations and conduct interviews to be able to understand the events. Thus, they will be able to make sense of how the participants refer to and draw on the history of the situation to go about the action at hand.

Smith illustrated his talk “Interaction Order Controversies” with photographs he had taken on the Shetland Islands where Goffman had gathered the data that form the basis for his PhD and for what we know today as “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.” It is the original PhD thesis where Goffman uses the term “interaction order” for the first time. Then however it took until 1982/3 before he again uses the term to highlight the myopia of contemporary sociology. In the time he deployed concepts like “copresence” and “small behaviours” to denote the organisation of conduct in situations. Aside from exploring the origin and use of “interaction order” and related concept in Goffman’s writings Smith also discussed how the concepts sits within the micro-/macro debate that has been ongoing since sociology was founded as a discipline. Aside from talking about Goffman’s work, Smith also talked about Goffman as an academic who at his time was one of the best paid sociologists in the USA; he obviously was very much aware of his value and was able to use it to advance his career.

This leads us to Randall Collins’ talk who drew relations between Goffman and Garfinkel as well as to other areas of sociology that often are described as macro-sociology; Giddens to mention but one representative, used Goffman and Garfinkel to underpin his structuration theory. In his talk Collins drew attention to some curious aspects of Goffman’s work, such as his heavy reliance on codes of conduct as resources for his studies whilst at the same time in the 1960s young people were distancing themselves from just that order and the related rituals described in these books. He pointed out however the richness of Goffman’s work and how he addressed the micro-/macro-question by explicating the ingredients of interaction rituals and their link to social structure; for instance, he showed that different people deploy different greeting rituals, wear different clothes etc. displaying their ‘place’ in society. Collins, of course, is very well known for his studies of violence and conflict. In his talk he showed how that research links in to Goffman’s studies of interaction rituals in that people when being violent manage the impression they give of themselves.

The final talk was delivered by Susie Scott whose interest in Goffman is known for example through her work on Total Institutions and Shyness. In her talk she elaborated on four facets she sees in Goffman: the hero, the detective, the villain and the magician. She brought these four images of Goffman to life by referring to her research on shyness, intimate deception,  and others. At various points her talk showed close relationships to the points raised by the talks by Atkinson, Smith and Collins. In particular her reference to Goffman the villain linked nicely into Smith talk that touched on the sometimes not easy character of Goffman and his very well known ‘unusual’ behaviour at social gatherings.

The presentations together with the discussions during sessions and in breaks showed how relevant and influential Goffman still is for sociology. As time goes by his influence is growing beyond sociology and reaches into performance studies, management and marketing as well as into various areas engineering including the design of virtual worlds and social networking sites.

The conference was organised by Martin Innes and William Housley. A Twitter stream accompanied the event managed by Robin Smith. With the #socsigoffman you can trace some of the information of the event.

Recent Articles in Symbolic Interaction related to Goffman

Phil Strong: The Importance of Being Erving

Susie Scott et al. Goffman in the Gallery: Interactive Art and Visitor Shyness

Chris Conner’s Review of Stigma Revisited

@dirkvl

Robots and Interaction

interactivity, interactivity, museums, Robots

A couple of years ago I visited Laurel Riek at the computer-lab in Cambridge. Laurel introduced me to some of the stunning humanoid robots she was experimenting with. One application for those robots, she said, could be homes for the elderly or homes where people live on their own; those robots could keep these ‘singles’ company.

At a recent meeting of the Digital Sociology Study Group (British Sociological Association) I met Ciara Garattini (@LifeDeathTech) who runs a blog called Life, Death and Technology. On the blog you’ll find a curious collection of items from a link to a photography collection by David Lynch to a notes on a Seminar on Death at Columbia University.

chen

The item that drew my interest was an art installation by Dan Chen, “A Robot that Comforts you at Death’. Like the robots I encountered at the lab in Cambridge this robot is designed to replace human intimacy with technology. Although Chen said he had no plan to commercialise the robot the deployment of these kinds of technologies seems attractive.

Related work has been undertaken in robotics, where for example, Kobayashi and colleagues (2011) developed robots “that provide assisted care, such as serving tea to the elderly in care facilities. They (2011) also experimented with a robotic wheelchair that automatically moves alongside the caregiver. The motivation for the development of such a device is to facilitate easy communication between the person sitting in the wheelchair and the caregiver. At the same time, the caregiver who now can walk alongside the moving wheelchair is not so much seen as the person caring for the wheelchair user but as someone who is with the wheelchair user.

The development of technologies like the robotic wheelchair demonstrates a growing concern in robotics and human-computer interaction to develop technologies that facilitate and support social interaction between people. Another example for technologies designed to enhance cooperation and interaction can be found in museums. For long, technology designers have focused on enhancing the experience of exhibits for the individual viewer or spectator; examples for such ‘individualising’ technologies are audio-guides and PDAs as well as many touch-screen systems. Fairly recently however, technologies have been deployed and experimented with in museums that facilitate cooperation, interaction and discussion. At the Tate Britain the exhibition of Constables landscape paintings was augmented by a large-scale projection that allowed multiple visitors to real the X-Ray image underneath one of the paintings and discover features that Constable had hidden by painting them over with bushes and treas.

In a very way, and this brings us back to the use of robots in museums, Yamazaki and colleagues (2009) deployed a robot in a major art museum in Japan. The robot was designed to draw visitors attention to particular features of a painting and encourage them to examine those features. The robot thereby monitored visitors’ responses to the information it was giving and produce subsequent actions in alignment with the actions of the visitors.

We therefore see two parallel development that might be worthwhile observing over the coming years as they might dovetail as robotics and human-computer interaction take further notice of sociological research of the organisation of interaction: first, there is the development of robots, robotic devices and other interfaces that facilitate interaction of individuals with technology. And second, there are developments that attempt to situate technologies like robots, gesture interface, and the like within social situations. These novel systems and devices are designed with particular care to fit in emerging social interaction, rather than interrupting it.

Technology and Social Interaction

interaction, interactivity, Marketing, public places, Technology

Over the past few weeks an article by Nick Bilton in the New York Times has raised not only eyebrows but also concerns that the journalist may have gone a little far with his argument to abandon commonly accepted and taken for granted ‘rules of conduct’ and courtesy rituals when using technology. Bilton’s article has received more than 500 comments to some of which he has curteously responded and various journalists, writers and academics, including Nick Carr and Evan Selinger, have written pieces addressing some of the issues raised in his piece. Many of the comments and associated pieces call into question Bilton’s main argument that common forms of etiquette are inefficient and a waste of our time.

The debate reflects a growing uneasiness and uncertainty on the “proper” or “acceptable” use of technology in social occasions. In her film Connected Tiffany Shlain recalls a situation with a friend she had not seen for a long time when the urge to check her phone for new messages was so overwhelming that she apologized herself to the toilet just to update herself on the going-ons elsewhere in the world.

The situation Shlain describes is symptomatic for the uneasiness in the use of technology when in social situations. Whilst in some situations it is acceptable to occasionally glance at the phone in others it is not or it is not clear whether or not it is acceptable. A solution to deal with the situation then is to use techniques or methods like ‘an apology from the table’ and temporarily leave the situation. Thus, the sociability and intimacy of the situation is left intact whilst it becomes possible to use the phone away from the table. The deployment of these techniques also reveals that the leave taking from the table is an accountable action and that not all accounts will do as a satisfying explanation for leaving the table. For example, going to the toilet is acceptable whilst saying you want to check your Facebook Wall for updates in press less so.

In other situations, people unproblematically use their phones while with another person. For example, it is quite common for people sitting at a coffee table to pick up the phone and receive or make calls. Over time methods have been developed that allow people to use a cell phone in these situations. For example, when a cell phone rings at a coffee table where two friends converse the call-taker apologies her/himself while picking up the phone and taking the call. The friend then becomes a third-party to the phone conversation and often provides the call-taker privacy by excusing her/himself (e.g. to the toilet) or by engaging in other activities, such as checking her/his own phone, picking up a newspaper or book, or by looking in the distance  (Humphreys 2005). This does not mean, of course that the friend might not feel undermined or undervalued in the situation, in particular when the phone keeps on ringing and interrupting the face-to-face interaction. Hence, in such situations we sometimes decide to switch the phone off and eliminate this influence from the face encounter.

By and large, people nowadays are familiar with the ubiquitiousness of technology. They employ methods that allow them to use technology and at the same time to limit or sanction its use, depending on situational circumstances. They also create situations that are marked by new rules, such as the  “no phones at the dinner table” rule or the “techno shabbath” that ban technology from situations for longer periods. Arguments about the use of  technologies in situations arise relatively rarely and mostly with those who are not familiar with or not adhering to these rules and social conventions.1 For example, children like Evan Selinger’s daughter are being socialized into the use of technology and its fitting within different social contexts.

With regard to email that has been around for considerable time now and that features particularly prominently in Bilton’s NYT piece social conventions have been developed and are deployed on a day-to-day basis. As with the use of other technologies, such as cell phones, mobile game consoles etc., these conventions and rules are not fixed and followed but contingently drawn on and referred to when the acceptability of their use is questioned or challenged. I would presume that Bilton’s efficiency rule with regard to courtesy conduct in email has long been deployed, in certain situations when time was tight. Such conduct that uses efficiency as an account for the withholding of an act of courtesy however also can be detrimental to the very purpose of its accomplishment, e.g. the withholding of a “thank you” in receipt of an email. Most of us probably have encountered situations when the withholding of a simple “thank you” note in response to an email has occasioned an exchange by email or over the phone to confirm the receipt of an email; a “thank you” note in response to the original email would have been much more efficient than its withholding.

How we conduct ourselves and how we refer to and draw on social conventions or etiquettes comes down to the specifics of the situation in which we find ourselves when using technology and to our competencies to conduct ourselves in specific circumstances. The artificial general abandoning of courtesy action by virtue of some kind of rule set by the Biltons of this world would be non-sensical; and Nick Bilton would probably agree with this. Instead, we all gradually adapt our acquired social competencies to the pervasiveness of technology in situations, thereby embedding technology within our lives and those we live with. And as parents we are responsible for providing our children with the knowledge and skills that allow them to act and be seen as acting, competently in technology-rich situations.

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Footnotes

1 With regard to social conventions in “Technolosocial Situations” see also Mizuko Ito‘s research and Tricia Wang‘s work.

Stepwise Exploration of Museums: arguments for a linear organisation of exhibits

exhibitions, interaction, museums, public places, visitors

There are long-standing debates in sociology and museum studies as well as amongst museum practitioners as to the layout of exhibitions, i.e. the organisation of exhibits in a given gallery space. For long, exhibits were organised in a linear order, often reflecting the history or evolution of human kind, art, science and culture. Tony Bennett famously discussed the political debates about the history of museums. He mentions that at the time it was thought that people would acquire knowledge about ‘progress’ by slowly walking along gallery walls, from exhibit to exhibit like “waking brains”. Thus, it was assumed people would see and learn about humankind’s progress as they see the advancement of culture and technology at each next exhibit.

In the recent past the linear organisation of exhibitions has come under sustained criticism. Most recently a post by Nina Simon on her Museum 2.0 blog takes up the controversy about the linear organisation of exhibits by looking at online exhibitions. Nina Simon makes a number of interesting points and towards the end wonders: “I’d love to see research on how open and closed exhibition layouts impact visitor dwell time, satisfaction, and engagement. What have you observed?” When looking at the existing body of research on visitor behaviour in museums it is noteworthy that studies  largely focus on visitors’ experience rather than on the organisation of their visit. That is, in the centre of her interest is the outcome of people’s engagement with exhibits, not the practices through which people make the engagement with exhibits happen. There are of course notable exceptions like Stephen Bitgood‘s studies of circulation in museums and his research on the “economy of movement” (with Stephany Dukes) in malls.

In a related way research at the Bartlett School of Architecture conducted by Kali Tzortzi explores the relationship between the choices of curators and the architecture of museums. Amongst others this research suggests that the visibility of exhibits from various locations in museums influences where visitors go when they navigate museums.

wmc_cluster

Space Syntax (Bartlett School)

Surprisingly perhaps none of this research shows an interest in the ways in which visitors organise the navigation of exhibitions and the examination of exhibits in social interaction with others. However there is a growing body of studies that explores the social organisation of mobility in public places. These studies include research on car driving by Barry BrownEric Laurier, Pentti Haddington and Lorenza Mondada, guided tours by Mathias Broth, and my own research on mobility in museums. My studies investigate how people orient to the material and visible environment while practically organising their exploration of a gallery. For example, the studies I have conductd with my colleagues at the Work, Interaction & Technology Research Centre (King’s College London) explore how visitors to an art museum bring the looking at a Rembrandt painting to a close and jointly move on without disturbing companions or others who happen to be nearby. Or they examine how visitors arrive and come to stop at paintings and begin to look at them together while standing-side-by-side. Whilst the activities like the withdrawing from and moving to a next exhibit or the approach of a next exhibit may seem mundane and uninteresting they are critical for the way in which visitors orient to the layout of exhibits in a gallery.

0070401111001 (from vom Lehn 2006)

In particular with regard to the linear organisation of exhibits in museums it is worthwhile highlighting here that for visitors to be able to see the next exhibit and to already know what (kind of) exhibit that next exhibit is, helps them to organise their visit with others. They use the visibility of (the content of) the next exhibit, e.g. “another self-portrait”, to draw their companion’s attention to that exhibit and away from the exhibit they have been looking at previously. Thus, visitors are able to organise not only their own individual museum visit but also to influence the organisation of the museum visit of their companions. It is worthwhile stressing here that visitors are able to organise their visit in this way not only because the exhibits are organised in a linear way but because of the visibility of what (kind of) exhibit the next one is.

Furthermore, visitors can see whether that possible next exhibit is occupied by other visitors. They glance to the side and notice others looking at it. Thereby, they use the visual and bodily orientation of others at the next exhibit to gauge their state of involvement with this next piece. If visitors notice that the others are about to move on they prepare their departure from the current exhibit and orient to that next one.

In light of these observations it might be worthwhile reconsidering the critique of the linear organisation of exhibits:

– The linearity of the organisation of exhibits in the gallery coupled with a visibility of information about next exhibits can support visitors in aligning their organisation of the navigation of a gallery with that of other people.

– It is not only the visibility of next exhibits that people use to navigate museums but also they use the visibility of exhibits coupled with the visibility of other people’s actions at these exhibits to fashion their own action at the current exhibit.

– A practical viewpoint of research in museums highlights how the organisation of exhibits can help people with little or no preconception of the detailed layout of the exhibition to (practically) organise their museum visit.

for more on the research go here