What Role do Objects Play in Human Interaction?

We recently published Objects, Bodies and Work Practice edited by Dennis Day and Johannes Wagner. In this post Dennis discusses how the book came about.

That things matter in our interactive dealings with others is a premise of our book which we hope you will enjoy! A wide range of circumstances and objects are explored in the book, from receipts in shoe shops to moving forklifts in a warehouse. The subtext of the book is that talk, while central, is not the only thing going on in human interaction. For us, meaning in interaction is not only verbally but also bodily and materially constructed.

The book originates in a research project – Social Objects for Learning and Innovation (SOIL), run at the Department of Design and Communication at the University of Southern Denmark. The principle investigators in the project were myself, Johannes Wagner and Maurice Neville. In the beginning of the project, Maurice, along with other colleagues, was busy editing the book’s forerunner Interacting with Objects: Language, materiality, and social activity (John Benjamins).

Johannes and I had earlier been working with industrial designers, particularly their use of objects as proxies in design workshops, so naturally we wanted to be part of Maurice’s book and to recruit him into a project on objects and interaction as well. Johannes and I were holding a workshop for designers on Ethnomethodology and as a class exercise, we had groups of student explore ‘inscrutable objects’. The idea was for them to select based on how one goes about determining what something ‘is’. By chance we filmed one of the groups and ‘Eureka!’, there was our chapter for Maurice’s book.

The next step in our process was to arrange a conference panel with presumptive contributors to the book. This we did at the Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice Conference in Milan in 2015. We were very fortunate to have Ken Liberman visiting us in Denmark as guest professor at the time. Ken was a great help, not only with his great knowledge of Ethnomethodology and Phenomenology, but also with his recommendations for members of our panel.

Another important milestone for the book was our hosting of the 2015 International Institute for Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis. Many of the book’s chapters were further refined in conference presentations there, and we had the great privilege to discuss the book with Eric Laurier and Aug Nishizaka who were keynote speakers. Aug has further helped us by writing a postscript for the book.

As may be obvious from the variety of objects and circumstances covered in the book, we have been very open-minded. And why not? Everything we explore in studies of interaction happens in a context of material circumstances from within which objects can be made relevant. Sometimes they are mentioned verbally and sometimes they merely create the space we must navigate between us.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Making Signs, Translanguaging Ethnographies edited by Ari Sherris and Elisabetta Adami.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s