Performance ritual and the design of mobile devices

  • Kym Campbell

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis argues that concepts of secular ritual, drawn from the work of Erving Goffman and James Carey, can provide a useful way of understanding the relationship between the production and design of mobile devices and their use, and hence provides further insights into the broader relationship between mobile technologies and society. This argument is developed by reviewing scholarship on the relationship between technologies and society, before engaging with ritual as a secular concept and a way of understanding human relations with technology. James Carey's work on ritual and communication is key to linking technology with ritual, while Erving Goffman's work on ritual and performance provides a way to develop a framework for further analysis. The ritual performance-oriented framework is described here as the theatre of design, and acts as a metaphor for describing the dynamic between society and the mobile device. In essence, this approach argues that we can understand our relationship with mobile devices as a performance in which the device can be a prop, users can be thought of as actors, and designers take on the role of director. To develop this framework further, the device is examined through a sociocultural lens. Du Gay et al’s circuit of culture is utilised to illustrate how meaning comes to associate with the technology. In the context of this thesis, however, Rook's work on consumerist ritual provides a way to link the circuit of culture back to the concept of ritual, uniting the idea of a circuit of meaning-making activities, which involve production and consumption, within the theatre of design. While this approach could be used to focus only on the relationship between the user and the mobile device, the focus of this thesis is on the ways that performative ritual-like activities are embedded into the processes of production and design. This concept is explored in this thesis by conducting in-depth interviews with key informants, which both informed the development of the framework, and also served to ground it in practice. The interviews with key informants found both support for the theatre of design framework, and provided insights, which guided its development. Five key themes emerged from the interviews which together show that there is evidence for performative uses of mobile devices being central to the concerns and processes of mobile device design. In particular, ritual-like engagement with devices is embedded into the design process through design concepts such as affordance, emotion, experience and sharing and exchanging.
    Date of Award2016
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorSam Hinton (Supervisor) & Stephen Barrass (Supervisor)

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