The main issue of the design intents is to make sure that the expected effects of the project are legitimate and/or to implement the process of their legitimisation. Needless to say, for instance, that designing a material device that prevents homeless people from sleeping on public benches is highly debatable. All design is unavoidably going to affect people’s behaviour even if it is not the designers’ intention. So they have to clarify the definition of the targets (an individual and/or collective subject) in the relevant social system. Markets are social and political constructions (Fligstein, 1996). That’s why a political economy framework is the most useful for the analysis of social interactions. A pivotal polity issue is to promote legitimacy of the project by meeting the ‘demands’ of various stakeholders having partly common and partly conflicting goals, including individuals, families, journalists, firms, organisation, government authorities non-profit associations, etc. The strategic diffusion of a new material device must simultaneously address individual issues and develop collective actions in a persistent manner. Storytelling have to create a narrative that can be used over and over to justify the project. For instance, the use of safety belts results not only from several innovations (it was invented in 1903). Numerous initiatives, undertaken by manufacturers, user associations and public authorities, were required for many years to be made this use a ‘common’ practice.
A material device and its script offer action possibilities for future users. Objects’ affordances are additional opportunities for subjects’ action. Then the value of objects is in a virtual state and subjects are shaped as ‘model-users’. Some of their actions are encouraging or discouraging by material devices that prescribe or proscribe specific behaviours. Objects that require a bodily learning process and an embodied familiarisation should help foster the processes of adjustment with users. However designers cannot predict all behavioural eventualities. A specific user’ s way of doing is out of the designers’ hands. But they can try to design devices facilitating habitual behaviours without imposing too much change.
Usage is often not in the manner in which producers or providers intended or anticipated. Designers have to make clear, as far as possible, the possible impacts of their project. Not only to the point of delivery to users, but also afterwards, evaluating the positive and negative consequences on individual and collective practices. The value of objects is actualised through users’ lived experience. Adjustments shape both subjects and objects. They are mobilising subjects’ competence during bodily learning process while objects are changed in the process of embodied familiarisation. The design of objects is not yet complete when they leave the factory, it can continue in practice. Then, users can be viewed as co-designers of objects. That is why von Hippel (2005: 93) views lead users and user community as valuable sources of innovation.
The agency of material objects and devices is not an anthropomorphic illusion. Objects can affect humans with a peculiar type of agency. They have the ability ‘to make one do’ (faire-faire) and ‘make actions happen’. Through inter-objective devices they can frame subjects’ action and shape a model-user. Through sensory experience and sensory exploration they can change subject’s action and shape subject’s identity. Conversely the process of familiarisation changes objects. Subjects/objects interactive relationships change the distribution of competence and shape all actants. When a practice leads to a way of using and not only to a quasi-automated action programme, it seems that the theme of adjustment is the most relevant issue to look at bodily learning and embodied familiarisation.
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Dear Gilles Marion,
With great interest, I have read the manuscript of "The agency of material objects in the context of everyday consumption: a review", that you submitted to Valuation Studies. I have received three anonymous reviews of your manuscript who see value in the submission but differ in their judgement of the overall contribution and of the work that would be required to turn the paper into a contribution to the journal. Finally, I have discussed the paper with the board of editors before finalising this editorial decision letter.
Based on this assessment I regret to say that we have decided not to publish it in Valuation Studies. Although we see promise in the paper, and the reviewers give many constructive suggestions for how to develop the argument, we feel their objections are substantial and would require more than revisions. Given their extensive comments, we hope the reviews are of interest you and help you when developing the paper.
We are sorry to disappoint you and I hope it will not deter you from submitting articles to us in future.
Associate editor, Valuation Studies
This crystal clear review paper discusses the tendency of marketing to focus on objects as market goods only, with little consideration for what happens beyond the point of purchase. It then relies on a rich literature, mostly borrowed from anthropology and sociology, to show the importance of use value on the one hand, and object-user relationships on the other hand. As such, the paper will certainly work as an up-to-date and useful introduction to the sociology of objects and its potential contribution to marketing or market studies. This said, taking the following issues into account could improve the paper.
The paper alludes to the postmodern approach of consumption without quoting any reference. This could easily be corrected; works on the topic abound (see the contributions of Cova, Fuat Firat, Sherry, etc.).
The thesis of the paper is very close to the argument developed by Cochoy and Mallard in their recent contribution to the Handbook of consumer culture (Sage, 2018) (partially available on Google books) so it would make sense to mention this text.
The paper repeatedly refers to the notion of agency but provides little background about the notion. Several works could fill this loophole (Pickering, Cooren, etc.).
When talking about the "action programme" of objects or about use instructions, the author could refer explicitly to Akrich's notion of "script" (the relevant text is already present in the reference list).
Suggesting that "most of the prevailing theories of consumption remain silent" about the use value of objects is largely exaggerated. At the end of the 1980s, consumer researchers energetically fought to extend the study of consumption beyond the point of purchase, see for instance Holbrook's famous 1984 paper, "Belk, Granzin and the three bears" where the author evokes the following remark made by a reviewer about Holbrook and Hirschman 1982 paper: "I suppose the authors would claim that sleeping involves the consumption of sheets." Holbrook mischievously remarks that two weeks after an ad from Burlington Mills displayed the following motto: "never go to bed with a sheet you don't love." Beyond this anecdote, consumer research largely built its identity on the distinction between consumption as purchase (addressed by marketing management) and consumption as use (addressed by consumer research). The author could benefit from a reference to Callon's distinction between products (hot malleable entities developed in labs and factories) and goods (cold stable objects circulated on the market) (see Callon, Méadel and Rabeharisoa's paper published in Economy and Society, 2002). The author seems to insist on a third state, where goods recover their malleable character through use. He or she could also refer to ANT to strengthen the idea, see Akrich, Callon and Latour's famous diptych, "The key to success in innovation" and the formula: "adopting it is adapting it."
In the end, the paper alludes to design, its political dimension, and the efforts made to incorporate various values into the objects. Referring to the book edited by Harrison et al. on "Concerned markets" would make sense in this respect.
Saying that consumption is an activity of production and not destruction is unnecessarily provocative: it can be both (when you consume toilet paper, I assume you don't product much!).
The example of windsurfing develops somewhat predictable arguments; it would make sense to cut half of these developments at least.
The notion of hand tool (opposed to machines) is too restrictive, because it excludes other tools connected to the body but not to the hand (see skates, balls, skis, headphones, glasses, and so on). I would rather suggest talking in terms of "body tools".
The conclusion is far too short and does not deliver more than a brief summary of the paper. It should at least go back to the introduction and the discussion of the marketing literature. It should better stress the author's distinctive contribution and what he possibly sees as areas that still deserve attention.
The paper overlooks major recent developments that challenge its point of view and that would thus deserve and even need to be addressed. In particular, the paper does not say anything about the recent tendency to sell "use" rather than the goods behind: people buy less and less CDs or DVDs but subscribe more and more to Spotify or Netflix; some people don't buy cars or bikes but prefer relying on car rental or bike sharing systems; and so on. The paper would greatly benefit to address these hot developments on which there is a growing literature. By ignoring them, the paper faces the risk to talk about a world that is somewhat outmoded and well behind the hottest transformations of the consumption scene.
The paper is somewhat paradoxical. On the one hand, it pretends to move away from the narrow view of economics and marketing management, but on the other hand, it pushes the idea of use as the sole definition of objects. This is a highly utilitarian and restrictive view of non-human entities. Do we not develop other relationships with the objects we buy than just "use"? Do not object exist as companions, things that are around us but that we also forget, and so on.
Thank you for this opportunity to read this paper. It tackles an interesting and relevant issue - that of the distribution of agency of material objects and subjects. Of course, by tackling this particular issue, the author(s) also tackle a very weighty baggage of conceptual treatments of object-value and object-agency, ranging (as they point out) from Aristotle all the way to relatively recent practice theory.
My sense is that at this point in time, this baggage weighs somewhat too heavily on the author's shoulders who tries to do too much in the paper by reviewing this 3000 year history of subject-object relations in its entirety. The result is that the paper is a relatively unfocused read, and though there's much to contemplate in it, the author's original ideas and contribution get completely lost in a sea of references to thinkers from various conceptual and philosophical corners. One of the main problems with this is that the author does not give the reader much of a steer through this review either in terms of structure (section titles and content overlap frequently, there's no clear red thread) or indeed in terms of pointing out their original contribution. Perhaps worse, thinkers are often treated at a very superficial level and sometimes only name-checked; theories are at times mixed up and often remain unnamed (for instance writers such as Latour are quoted but not put into their historical or philosophical context and pedigree). This is a shame as the reader starts doubting, perhaps wrongly, the author's competence in comparing and contrasting what are very different conceptual edifices.
I see a possibility for a rewriting of this paper where the author starts talking about shifting competences between subjects and objects. I get that a lot of the previous sections build up to this point, but this may need to be spelled out more clearly so that the reader knows and can anticipate what's coming up. Also, there's some good stuff on shifting competences but it's partly in the Section on 'The dynamic of competence' and partly in the section on 'The agency of material objects and the role of adjustments'. I wonder if the notion of hacking could be fruitfully employed; as far as I understand (and I'm sure there's a literature on this by now), hacking is to use a subject's competence or expertise to enhance the competence or perhaps use value of the object, in an adjustment process. This would also allow the author to go beyond notions of scripting, for instance, which are quite old, or 'simple' interobjectivity such as in Winner's work. Properly thinking through what this opening up of competence to users means for the design process may also be quite interesting (though I would certainly not go down the open innovation/Van Hippel route on this!).
So, to salvage this paper, in my opinion the author needs to redraw their steps and really think through:
a) what the paper's original contribution should be, and in my opinion this should be around adjustments and shifting competences, possibly under the banner of hacking (but I will leave this up to the author to decide)
b) what it can and can't tackle conceptually in the light of this contribution - it can't do justice to 3000 years of object thinking –
c) tighten and deepen the conceptual references; make the conceptual part much more coherent, engage more deeply with the chosen theories, and if there are several needed carefully compare and contrast them in the light of the paper's overall (new) aim
d) drive a clear red thread through the paper and make sure that each section follows logically and clearly from the preceding one (just one example - why talk about hand tools versus machines just after starting off with hacking? Is this distinction really relevant and conceptually justified?
e) be much clearer about where their own contributions are and where they're reviewing stuff (e.g. where's Table III coming from?)
f) Again, because this is really vital: be careful not to mash up very different conceptual worlds.
There's a lot of work to do, but there may be an interesting contribution on the horizon. Best of luck with this endeavour.
This paper examines objects of consumption from a material perspective with a view of major theories, particularly use value vs. exchange value, with the goal of examining bodily learning and embodied familiarization.
First of all, let me thank you for giving me the chance to read an interesting paper on consumption and objects. I have been quite interested in object-based perspectives lately, so it was nice to read your take on this. While I am probably better at reviewing empirical papers, I hope that my comments will be useful even for this review of theory. They are aimed towards successful publication, either in this journal or another. Now comes the hard work part of writing.
Having reviewed the journal, I can see two main issues: structure and framing, particularly with the common issue of trying to do too much in one single paper.
First, while the abstract presented a fairly clear argument about the agency of material objects in everyday consumption, if that is your key argument, the structure of most of the paper does not actually help you in this goal.
I think that more work will be needed in terms of developing what you could call the backbone of the paper, i.e. the main thesis argument. Then each and every paragraph should clearly link to that key argument, either supporting, extending or nuancing. So for example in section one "Prevailing theories" (pg. 2) this currently reads as a "hits list" of the big names who have written in this area. They are currently overshadowing your contribution. Whereas I propose that you revise this to do two things. 1) Present an overarching framing that briefly synthesizes or summarizes these theories and explains why they are important in extending your argument of material objects in everyday consumption.
2) Then in each individual paragraph, you need at a minimum one sentence that clearly links the paragraph back to the section theme and your main thesis in the paper. Basically, tell the reader why they need to care about each point - what does it do in terms of your argument? If you can't answer that question, then that might be a paragraph that you could cut to give you space for other modifications? If possible, it would be better to synthesize further, rather than structuring as one paragraph per theorist, by
3) grouping theories/theorists of the same kind into the same paragraph, although that can also be with contrasts, e.g. Bourdieu and de Certeau. Perhaps make a table to compare and contrast the theorists, and use that to group people into particular viewpoints. This can either be for your own purposes or for inclusion in the paper, depending on whether it adds to the text or not. Then the section wants a final summary paragraph that makes very clear how these works come together in support of your argument (or sometimes against, along with the reasons for disregarding them), with some anticipation of the next section. So for that first section, by page 7 I still did was not clear on what your take was on use value vs. exchange value, why readers should care, and how that related to the agency of consumption objects. All of these points would want to be in the section summary. So that is my advice for the first section but it is an issue that goes throughout the paper. What I suggest for this task is outlining the paper and using something like the advice in Wendy Belcher's book to outline existing review/theory papers in the journal, then work towards that as a more ideal structure.
Second, I was wondering about the framing in terms of the theoretical assumptions and your key thesis statement. This encompassed a few related points. 1) Why is this going to be interesting for readers of Valuation Studies? I see discussion of use value, exchange value, attribution of value, etc. but not a cohesive and overriding thesis about value. Perhaps think as to whether the goal is a paper on consumption objects and agency, which then might be better in a consumption journal? Or if you might want to modify your main thesis to link a bit more with Valuation Studies. 2) While this might not be as much the case in Valuation Studies, each journal
comprises something of a conversation about particular topics, hence it would be good to try to link to some existing work in the journal. At the early stages of writing, it is best not to customize too much, perhaps, but at the point of submission, if you look to your bibliography and you have zero references to that journal, it might beg the question of whether another journal would be a better fit? I won't suggest particular articles here, but I do think that making an effort to create these links will serve
you well, both in revising this manuscript and in future submissions.
Finally, although this may be fixed by the other two points, there was too much going on in this paper. So many different theorists and many different perspectives, from economics to economic anthropology. It was confusing. In this case, what I suggest is that you choose your dominant disciplinary/subfield perspective, e.g. economic anthropology or marketing, and write the paper from that perspective. That way, you can make connections to other interesting areas from a more solid home base, but this will allow you to more easily take for granted particular points and know where you will need to explain others. Do note that here the audience are the interdisciplinary readers of Valuation Studies, and that should be a focus for your framing as noted above, however, I think the point still stands as it is also good to reveal one's home perspective, as it were, and that way, readers can more easily see where you would be expected to understand about your particular topic.
Again, thank you for letting me read this interesting paper and I hope my comments will be helpful toward publication. You definitely have some hard work ahead of you, but I think the resulting clarity and refinement will be well worth the effort. Best of luck.
Smaller points / thoughts to ponder as you go forward
- How do the different perspectives differ on the use/exchange value distinction? How does this relate to your agency of objects framing?
- What about investment value? Is this useful for your typology and thinking?
- Pg. 8 - singularization - need to define (and define all other theoretical terms at first use)
- Pg. 11 - this seems to be the beginning of the key points about value and could this perhaps be better in the beginning of the paper, if speaking to Valuation Studies readers? This is a long way to go to get to your key points.
- Pg. 11 - identity - need to define this and qualification process
- Pg. 13 - "Therefore the value of objects…" - does this help your main thesis? If not, could it be dropped? Otherwise, explain why we need to know it.
- Pg. 15 - windsurfing material seems like a different paper, one on expertise and learning. Need to decide whether this fits the issue of material agency and value, then strongly linked back to the paper's backbone. Otherwise, I'd advice taking it out, and perhaps use it as the start of a different paper on cognitive processes, learning, etc. (This is totally normal and expected with research and I am frequently using cut sections to begin new manuscripts.) That material seems like it might benefit from more reading of ANT to develop the ways you are talking about the connections between objects and also people. Seems like that could even be an empirical paper if you put in ethnography or e.g. instruction manual data about how to windsurf?
- Pg. 23 - now looking at the everyday practices of objects, which does link back to your main argument. Note that the practice perspective (generally) does not attribute agency to the object, but only to people and animals. See Schatzki, Nicolini, etc.
- Generally the paper seems to waver between an ANT perspective or a practices perspective, so I would suggest looking at those and other theories relating to objects and consumption, then make a deliberate decision as to which perspective you want to adopt in this paper. Note that you can then pick a different framing to use in another paper.
References that might be of interest, either now or later:
Belcher, W. L. (2009). Writing your journal article in twelve weeks: A guide to academic publishing success. Sage.
Karpik, L. (2010). Valuing the unique: The economics of singularities (N. Scott, Trans.). Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.
Nicolini, D. (2012). Practice theory, work, and organization: An introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Orlikowski, W. J. (2010). Practice in research: Phenomenon, perspective and philosophy. In D. Golsorkhi, L. Rouleau, D. Seidl & E. Vaara (Eds.), Cambridge handbook of strategy as practice (pp. 23-33). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ridgeway, Cecilia L., and Shelley J. Correll. 2006. "Consensus and the Creation of Status Beliefs." Social Forces 85:431-453.
Schatzki, T. R., Knorr Cetina, K., & von Savigny, E. (2001). The practice turn in contemporary theory. London: Routledge.