Methodological Innovation for the Study of Digital Possession

Authors: Denegri-Knott, J. and Jenkins, R.

Conference: ICR

Dates: 9-11 May 2019


There is considerable theoretical advancement on the subject of digital possession including but not limited: to discussions on digital materiality (Kedzior 2009; Watkins 2015; Zwick & Dholakia 2006) extension of the self in digital spaces (e.g. Belk 2013), re-distributed consumer practices (Jenkins & Denegri-Knott 2018; Denegri-Knott & Molesworth 2013), access and liquid consumption (Bardhi & Eckhardt 2017). By comparison, developments at a methodological level have been modest. In this roundtable we bring together a panel of discussants from a range of disciplines to: 1) reflect on how theories of possession and ontological questions regarding digital matter intersect with methodological design, 2) consider the value of methods and techniques emerging in fields outside consumer research for the study of possession and 3) map out research opportunities on digital possession and digital consumption more generally.

Understandably, given that many objects that may be considered special or important are increasingly taking a digital form and lack a material equivalent (Watkins 2015), consumer researchers have concentrated on defining their ontological characteristics and establishing theoretical connections between these and possession (e.g. Belk 2013; Denegri-Knott, Watkins & Wood 2012; Mardon & Belk 2018). Initially, research was shaped by theoretical conventions around possession (e.g. Denegri-Knott, Watkins & Woods 2012) and later, galvanised by Actor Network Theory (ANT) and practice theory studies, began to account for the agency of digital materiality in the enactment of possession (e.g. Watkins 2015). This material turn also invites us to consider methodological interventions to better bring to the fore this agency in digital possession processes such as access, control, caring of, transferring, and divestment. Beyond possession studies and consumer research, we note bold use of native digital methods which takes full advantage of the affordances of digital methods themselves in using data collection instruments that are inbuilt into digital platforms and functions themselves like search engines and hashtags (Caliandro & Gandini 2017). Add to this the new breed of post-phenomenological theory, which attends to the agency of digital materiality and how human beings both interpret or imagine what digital technologies afford them (Verbeek 2016). Other disciplines like Human Computer Interaction (HCI) in particular, have embarked on their own studies of digital possession, responding with pragmatism in designing and implementing innovative research techniques like mocking up meaningful objects based on people’s life stories (e.g. Orth, Thurgood & van den Hoven, 2018), speculative design and reflective design of working devices like a timecard to help people talk about digital heirlooms (e.g. Odom, Banks, Harper, Kirk, Lindley & Sellen, 2012). Our goal in this roundtable session is to broaden our frame of reference and inspiration for methodological innovation for the study of digital possession, including classic studies of possession (e.g. Csikszentmihalyi & Rochberg-Halton 1981; Belk 1988), native digital methods (Rogers 2009), and design orientated methodologies and research innovations in other fields like digital media and communications and HCI. In bringing together a variety of scholars who have expertise on possession theories, digital methods and digital consumption we will offer an entrée of historically preferred methodological approaches, and discuss the openings made possible by ANT, post phenomenology and practice theory as well as more practically orientated solutions emerging from native digital methods and other disciplines.

Source: Manual