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Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Designing and Consuming: Objects, Practices and Processes

A research project of the Department of Geography.


award under the ESRC/AHRB Cultures of Consumption programme developing theorisation of consumption. The grant is joint with Dr Elizabeth Shove (PI) of the Department of Sociology, University of Lancaster, and Professor Jack Ingram of Birmingham Institute of Art and Design. For more details of the project, including its events and outputs, please visit the project web site from the link below.

This project exploits the potential for theoretical development at the interface of science and technology studies, design and the sociology of consumption. Creative cross-fertilisation between these fields promises to enrich and extend our understanding of the relation between design and consumption and the dynamics of both. Four strategically positioned case studies, each addressing specific gaps in the existing literature, promise to generate new ways of conceptualising the objects, practices and processes of consumption.


  • What is the relation between the material world and the accomplishment of everyday life?
  • What constraints, visions, aesthetics and aspirations are embedded in the hardware of everyday life?
  • How do products and consumer practices interact and with what consequence for change and innovation?
  • How do designers and consumers add value?
  • What do different contexts of design and consumption mean in practice?
  • What is the relation between design and consumption?


Our approach is distinctive in that we aim to address these questions by exploiting, developing and synthesising concepts from design studies and from the social sciences. This theoretical joint venture comes at a time when design theorists are increasingly interested in product systems and the social contexts and conditions of use, and at a moment when better understanding of the relation between materials, competence and meaning promises to refresh theories of consumption and practice.

Although this is a theoretical project, we address the questions outlined above through four empirical case studies, each involving a combination of open interviews, observations and secondary analysis. While each study tackles a somewhat different issue, the four are designed to fit together. By piecing the resulting insights together and by setting the case studies against each other we hope to generate an integrated analysis of the objects, practices and processes of consumption.


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