Introducing touch as culture

Hello. My name is Anne Galloway and I’m very pleased to introduce myself as the newest member of the Touch research project team. Some of you may know me from my blog purselipsquarejaw, or my involvement in the spaceandculture journal weblog, but for those who don’t - I’m a social researcher working at the intersections of technology, space and culture.

Where I’m coming from

When Timo and I first started talking about the project, I was working through some ideas about the relationship between design and social science, and more specifically, about how social and cultural research could serve as materials for design. When I was offered the opportunity to put some of this thinking into practice, I simply couldn’t refuse!

As it so happened, I had also recently finished reading Constance Classen’s wonderful edited volume, The Book of Touch. Unique in its approach, it begins a cultural history of touch, and starts to draw out our cross-cultural experiences of touch. Of special interest to me was her claim that a cultural understanding of touch was probably best served not by detached or objective intellectual analysis, but rather by a “rough and ready approach that acknowledges and grapples with the tangled, bumpy and sticky nature of the topic.”

I was taught, and I now teach students, that it’s always a good idea to start any research project with a literature review. Not only does this help the researcher better understand the field in which they seek to intervene, and locate them within that field, but it helps identify strengths and weaknesses, or gaps in the existing research that can provide points of entry to further understanding.

But how could I turn the rather stodgy academic lit review into something “rough and ready” for other researchers and designers to work with? Well, one possibility was compiling a cultural encyclopædia of touch, and so my first contribution to the project will be the Touchpædia.

What’s the Touchpædia?

First of all, it’s being created as a rich and fundamental design resource for the project team. And since we’re all committed to open research, the Touchpædia will ultimately take the form of a wiki-based, publically accessible and modifiable resource. (After all, when is an encyclopaedia ever done?)

The content of the Touchpædia will be organised thematically - along the lines of “touch as contamination” and “touch as pleasure” or “touch as magic” and “touch as pain” etc. - and each entry will include the following:

1) a summary of current social and cultural research;

2) suggestions for further reading;

2) possible research questions, focussed on design and material culture;

3) possible ethnographic research methodologies, focussing on participatory, performative and playful engagement;

4) simple design briefs.

We plan to have Touchpædia Version 1.0 online first thing in the new year - but that’s not all of it. Timo and I are currently working out the details on some exploratory cross-cultural probes, interviews and observations in Norway and Canada, and a variety of international and collaborative workshops.

In other words, there’s lots more good stuff to come before summer 2007 and we’re excited!

And last, but certainly not least, we’re really looking forward to hearing people’s thoughts and sharing our experiences along the way. Cheers.

Related things:

  1. Touch as culture This is a design brief, one of many themes that the Touch project is investigating. Anne Galloway is a social researcher working at the intersections of technology, space and culture. Anne’s research in the......
  2. The rituals of touching I had the pleasure of meeting Charlie Gere at the Architecture and Situated Technologies symposium in October, where he gave an intriguing introduction to The Liturgy of Things. You can listen to the whole......
  3. Re/Touch: Inspiring touch-related interaction design One of the things that social and cultural research on touch attempts to grapple with is everything people are supposed to touch and not supposed to touch—and what we actually end up touching or......
  4. Touch project Touch is a research project at the Interaction Design department at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design. Touch takes a user-centred approach to Near Field Communication (NFC). NFC is a technology that enables......
  5. A PhD in Touch Radio Frequency IDentification is a wireless technology that is is currently finding applications in the replacement of barcodes in supply chains and logistics. This cheap and potentially ubiquitous technology is likely to influence the......

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  1. Posted 13 October 2006 at 18:44 | Permalink

    Hi Anne,

    It is great to hear you are working on touch!
    I am now designing haptic systems to transmit a sense of touch. On a collaborative project I focused on touch therapy: squeezing, holding, but now I independently research on various physical stimuli. Touch is starting to be used in mental health treatment …

    Hope we can chat soon about your new work,

  2. matt loader
    Posted 19 October 2006 at 13:11 | Permalink

    Hi Anne,
    I’m still alive in a different incarnation (corporate communications- a real servant of Satan!).....
    Not studying, but still keeping my eyes open, and delighted to hear of your new touchy feely studies
    Automotive interior design is very much concerned with touch,, and I will try to obtain the metrics the guys here at Nissan use, also to find out a bit more about how they conceptualise within the commercial environment.
    I’m also thinking that the ‘touch as contamination’ thread really takes off when you look at Japanese interpersonal relationships…..
    Just random thoughts as always…. but then again, I’ve always been a bit ‘touched’ (ouch! I couldn’t resist…. forgive?)

One Trackback

  1. By The rituals of touching · Touch on 20 December 2006 at 15:46

    [...] Charlie’s perspective continues to inspire me in Touch in art and elsewhere, a small online exhibition he’s just curated for “Recently, for various reasons, I have become interested in the question of touch, in art and elsewhere. We live in a world in which the ways in which we can communicate with each other become more and more immaterial, incorporeal and virtual, particularly through the increased use and greater ubiquity of digital technologies. In this context touch is often occluded and, at the same time, overly fetishised. In the last half century or so, there has been an increasing interest in touch in art, especially in relation to performance and telematic works, that may be a response to the increasing virtualisation of culture, though the question of touch can be traced in far older works, particularly some of those dealing with the life of Christ, which is, whether we are religious or otherwise, the founding myth of Western culture, and which has determined much of our understanding of questions of presence and absence, corporeality and spirituality, and our relation to the senses and thus to touch.” From Titian’s Noli me Tangere to examples of museum “look but don’t touch” policies, Charlie draws attention to many of the themes central to our current Touchpædia project. Touchpædia v1.0 is planned for a late January release, and here are just some of the topics it, um, touches on: bodies, commodities, contamination, control, femininity, healing, labour, pleasure, sports… Like Charlie, I’m interested in cultural practices surrounding what can, and cannot, touch. Applied to RFID and Near-Field Communication, this becomes a question of connecting some things and disconnecting others. Put another way: whether we’re concerned with issues of technological privacy or publicity in our everyday lives, I believe we’re well served by a stronger understanding of cross-cultural examples of ritualised contact and avoidance. It’s my hope that the Touchpædia will be a step in that direction, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it might lead. [...]

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