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Digital possessions: theorising relations between consumers and digital consumption objects

Digital possessions: theorising relations between consumers and digital consumption objects
Digital possessions: theorising relations between consumers and digital consumption objects
Digital consumption objects (DCOs) highlight limitations to extant theories of possession, including 1) assumptions of physical materiality, 2) privileging of human agency at the expense of the non-human, and 3) assumptions of full ownership that result in the purification of the ‘cultural’ level of possession from the market sphere of commodities. In order to understand digital possessions, existing theories must be extended and principles stemming from actor-network theory present a means to achieving this by re-conceptualising possession as enacted in the relations between consumers, consumption objects and broader networks of human and non-human actants.
Informed by actor-network theory, this thesis draws from in-depth interviews with twenty UK consumers and subsequent interrogation of relevant actants (e.g. software, hardware, contractual agreements) in order to document relations between consumers and DCOs from emergence to dissolution, presenting three contributions to theories of possession. Firstly, this thesis turns its attention to the consumption objects themselves. Enactments of DCOs emerged as ontologically distinct from the material consumption objects previously studied – transient as opposed to enduring and multiple rather than singular – and this thesis demonstrates ways in which the characteristics of consumption objects may shape consumer-object relations. Secondly, this thesis makes present the ‘missing masses’ of possession, demonstrating the role of actants beyond the end consumer in enabling, restricting and mobilising processes central to possession, as well as displacing consumers’ agency and disrupting consumer-object relations. Thirdly, this thesis demonstrates that fragmented ownership configurations produce instances of ontological multiplicity whereby DCOs are simultaneously enacted as possessions and as company assets, resulting in conflicting ontologies that may produce distinct consumer-object relations.
Thus in addition to exploring the enactment of possession in an under-researched context this thesis contributes to consumer research by addressing three limitations to extant theories of possession and by presenting a framework for examining consumer-object relations in future studies of possession.
Watkins, Rebecca
d431f980-4b37-4cfe-8bf8-22136d1265fb
Watkins, Rebecca
d431f980-4b37-4cfe-8bf8-22136d1265fb
Molesworth, Michael
48a49a79-1d99-4120-b0aa-578e42541724

Watkins, Rebecca (2015) Digital possessions: theorising relations between consumers and digital consumption objects. University of Southampton, Southampton Business School, Doctoral Thesis, 282pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)

Abstract

Digital consumption objects (DCOs) highlight limitations to extant theories of possession, including 1) assumptions of physical materiality, 2) privileging of human agency at the expense of the non-human, and 3) assumptions of full ownership that result in the purification of the ‘cultural’ level of possession from the market sphere of commodities. In order to understand digital possessions, existing theories must be extended and principles stemming from actor-network theory present a means to achieving this by re-conceptualising possession as enacted in the relations between consumers, consumption objects and broader networks of human and non-human actants.
Informed by actor-network theory, this thesis draws from in-depth interviews with twenty UK consumers and subsequent interrogation of relevant actants (e.g. software, hardware, contractual agreements) in order to document relations between consumers and DCOs from emergence to dissolution, presenting three contributions to theories of possession. Firstly, this thesis turns its attention to the consumption objects themselves. Enactments of DCOs emerged as ontologically distinct from the material consumption objects previously studied – transient as opposed to enduring and multiple rather than singular – and this thesis demonstrates ways in which the characteristics of consumption objects may shape consumer-object relations. Secondly, this thesis makes present the ‘missing masses’ of possession, demonstrating the role of actants beyond the end consumer in enabling, restricting and mobilising processes central to possession, as well as displacing consumers’ agency and disrupting consumer-object relations. Thirdly, this thesis demonstrates that fragmented ownership configurations produce instances of ontological multiplicity whereby DCOs are simultaneously enacted as possessions and as company assets, resulting in conflicting ontologies that may produce distinct consumer-object relations.
Thus in addition to exploring the enactment of possession in an under-researched context this thesis contributes to consumer research by addressing three limitations to extant theories of possession and by presenting a framework for examining consumer-object relations in future studies of possession.

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Published date: June 2015
Organisations: University of Southampton, Southampton Business School

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 381667
URI: https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/381667
PURE UUID: 79dc1626-0816-4c52-ab01-d211e1ecfdf3

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Date deposited: 05 Nov 2015 14:24
Last modified: 30 Sep 2017 04:02

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Contributors

Author: Rebecca Watkins
Thesis advisor: Michael Molesworth

University divisions

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