The relationship between ideas about cleanliness and actions that affect product longevity

Fisher, T. ORCID: 0000-0003-2565-8805, Cooper, T. ORCID: 0000-0001-8623-2918, Harmer, L., Salvia, G. and Barr, C., 2015. The relationship between ideas about cleanliness and actions that affect product longevity. In: T. Cooper ORCID: 0000-0001-8623-2918, N. Braithwaite, M. Moreno and G. Salvia, eds., Product Lifetimes and the Environment (PLATE) Conference proceedings, [Nottingham Trent University], Nottingham, 17-19 June 2015. Nottingham: Nottingham Trent University: CADBE, pp. 119-124. ISBN 9780957600997


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As Mary Douglas famously put it, ‘where there is dirt there is system’ (1991 (1966): 35). She was concerned particularly with the cultural systems that determine the ideas about dirt that motivate and constrain people’s actions with material objects. This paper assumes that such motivations and constraints may affect consumers’ willingness to keep or to dispose of their possessions, and therefore have an impact on product longevity. It reports on ongoing empirical research using product analysis, ethnographic interviews, a questionnaire and student design work into the possibility of increasing the longevity of vacuum cleaners by design interventions. Because its object of study is a cleaning product used in everyday cleaning practices, the research naturally connects with Douglas’ ideas as well as more recent work such as Dant 2003 that focuses on how people deal practically with the materiality of dirt, not determined by cultural categories. This paper builds on Vaussard et al.’s (2014) classification of individuals by their degree of concern for keeping their house clean, into ‘Spartan’, ‘Minimalistic’, ‘Caring’ and ‘Committed’ cleaners and their implications for vacuum cleaner replacement. Introducing a short history of concern about dirt since germ theory, it considers whether the desire for a more up to date/efficient/powerful/good looking/clean/shiny machine may accelerate replacement. It finally considers whether a design that ‘ages gracefully’ might have a longer life-span, either as a personal possession or as part of a service system.

Item Type: Chapter in book
Alternative Title: Proceedings of the Product Lifetimes and the Environment Conference, 17-19 June 2015
Proceedings of the PLATE Conference, 17-19 June 2015
Creators: Fisher, T., Cooper, T., Harmer, L., Salvia, G. and Barr, C.
Publisher: Nottingham Trent University: CADBE
Place of Publication: Nottingham
Date: 2015
ISBN: 9780957600997
Rights: [© Nottingham Trent University 2015].
cc Proceedings are under a Creative Common License Number CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 (
Divisions: Schools > School of Art and Design
Schools > School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Record created by: EPrints Services
Date Added: 09 Oct 2015 10:34
Last Modified: 09 Jun 2017 14:24

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