Thursday, April 19, 2007

Social Identity, Status and Furniture

I have written about comfort and its context, referring to work by Galen Cranz. Here is another quote from Cranz' book, The Chair, which relates furniture to social identity:
And the home is the place where people communicate their social identity. This is connected not just to income but to what work one does for a living, how one chooses to spend money, one's educational level, travel experience, family and religious affiliations. Such status was once revealed in public by one's dress and accent; but increasingly over the last two centuries, starting with the Dutch, it has been expressed by how one furnishes the home--how much and what kind of furniture, the quality and symbolism of fabrics (draperies and upholstery), carpets, paintings, sculpture and other art work, sporting trophies, travel mementos, musical equipment (including stereos and CDs), books and now, TV, video and computers.

The Context of Comfort

A Way of Sitting: Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Ghandi

In an earlier blog entry, I argued that the primary purpose of end-use technology was to close certain kinds of temporospatial gaps.

(By "use," I mean an every-day, every-person "end use," not some "end use" which is internal to technology production itself.)

In the commentary that followed, Madhan Kumar Balasubramanian noted that some technology was simply to provide comfort regardless of any temporospatial conditions. I noted that comfort was subjective and supplanted the "comfort" exception by noting that there were tools that were simply for play, say the soccer ball, but still they served in some sense to fill a temporospatial gap of a certain kind. For example, play introduces a different experience of time as it passes. When noting that "comfort" was a subjective criteria I only gave examples that were somewhat marginal but I could remember that I had read something about the subjectivity of comfort in Galen Cranz' The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body, and Design. (Consider listening to the NPR interview with Cranz about her book.)

Cranz notes how comfort only finds meaning in a specific context.

When chairs were derived from the classical orders of architecture, the unyielding, vertical back was retained. Some judge that this strategy produced uncomfortable furniture. However, for the purpose of maintaining alertness, unprightness has proved the most comfortable position over time. For the kinds of social and political functions staged in such rooms, altertness was undoubtedly appropriate and desired, and this chair style supported that purpose.

Otherwise, it may often be much more comfortable to lay down, walk, run or even swim than to sit upright.