Our everyday interactions with material objects are dependent on us making sense of what they mean and what actions will be effective in transforming them to suit our purposes. We perceive things by interpreting the information of our senses in the light of what we know of our material culture. We act on them through bodily gesture that changes them, both physically and their meaning as signs. Those who design and manufacture objects anticipate how they will be interacted with and how they will fit within the existing material culture. Their intentions are embedded or within the form of the objects they produce and are responded to or ‘read’ during interaction by consumers or users. Material interaction involves pragmatic relations that situate the meaning of objects in relation to other objects and the intentions of the designer and the user. This paper attempts to set out the pragmatic features of everyday interaction with objects to enhance sociological understanding of design and consumption and illustrates the processes of material interaction with the examples of making flat-pack furniture and professional work on cars. The concept of ‘pragmatics’ is derived from the writings of Pierce and Morris and their approach to the study of signs is developed with reference to Barthes. Meaningful material interaction involves the subject/object, person/thing relations of perception and gesture and these are developed from the theories of Merleau-Ponty and Leroi-Gourhan. The pragmatic dimensions of material interaction are proposed to be: intention, perception, orientation, manipulation and continuation.
“The final, definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal, Journal of Consumer Culture, 8 (1), 2008, © SAGE Publications Ltd, 2008 by SAGE Publications Ltd at the Journal of Consumer Culture page: http://joc.sagepub.com/ on SAGE Journals Online: http://online.sagepub.com/