21 April 2010

Dust as information

When we have, for the past few days, been so preoccupied with dust of a different kind, this extract from a report of a research study of consumers' connections to domestic objects:

In our final example we return to the more traditional terrain of
the bagged cleaner, revealing that it too has the potential to outwit
and expose its users. One participant discusses how he uses an
old conventional vacuum cleaner in the student house he rents out
as a mechanism to ensure that his tenants vacuum the house once
a week. Here we see how the traditional bagged vacuum cleaner
serves a particular purpose that would be impossible with a Dyson.
As their landlord, Henry prohibits the students from emptying the
vacuum cleaner bag: he visits the house once a week and changes
the bag. At the end of the tenancy he empties the bag and then
vacuums the property himself. If there is any dust collected in the
bag he uses this as a means to retain the students’ deposit, which
is returnable only on condition that the property is fully cleaned
prior to departure. The vacuum bag thus becomes an instrument
of surveillance at-a-distance, a tool for the external management of
approved cleaning practices and a weapon of financial punishment
where necessary. Should outgoing students (or their parents)
complain about the non-return of the deposit, Henry has been known
to post the vacuum bag and its dusty contents to the complainants
as material evidence of their failure as tenants. The bag is thus the
means through which Henry disciplines his tenants, the material
representation of his authorial presence and the objectification of
their financial indebtedness to him. Thus far, he has never returned
a deposit to any of his tenants: all withheld on the bulky evidence of
the vacuum bag.

Perhaps an extreme case of my claim that research reveals unanticipated findings.

[via Putting People First]

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