Materializing Liminal Data at the Museum of Broken Relationships

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Abstract / Description of output

In this paper, we reflect on the evolution of an ethnographic study as we became increasingly preoccupied by the emotional and embodied nature of the first author’s encounters in the field and our engagement with data and as authorial team. Emotions were inevitably at the heart of this study since it was inspired by curiosity about the value to consumers of negative emotions and affective consumer experiences. Although some researchers have examined consumer experiences of dissatisfaction (Pascual Nebreda et al, 2021), anger (Antonetti et al, 2020), stigma (Mirabito et al, 2016), or vulnerability (Baker et al, 2005; Hamilton et al 2015), relatively little is known about how or why consumers might actively choose to consume negative emotions, particularly sadness.

The context for our study is The Museum of Broken Relationships (MBR) in Zagreb, which displays artifacts and stories donated by those who experienced love and loss. By materializing and curating the ‘end of love’ (Illouz, 2021) in this way, MBR serves as a platform for delving into the consumption of negative emotions within a highly charged affective atmosphere (Preece et al., 2022). As we engaged with and discussed the ‘fieldwork’, ‘headwork’ and 'textwork’ (van Maanen, 2011) of a pilot study of the MBR, it became clear that an embodied, emotional style of research was fundamental to understanding and communicating the researcher’s ‘sensory entanglement’ (Valtonen et al., 2017) with the museum: its atmosphere, its exhibits and its visitors. This led us to consider the emotion work (Kenny, 2008) of our ethnographic research and adopt what organizational scholar Silvia Gherardi (2019) terms an ‘affective ethnography’. Grounded in the ‘affective turn’ (Thrift, 2008) of social science research, Gherardi’s ‘affective ethnography’ is informed by post-qualitative methodologies, that challenge conventional humanist qualitative approaches to data collection and analysis (Rodner, 2024) and instead invite qualitative researchers to ‘produce different knowledge and produce knowledge differently’ (St Pierre 1997: 175). Venturing beyond simply ‘being there’, affective ethnography foregrounds experiences of multiple, complex interactions - of ‘being with’, ‘becoming with’ and ‘being in-between’ others, including ‘other humans, more-than-humans, texts, discourses, knowledges, and various other materialities’ (Gherardi, 2019: 753). In other, related work, Gherardi and Bispo (2019) invite qualitative researchers to see themselves as embodied, embedded and affective practitioners, and to incorporate ‘flesh and blood knowing’ when producing and interpreting data. Building on this work, Benozzo and Gherardi (2020) highlight the importance of paying close attention to what is ‘not yet data’, dwelling on what is ambiguous, elusive, and indeterminate.

In adopting an affective ethnography (Gherardi, 2019) of the MBR, we follow fellow feminist ethnographers (Coffey, 1999) in ‘placing the personal and emotive aspects of fieldwork at centre stage’ (Kenny, 2008: 377) and consider how we collect and analyse the embodied, emotive and elusive data of our research context. As affective ethnographers, we incorporate autoethnographic fieldnotes (Ellis & Bochner, 2006) and field diaries (Punch, 2012) which pay close attention to embodied and emotional experiences, along with poetic introspections (Prendergast, 2009) and visual representations (Alfonso et al., 2004) of affective encounters between visitors. We also reflect on our experiences of liminality as we seek to make sense of and communicate encounters with ‘not yet data’, the ‘messy, unclear and indeterminate data’ (Benozzo and Gherardi, 2020: 145) that emerges from the ‘shadows’ of our fieldwork. Finally, we reflect on the relationship between the production of ‘data’ by the researcher and the production of the researcher by the ‘data’.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 12 Jan 2024
Event12th EIASM Interpretive Consumer Research Workshop - Malaga, Spain
Duration: 18 Apr 202419 Apr 2024


Workshop12th EIASM Interpretive Consumer Research Workshop
Internet address

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • affect
  • Ethnography
  • consumers
  • museums
  • Qualitative methods


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