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Unit, vibration, tone: a post-phenomenological method for researching digital interfaces

Lookup NU author(s): Dr James Ash, Dr Rachel Gordon



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Sage, 2018.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


Digital interfaces, in the form of websites, mobile apps and other platforms, now mediate user experiences with a variety of economic, cultural and political services and products. To study these digital mediations, researchers have to date followed a range of methodological strategies including the modification of pre-existing qualitative research methods, such as content analysis, discourse analysis and semiotics, among many others, and an experimentation with new methods designed to make visible the operation of data aggregation, analytics and algorithms that are hidden from users. Building upon, while distinct from these strategies, the article sets out a post-phenomenological approach to studying interfaces, websites and apps that explicitly interrogates how they appear as objects. In doing so, the article provides a response to a problem that animates contemporary cultural geography: that new cultural objects are emerging which place in question the habits and practices of analysis that composed the ‘new’ cultural geography. To do this, the paper develops the concepts of unit, vibration and tone to unpack interfaces as sets of entities that work together to shape the experiences and responses of users. As such, the article provides a methodological vocabulary for the analysis of how interfaces operate to modulate user response and action on a series of habitual and un-reflected upon levels and thereby to create outcomes that suit their owners and operators.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Ash J, Anderson B, Gordon R, Langley P

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Cultural Geographies

Year: 2018

Volume: 25

Issue: 1

Pages: 165-181

Print publication date: 01/01/2018

Online publication date: 22/09/2017

Acceptance date: 17/07/2017

Date deposited: 25/08/2017

ISSN (print): 1474-4740

ISSN (electronic): 1477-0881

Publisher: Sage


DOI: 10.1177/1474474017726556


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