Theories and practices of meaning-making among design professionals : an empirical case study in the Design Museum London
The purpose of this thesis is to examine socio-cultural and political interventions in meaning-making by the design profession and to present an explicit model of meaning-making in the design profession by investigating members of that profession as an audience in a design museum. First, professional meaning-making is addressed from the viewpoint of theoretical understandings of the way in which the design profession makes meaning and gains knowledge. This study starts from an interaction-theoretical approach to meaning-making, suggested by interactionists such as Goffman, and a power-theoretical approach as proposed by, among others, Bourdieu. Both of these approaches have their own limitations, however. The first (the interaction-theoretical approach) is too personal to account for the affects of power relationships between members of the field and the second (the power-theoretical approach) is too deterministic to enable an understanding of the capacity of the individual. Neither approach gives a satisfactory explanation of professional meaning-making. For this reason, the thesis intends to combine these two theoretical approaches. The second aim of the thesis is to conduct research into a particular design museum (the Design Museum London), taking it as an example in order to investigate the design profession's actual meaning-making process. The research subjects consist of designer visitors who reflect their own field while visiting the design museum. The empirical findings are combined with the theoretical foundations to show that the museum visit is an important symbolic ritual in which members of the profession present their habitus, as a notion of self-identity, to other people as well as themselves. In light of the empirical findings, the last section of the thesis is dedicated to building a model of meaning-making among design professionals in design museums in order to gain a more complete understanding of the social system embedded in the profession. The model suggests that the key factors affecting the way in which the design profession makes meaning of design exhibits are “self-identity”, “interaction”, “ritual”, “habitus”, “social practice” and “symbolic power”. It is anticipated that the thesis will illustrate the application of sociological theories and discourses to investigations of the design profession and to related cultural and institutional activities for higher education, museum curatorial practice and creative industry development.