The domestication of technology is an approach within the area of media appropriation studies. It describes the process of media (technology) adoption in everyday life, and especially within households. It outlines several dimensions of this dynamic adoption process in the context of the household as a moral economy and through the concept of the double articulation of media as technology. Two major strands of the domestication approach have been developed, only one of which is clearly within the field of media and communication studies. The other is located in the field of social studies of technology (e.g., Lie & Sorensen 1997).
The domestication idea was first developed at the beginning of the 1990s, primarily in the UK. It has its roots, however, in an article by the German ethnologist Hermann Bausinger, published in Media, Culture and Society in 1984, where he described a weekend in the life of a “typical” German family and reflected on the communicative role of the media. He stressed the uses of different media, everydayness, and the collective use and discussion of media. Building on Bausinger, the main researchers contributing to the early formulation of this approach were Roger Silverstone, David Morley, and Eric Hirsch (and later Leslie Haddon) (e.g., Silverstone & Hirsch 1992). The approach is now used widely in Europe, and also in North America, Asia, and other parts of the world. Two research projects shaped the early history: HICT (The Household Uses of Information and Communication Technologies) and PICT (Programme on Information and Communication Technologies). From 1995 to 1998 the EMTEL (European Media, Technology, and Everyday Life) network was crucial in further developing the concept of domestication. This was followed by EMTEL II from 2000 to 2003.
The emphasis of the concept on the media’s materiality represented a move away from a concentration on the media text to the media itself. The emphasis on the context of media use underlines the close relation to cultural studies as well as to feminist engagements with media use. The technology emphasis was in part inspired by developments in the field of technology studies. Everett Rogers’s approach to the diffusion of innovation shared a concern with the routinization and “making common” of technologies, but the emphasis in domestication research is less on use itself than on meaning-making via media use, and it also engages critically with any assumption of linearity.
An interesting feature of the domestication approach is the dimensions of media appropriation, which include commodification, imagination, appropriation, objectification, incorporation, and conversion. These dimensions suggest that media are first made (invented, marketed, etc.), then adopted and integrated as objects that find a place in daily routines. They are also used to communicate to the outside world that certain media are used in particular ways. This applies to the media as technological and consumption objects as well as to their content, which is also reflected in the idea of double articulation. Media are both material objects and content providers. The concept of the moral economy draws attention to the idea that people need to be secure in their everyday lives, that is, they strive to achieve ontological security. The household economy is embedded in the wider economy, and media consumption is treated as a transaction process where media enter the home and values and experiences are “traded.”
The moral economy concept within the domestication approach has been criticized, by Andrew Feenberg, for example, who described it as “too cozy” (1999, 107), claiming that it is not a general media adoption model. He argued that agency needs to be emphasized and that the possibility for resistance needs to be kept open. The ultimately conservative character of the approach was acknowledged by Silverstone himself, who stated that there would always only be an attempt at appropriation and that only that which is not domesticated is interesting because this is the site of change (Silverstone, in Berker et al. 2006). This insight also addressed criticisms that the domestication model is too linear. The earlier approach to reand de-domestication, however, was articulated as a dynamic nonlinear model, although it did not allow for a radical break in the domestication process.
Initially, it was assumed that the domestication approach would be developed only through the use of ethnographic methods to achieve the necessary detail through observations of households over a period of two weeks. This method was soon replaced by qualitative interviews, and this is still the primary research method in this field. Additionally, time-use diaries, photos, drawings, lists, mental maps, etc., are used to achieve triangulation. Some researchers continue to engage directly with households over the long term and to achieve greater depth of analysis (cf. Berker et al. 2006).
The challenge for the further development of the domestication concept is the changing media environments in which the media are consumed, which mean that the study of home as a site for media adoption research (Morley 2003) is limited. There is also debate about whether the domestication concept should be restricted to its core focus on media appropriation. Nevertheless, the domestication approach remains a useful tool for examining the complexity of everyday life and media use and provides entry points for a better understanding of media production and consumption.
- Bausinger, H. (1984). Media, technology and daily life. Media, Culture and Society, 6(4), 343–351.
- Berker, T., Hartmann, M., Punie, Y., & Ward, K. (2006). Domestication of media and technology. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
- Feenberg, A. (1999). Questioning technology. London: Routledge.
- Lie, M., & Sorensen, K. (eds.) (1997). Making technology our own: Domesticating technology into everyday life. Oslo: Scandinavian University Press.
- Morley, D. (2003). What’s “home” got to do with it? Contradictory dynamics in the domestication of technology and the dislocation of domesticity. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 6(4), 435– 458.
- Silverstone, R., & Hirsch, E. (eds.) (1992). Consuming technologies: Media and information in domestic spaces. London: Routledge.