Products, New meaning and Re-contextualization

Every product is designed with an intended use. For instance the intended use for a razor is to cut hair safely and a pressure cooker is intended to cook fast using pressurized steam.  Products are born with a specific meaning which is set in a use context. This meaning defines and determines the relationship between the supplier and the customer.  Adam Smith proposed two types of values: ‘value in use’ and ‘value in exchange’.  The paradox of value explains the contradiction as to things such as water which has great use value (value in use) but has little exchange value (value in exchange), whereas diamonds which have little use value enjoy huge exchange value (a lot of goods can be exchanged for a diamond).

Saturation is often experienced in marketing when a product-customer exchange is set in a context (intended use).  Such a relationship can slide the product down its life cycle pushing it into oblivion. This calls for rearticulating the product-customer relationship in innovative ways to infuse relevance back into the product or object.  But the critical issue is if product-customer relationship is defined by intended use how can a fresh life be breathed into it? The answer probably lies in re-contextualization or use innovativeness (Hirschman).

Use innovation calls for innovating uses of a given product. The question is can an existing product solve a new consumption problem? It is mediation between existing solution and new problem. Consider  example of Arms and Hammer baking soda which was used to deodorize the fridge. But the product found unintended uses in stain removal, dish cleaning, deodorizer, wash fruits and vegetables off chemicals, teeth cleaner and coffee stain remover, hot bath to remove muscle aches, baby nursery cleaner, and fire extinguisher.  Aspirin which was meant to provide relief from headache has found a new use for heart patients who want blood to  flow freely in their arteries. Aesthetically designed whiskey bottles are used as show pieces and to grow indoor plants.  Foxall uses the term ‘use innovativeness’ to suggest behavior of people to use a product in non-intended way. Not all people are prone to use ‘innovativeness behavior’. People differ in the ‘use innovativeness trait’ . People who have innovative personality are more prone to exploring ways to find new uses of an existing product.  Innovative unintended use of products may be accidentally discovered or the user ingenuity may play a role. People use ubiquitous newspapers to dispense merchandise, as packaging material and make paper bags. This behavior may add an entirely new dimension by recasting user-product relationship.

Products or objects may find new utility by acquisition of a new meaning. Piaget and Strauss call this recontextualization. The literal meaning of the term ‘recontextualization’ is to place something in a context other than it was initially intended for.  The meaning depends upon its context. By placing an object in a new context it  acquires a new meaning or achieves a change of its meaning.  Consider vinyl record players (functionally meant to reproduce sound inscribed on LP records) thats have acquired a new meaning as display object (artifact that belongs to a different era) by recontextualization. Worn out pair of jeans which are abandoned (trashed) by people are recycled and command high prices from some people who use these as means to express their style. In seventies, punks used everyday objects like safety pins and blades as jewelry (new context). Rugged pair of jeans originally meant for the workers found new meaning as ‘casual wear’ as an alternative to ‘formal’ wear (not only wear but also attitude and personality).  Recontextualization as a concept is linked with ‘bricolage’ which means constructing something with whatever material is available. For instance an artist may sculpt something by using everyday objects (utensils or discarded material).The  Rock Garden in Chandigarh as well as the human skull made out of utensils by artist Subodh a bricolage where discarded materials have been used to lend concrete form to an artist’s imagination.


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