Doctor of Design (DDes)


Art and Design

Document Type



External elements influence humans and society. Objects, buildings, and spatial organization are human constructs, and humans sculpt physical environments so that we may function in societally organized patterns to promote efficiency and establish norms in a chaotic and shifting world.[1] The objects around us often go unnoticed and become commonplace. We fail to question or think about the objects guiding social and personal behavior, subconsciously allowing our exterior environment to drive our actions and cultural behavior in society.[2] We seek stability in the flow of time and attempt to find grounding through the physicality of objects. These objects embody qualities we cannot physically touch or see, such as love, loss, excitement, family values, and many other emotions and feelings. ­This embodied meaning is inseparably tied to the value and cultural importance of the object.

Research explored the application of embodiment theory as a means of understanding the motivations behind the preservation and value of objects. Objects cannot be fully appreciated as illustrations of material culture without understanding the embodied symbolism of personal and societal concepts behind the physical form.

I used an autoethnographic approach as a base for understanding the importance of embodied meaning in archival arrangement and description. With the support of semi-structured interviews and museum database examples, I triangulated my findings to answer two categories of questions. The first category was twofold and examined preservation motivations based on embodied meaning. What do saved objects mean to people, and how does embodied meaning affect value distinctions? Also, how does embodied meaning influence why people preserve objects of material culture? Second, I explored how to capture embodied meaning in a balanced and useful system of arrangement and description.

This research attempted to understand embodiment theory as applied to objects. I emphasized the importance of capturing the embodied qualities of objects in archival arrangement and description. Finally, findings were organized in a workbook prototype for utilization as a tool for personal collections to capture robust cultural meaning.

[1] Humans have a fear of chaos, and we establish order and method to balance the chaos. We take control of our built environment to establish organization. Alexander, Christopher. The Timeless Way of Building (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1979), 14-15.

[2] Daniel Miller. Materiality (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005).5.



Committee Chair

Desmond, Michael

Available for download on Friday, April 02, 2027