How might people, whose work often keeps them away from home for extended periods, remain part of key aspects of domestic life whilst travelling for work? This is the driving question behind Family Rituals 2.0, a multidisciplinary research project exploring the evolving nature of family life within the digital age, critically examining support for work-life balance for mobile workers.
Family Rituals 2.0 was developed during an EPSRC Digital-Economy funded ‘Creativity Greenhouse’ held in July 2012 with the key theme of ‘achieving work/life balance in a digitally dependent world’. During the greenhouse process, the research team identified the daily rhythms and behaviours of family life, namely family rituals, as key features of prosaic family experience that may come into conflict with workplace demands. This is especially so, in an emerging era of hyper-mobility and concomitant digital connectivity wherein we are always on-line and contactable at any time. It was felt that in efforts to support work-life balance a deeper understanding of the evolving nature of family rituals and practices, within the digital age was required.
The term work life balance is open to interpretation. In its simplest form, it can be taken as the point at which an individual is satisfied with their lives at work, domestically and socially. However, complexity is evident, for example, work means different things to different people, boundaries between work and other aspects of lives are increasingly blurred, and what constitutes a balance is open to individual and cultural variation. Whilst definitions of work life balance are open to interpretation, what is without question is that for many, the nature of work is changing. In the technology based and knowledge intensive industries, work is released from its traditional time and space constraints, creating new opportunities for mobility and flexible working. Technology is instrumental in facilitating this change.
This research has at its focus on one aspect of work-life balance, specifically work that involves a physical separation of an individual from their families and home for extended periods of time.
Our research hypothesises that engagement in domestic rituals is a way of constructing family life. We seek to understand individuals’ values held in everyday rituals and the situated social context of mobile workers, and how digital technologies might be used to support inclusion in these rituals for those who are away from home.
The aims are of our research are to:
Understand the domestic rituals people share and the values they place in them
Understand how existing technologies are being used to support in engagement in family rituals for mobile workers
Explore existing technologies that facilitate ritual activity, as part of work/life balance
Produce speculative designs around the novel reconfiguration of existing technologies to support domestic rituals
Understand how simple technologies can support inclusion in domestic rituals.
Our ‘Ritual Machines’ are the result of a design research collaboration between the Royal College of Art’s Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design and Open Lab at Newcastle University. They were developed through a series of design-led ethnographic case studies with families who are regularly separated due to work travel. Each machine is a bespoke design, intended to live with a particular family for a period of time, helping them to reflect upon their specific domestic rituals and their attitudes towards home, work, separation and reunion. The aesthetic language of these artefacts reflects the material tastes of the family it was tailored for. The machines are deliberately playful and provocative. They do not attempt to propose a solution to the ‘problem’ of separation. Instead, they raise a conversation about what home and family life is, and what it means to be separated from it.
Private View: 22 September 6.30-8.30pm