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Embodying experience: A video‐based examination of visitors' conduct and interaction in museums

Dirk vom Lehn (Work, Interaction and Technology Research Group, Department of Management, King's College, London, UK)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 1 November 2006




The purpose of this paper is to argue that social interaction fundamentally underpins how people examine, experience and make sense of museum exhibits. It seeks to reveal how people collaboratively view and make sense of artwork and other kinds of exhibit, and in particular how the ways of looking at and responding to exhibits arise in social interaction.


The analysis inspects in detail video‐recordings of visitors' conduct and interaction at exhibits. It draws on ethnomethodology and conversation analysis to reveal the social and sequential organisation of people's verbal, visual and bodily action and interaction.


The study finds that people explore museums and examine exhibits with companions while other visitors act and interact in the same locale. Which exhibits visitors look at and how they see and experience them is influenced by and arises in social interaction with others, be they companions or strangers. People display and share their experience of exhibits with others through verbal and bodily action and interaction.

Research limitations/implications

The findings bear on current debates in marketing research. They suggest that there is a lack of understanding of people's experience of exhibits in museums. They show how video‐based studies can address this gap in marketing research. Further studies are currently being conducted to shed light on the quality of people's experience at the exhibit‐face and how it may be enhanced by the deployment of interpretation resources, such as labels, touch‐screen and handheld systems.

Practical implications

The findings may have some implications for the work of curators, designers and exhibition evaluators. They suggest that social interaction needs to be taken into consideration when designing and deploying exhibits and interpretation resources, such as labels, touch‐screen information kiosks, hand‐held computers, etc.


The paper uses visual/video‐recordings as principal data and illustrates its findings by virtue of visual material. It introduces video‐based field studies as a method to examine cultural and visual consumption in museums. It employs an analytic and methodological framework from ethnomethodology and conversation analysis that previously have found little application in marketing and consumer research.



vom Lehn, D. (2006), "Embodying experience: A video‐based examination of visitors' conduct and interaction in museums", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 40 No. 11/12, pp. 1340-1359.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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