Assignment 4: Interviews, but not as we know them.

What object do people treasure most? Why?

These are questions that I have been asked to find answers to, through a bit of research and interviewing. I began to think about sentimental value, what it is, and why we ascribe sentimental value to objects. From asking myself this question, I found that I all but forgot about my most ‘valuable’ possessions, my laptop, camera, and phone, and instantly thought of photographs, jewellery, notes and letters. I did a bit of research to help me to understand what sentimental value is, and Guy Fletcher (2009) states the following: “We can give a definition along the following lines: something is sentimentally valuable if and only if the thing is valuable for its own sake in virtue of a subset of its relational properties, where the properties include any or all of having belonged to, having been given to or by, or having being used by, people or animals, within a relationship of family, friendship, or romantic love, or having been used or acquired during a significant experience. This is not comprehensive, not least because it leaves unanswered the important question of why it is that the relational properties sometimes generate sentimental value and other times do not.”

Anthony Hatsimoysis (2003) states “The intimate relation between oneself and the objects one experiences as sentimentally valuable may support the view that sentimental value is personal. It can, indeed, be argued that sentimental value is personal because it is not impersonal, since it is part of a phenomenon that involves a point of view of the world, namely, the point of view of the person who is emotionally connected with the bearer of value.”

From this I understood that sentimental value is given to items which a person has some other, more meaningful interaction with than ‘I wanted it so I bought it.’ I decided to focus on this, and hoped to find out if what people most valued was items with a high sentimental value, or if monetary value would have any sway over peoples’ choices.

Hatzimoysis says in the same article, “An object is sentimentally valuable to an agent for certain reasons, which, by the very fact of being reasons, are in principle intelligible by everyone else, even though they may not be applicable to anyone else. Universality may thus come in through the understanding that something has the relevant quality, but not in the experience of that quality as enjoyed by the agent who sees the object as sentimentally valuable.”

So, for example, you might understand why I would treasure a particular piece of jewellery, even though the jewellery has no particular meaning to you personally. I kept this in mind while interviewing, as I understand that it might be quite a close-to-heart subject, and I wanted my interviewees to be comfortable talking to me about something so personal.

I made did a bit of brainstorming about what sort of items I thought people might treasure and why – I came up with such possibilities as photographs, jewellery, soft toys, and computers: items given as gifts, items that once belonged to a friend or relative, or items that had been worked hard for and well-earned. It’s quite a wide subject, really, so I found it a bit difficult to narrow down my interview questioning.

In the end, the questions I armed myself with were:

  • Do you have a ‘prized possession’, something you would save from a burning building – if so, what is it?
  • How did you get it?
  • Does it remind you of any particular thing/place/person/time, or does it have a particular use – if so, what?
  • Do you keep it because of what it reminds you of, or could it be easily replaced?
  • Do you keep it in a prominent place, or is it kept ‘safe’ and only looked at / used on occasion?

Using a semi-structured interview style means my questioning was somewhat open – I asked my questions, but there was room to ask follow-up questions, and really just have a conversation. I took minimal notes during the interviews, just noting down key words or phrases. The answers I was given were then plotted on mind maps.

I interviewed Leona, a student and retail worker in her mid-twenties, who initially found it quite difficult to decide what she felt she prized most. I found my conversation with Leona very helpful, because we touched on such issues as ‘silly’ sentimental items and small tokens, all the way to big expensive purchases – laptops, phones, and cameras. What means more? In the end Leona told me about two photographs of her grandfather, one which lives in a prominent place in her bedroom where it is seen every day and one which she keeps in a small box in a cupboard, which she only brings out to look at every so often. These photos bring her happy memories, but they also bring sadness over a much missed family member.

Daniel, a student in his twenties told me about a glass paperweight that was given to his mother in the ‘80s as a thank you for doing a favour for someone. He told me about how he used to find it interesting because it was so colourful, and how it reminds him of his childhood, when he lived in Menzieshill in Dundee. The paperweight is kept on a bookshelf in his bedroom, a fairly prominent place. The item was never actually used as a paperweight; it was always just something that was kept around on display. Daniel reacquired this paperweight a couple of years ago after losing track of it in the early nineties – finding it instantly reminded him of the place he used to live, and he feels that this paperweight coming back into his possession sort of symbolises him having grown up.

Linsay, also a student in her twenties and a retail worker, told me about a doll she’d had since she was very young. She was able to describe the doll in great detail, and told me the story of how she came to have it. When Linsay was young – around two and a half or three years old – she had to have an operation on her thumbs, and after going to get her stitches taken out (which was quite a traumatic experience for such a young child) she was taken to the shops to choose a toy. She chose this doll, whose name is Tracey. Linsay related stories about Tracey, memories to do with her aunts, taking Tracey on holiday, and other family-orientated memories. She keeps Tracey in quite a prominent place in her room, where she can see her every day.

I also got input on my chosen topic from a few members of my boyfriend’s family, whose answers to the ‘prized possession’ question included family photos because of the associated memories, wedding photos and guestbook because of the messages contained within, and a wedding ring because it reminds the owner of his wife, the wedding day, and it symbolises the promise he and his wife share.

Through my interviews and general conversation I have found that people seem to treasure tokens, rather than items which would necessarily cost a lot of money. People treasure objects which connect them with other people, or places, or even periods of time; people treasure the memories that are associated with these objects. Nobody I spoke to really mentioned anything expensive as something they’d instantly think to save from a fire.

I think my interviews went well, and I found my conversations with my interviewees and the answers they gave very helpful. I could have perhaps been a bit more confident with my approach to interviewing, as I found myself being unsure about when was an okay point to move on to a different question. While I find mind maps useful, I now feel that I should have used a more fun and interactive design tool with my interviewees. Over all though, I feel I was able to gather the information I was looking for.

References:

Flethcher, G. (2009) Sentimental Value. The Journal of Value Inquiry, 33 pp. 35-65.

Hatzimoysis, A. (2003) Sentimental Value. The Philosophical Quarterly, 53 (212) pp. 373-379.

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About Hannah

I'm Hannah, a twenty-something-year-old textile design student from Scotland. I'm learning a lot, and I want to learn more.

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