Current research

Here I am writing about my current research and forthcoming articles

A Future of Sustainable Wearables through Imaginaries of Designers

Chrissy Patton and Olga Gurova (under review, Digital Creativity)

Smart clothing, like most wearable technology, has not yet reached great levels of acceptance or popularity and thus, is not mass-produced, meaning most existing examples result from experimental approaches. Such garments, however, have the potential to cause negative impact from a sustainability perspective due to the combination of the textile and technology industries which are notorious for having significant global impact. It is, therefore, important to study current designs in order to gain insight into sustainable design choices for smart clothing. This paper explores the future of smart clothing by applying the concept of sociotechnical imaginaries to look at how designers imagine and contribute to certain notions of sustainability and thereby, specific futures of clothing, through their respective designs.

Key words: wearable technology; smart clothing; sociotechnical imaginaries; sustainability; fashion design


Gurova Olga, Timothy Robert Merritt, Eleftherios Papachristos and Jenna Vaajakari (published, Sustainability)

Wearable technologies involve the integration of technology into clothing or accessories to bring new functionalities for people on the move. Many examples of wearables are emerging from simple fitness tracking watches to electronics deeply embedded into garments for multi-touch sensing and control for personal music players. Wearables have the potential to support positive experiences in the lives of many people, however, without careful development, wearables can have a negative impact on the environment due to increased production of electronic components, increased e-waste from abandoned devices, and increased energy usage. We examine environmental sustainability issues through a review of recent research and cases across three broad areas including the fashion industry, information and communications technology (ICT), and wearable technologies. In the analysis, we examine stages in the product lifecycle and identify the unique issues for each sector including the extraction of materials, production process, distribution of products, use, and disposal of products that have reached the end of life. The findings are gathered as implications for design to offer researchers, designers, developers, and product managers an overview of the issues related to environmental sustainability and related examples of products and prototypes that have been developed to be more environmentally sustainable.

Key words: sustainability; wearable technology; design; fashion; ICT; closed-loop design; design implications


Morozova Daria and Olga Gurova (in print, Journal of Consumer Culture)

Wearable technologies, or wearables, are a combination of design and technology—for instance, a smartwatch that measures blood pressure, or lingerie that imitates the touch of one’s lover. Regardless of initial optimistic forecasts for wearables’ market growth, there are few examples of successfully commercialized wearables, except those by technology giants like Apple or Xiaomi. In contrast to large companies, start-ups developing wearables, while numerous, struggle to survive. Previous studies on commercializing failures suggest that this is due to poor design of wearables, inappropriate business models, or an extended time lag needed for customers to accept such novel technology. In this article, we add to the ongoing discussion by approaching the commercializing process as a complex integrative practice that consists of materials, skills and meanings. Looking from this angle allows for discovering new dependencies that are otherwise left unseen. Drawing on three examples of wearable start-ups that correspond to a proto-practice, reproduced practice and ex-practice, we analyze how the practice of wearables’ commercializing takes shape, perpetuates and falls apart, what problems accompany the practice, as well as how an understanding of commercializing can go beyond a traditional interpretation of profit increase. The article is based on qualitative research among startups of wearable technologies in Finland, Russia and the Netherlands approached through a lens of the practice theory.

Key words: wearable technologies, start-ups, commercializing, practice theory


Morozova Daria and Olga Gurova (published, International Journal of Consumer Studies)

This is a qualitative study of consumers aged 50+ and their daily practices connected to wearable devices (smartwatches and fitness trackers). Drawing on the practice theory, we seek to uncover how participation in such practices might enhance users’ wellbeing as an integral part of social sustainability. We assume that both ageing and wellbeing are not pre-given but they rather co-evolve when users of wearables engage in situated practices. Hence, wearables such as smartwatches and fitness trackers might positively reconfigure the existing practices of consumers over 50, or even recruit them into new ones, resulting in higher wellbeing and social sustainability. The phenomenon is examined in both Russia and Finland, as ageing has been high on the agenda in these countries due to controversial pension and social welfare reforms. Though these countries are different in terms of possibilities (access to medical help, employment, social participation, etc.) for their ageing populations, an active ageing framework that emphasises individual responsibility over one’s health and wellbeing has been gaining popularity in both Russia and Finland. This framework is compatible with the use of wearable devices that measure physical activity and basic health characteristics. Based on data elicited through 17 semi-structured interviews with Russians and Finns aged between 50 and 73 y.o., this study suggests that engagement in practices with wearables might have a positive effect on consumers’ wellbeing by helping manage one’s daily tasks, reducing stigma that is sometimes attached to ageing individuals, and boosting feeling of togetherness in social interactions that might decrease with ageing. In addition, an important difference between the two countries lies in how ageing consumers see themselves in relation to other ageing people when using a wearable: in Russia, the use of a wearable can signal one’s social distance from an “average” ageing person, while Finnish consumers regard themselves as doing what everyone of the same age does.

Key words: wearable technology, consumers 50+, practice theory, wellbeing


How do identity politics shape the contemporary fashion industry?

Annamari Vänskä and Olga Gurova (in print, International Journal of Fashion Studies)

At the end of 2010s fashion industry was shaken by incidents that brought accusation of fashion brands in lack of cultural sensitivity, cultural appropriation and racism. Among such incidents are H&M and the “Coolest monkey in the jungle” sweatshirt modeled by a black boy, Gucci and the sweater that resembles the offending image of blackface, Dior and the “Bihor Couture” collection, in which traditional Bihor clothing from Romania were used without acknowledging the inspiration. We conceptualize these incidents as ‘fashion scandals’, i.e. actions, statements or events created by fashion brands that caused strong emotional response of consumers. The aim of this paper is to look at the sociocultural meanings of the fashion scandals and make sense of them with the use of social and cultural theory and examples of the scandals.

Fashion scandals are often caused by reaction of consumers to images – marketing materials, design of material objects or advertising. Fashion advertising especially has been defined by an aim to shock the consumer and cause a scandal: we live in an era of overwhelming amount of visual information and many advertisers use shock as a strategy of grabbing attention. For these brands, using shock advertising has been a deliberate choice: to ‘offend the audience’ in order to be seen and remembered. Offense is often brought about by violating and transgressing social norms of decency, or by breaking social or moral codes of propriety. In this sense, the shocking images are more than just selling tools: they are social objects that are evaluated against the backdrop of culture, its norms, notions of good taste, moral standards and decency. Even though the use of shock effects in fashion images can be said to constitute a foundation for becoming noticed in the visualised consumer culture, recent fashion scandals reveal a shift from attention-grabbing marketing strategies towards a broader cultural change in fashion industry in which debates generated by brands have not so much to do with marketing strategies than with a broader concern with identity politics that these debates reflect in the latter part of the 2010s. In the core of many fashion scandals today, as we argue, is exactly the issue of identity politics that goes beyond the state-of-art understanding of fashion and identity. Since these attention-grabbing scandals have not led to increase in sales or contributed to the brand image as “dearing” or “cutting-edge” but rather to boycotts (e.g. D&G ad in China) and to establishing “diversity guidelines/ boards” (Gucci, Dior), we will discuss whether this connects the cultural change in fashion industry to 2010s being a “decade of identity politics” as argued by Fukuyama (2018).

Key words: fashion scandal, fashion brands, identity politics, racism, social media, diversity consultants

Cultural branding meets feminism in Russia: Applying poststructuralist discourse theory to the Reebok’s #BeMoreHuman advertising campaign

Olga Gurova and Tatiana Romashko (in preparation)

The article is built on the intersection between consumer culture theory, gender studies, and poststructuralist discourse theory. The article brings a methodology of poststructuralist discourse theory (Laclau & Mouffe 2001; Howarth 2002; 2013; Carpentier & Doudaki 2018) to marketing. This methodology assumes that identity (e.g., gender identity) has non-essentialist character. We claim that this contingent character of gender identity should be taken into account when global brands enter various national markets. Drawing from poststructuralist discourse theory of Laclau and Mouffe’s (2001), we will show the explanatory power of this analytical framework through a case study of a global campaign by the brand Reebok. We will also look at the advertising campaign of this brand in Russia and the reaction that it caused among consumers and other actors in the marketplace. Our discussion will revolve around gender identity in the context of ‘conservative turn’ in Russia’s national politics at the 2010s. This article will contribute to the literature on commodification of feminism and anti-feminism (Prügl 2015; Baer 2016; Rottenberg 2016; 2018) in an authoritarian society and to the scholarship on cultural branding (Holt 2003, 2004; Holt & Cameron 2010). The goal of this paper is to apply poststructuralist discourse theory, the concept of cultural branding and the ideas from feminist theory to interpret an advertising campaign of a global brand on a national market and the online firestorm that it caused. 

Key words: cultural branding, feminism, poststructuralist discourse theory, gender identity


Ольга Гурова и Татьяна Ромашко

В данной главе изложены основные предпосылки, принципы и понятия постструктуралистской теории дискурса (Laclau and Mouffe, 2001) и возможные способы ее применения в качестве метода анализа данных (Torfing, 1999; Jørgensen and Phillips, 2002; Howarth 2013). На конкретном примере продемонстрированы основные преимущества и ограничения аналитического потенциала постструктуралистского дискурс-анализа для проведения качественного исследования в социальных и гуманитарных науках.

Постструктурализм как направление философской мысли берет свои истоки в трудах Жака Дерриды, Фердинанда де Соссюра, Жака Лакана, Луи Альтюссера, Мишеля Фуко, Антонио Грамши и Стюарта Холла. Руководствуясь данными работами, Эрнесто Лакло и ШантальМуфф, разработали постструктуралистскую теорию дискурса и изложили ее в книге «Гегемония и социалистическая стратегия» (2001[1985]). В этой теории, дискурс понимается как социальный феномен, в котором идентичности и явления приобретают определенный смысл. Тем самым, изучение социальной реальности происходит преимущественно через анализ конфликтующих дискурсивных формаций или смысловых совокупностей. Для анализа Лакло и Муфф предложили такие категории, как артикуляция, элементы, моменты, узловая точка, логика эквивалентности и дифференциации, гегемония и антагонизм.

Несмотря на довольно сложный аналитический аппарат постструктуралистской теории дискурса, она имеет широкий спектр применения для объяснения значений социальных идентичностей, практик, отношений, институтов, ценностей и конфликтов и противоречий между ними. Из-за центрального места политической артикуляции, дискурс-анализ в постструктуралистской и пост-марксистской традиции в теории и на практике имеет отношение к изучению политики или к политической интерпретации феномена. Теория в таких исследованиях применяется гибко: как правило, каждое конкретное исследование подразумевает подбор эпистемологически непротиворечивых идей представителей постструктурализма и пост-марксизма, которые ложатся в основу теоретической части исследования. Данные для дискурс-анализа, основанного на теории дискурса Лакло и Муфф, могут быть в самых разных текстовых, визуальных и перформативных форматах (интервью, твиты и посты в социальных медиа, публичные акции, манифесты, политические документы, архивные данные и т.д.).

Ключевые слова: дискурс -анализ, постструктуралистская теории дискурса, Лакло и Муфф, прикладной анализ данных

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