Practice theory approach to wearable technology. Implications for sustainability

(PhD dissertation, published by AAU)

Daria Morozova

Wearable technology is a combination of design and technological solutions that can be worn on one’s body. Due to its functions, especially ones related to monitoring of health-related indicators, it has initially been met with enthusiasm. However, subsequent trends address that wearable devices have become yet another short-lived goods abandoned by their users within a couple of months after purchase. Additionally, in business terms, the market of wearables has been dominated by large corporations such as Apple and Xiaomi, with very few middle- and small-size businesses staying afloat. Because of these patterns, wearable technology has come under criticism of being unsustainable in various terms. This study looks at the problem through the practice theory lens. Drawing on a variety of concepts derived from practice theory (elements of practices, bundles and recruitment), this study departs from a popular argument of ‘fixing’ wearables, and, instead, focuses on daily activities with wearable technology. The study elucidates both consumers and producers’ sides, and accounts for a contextual specificity of different countries.


Olga Gurova, Daria Morozova and Alisa Javits

This short aspirational video is about a future of clothing and wearable technology. The video is done in collaboration between social science researchers and a visual artist. It is created as an arts-based research video, a quickly growing methodological genre that “adapts the tenets of the creative arts in social research in order to make that research publicly accessible, evocative, and engaged” (Chilton & Leavy 2014). The video develops a narrative of a future of multifunctional clothing merged with technology, known as wearables.

BEING LIKE OTHERS VS BEING DIFFERENT: Wearable technology and daily practices of consumers 50+ in Finland and Russia

(published in International Journal of Consumer Studies)

Morozova Daria and Olga Gurova

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.

Sustainable solutions for wearable technologies: Mapping the product development lifecycle

(published in Sustainability)

Gurova Olga, Timothy Robert Merritt, Eleftherios Papachristos and Jenna Vaajakari

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.

How the practice of commercializing comes together and falls apart in a market of wearable technologies

(published in Journal of Consumer Culture)

Daria Morozova, Olga Gurova

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.

Коммерциализация умной одежды как практика: арт-, бизнес- и государственный проекты    

(published in Fashion Theory, Russian edition)

Морозова Дарья, Гурова Ольга

Данная статья основана на качественном исследовании умной одежды с использованием теории практик в качестве теоретической базы для анализа. Умная одежда (wearables) – это сочетание моды и технологий, например, умные часы, синхронизирующиеся с телефоном, или нижнее белье, имитирующее прикосновение любимого человека. Несмотря на оптимистичные прогнозы, на рынке мало успешных проектов коммерциализации умной одежды. Исключение составляют крупные электронные корпорации, такие как Apple или Xiaomi. Исследования стартапов умной одежды объясняют неудачи на рынке характеристиками самой одежды, неправильными бизнес моделями стартапов или растянутым временным лагом, необходимым для того, чтобы пользователи привыкли к технологической новинке. Данной статьей мы хотим включиться в существующую дискуссию, предложив рассмотреть коммерциализацию как сложную интегративную практику, складывающуюся из материальных вещей, компетенций и значений. Мы предполагаем, что такой подход позволит увидеть новые взаимосвязи, влияющие на процесс коммерциализации. На примере трех проектов – арт-, бизнес- и государственного – в статье анализируется, каким образом формируется и развивается практика коммерциализации, какие проблемы характерны для каждой из этих областей, и каким образом можно интерпретировать коммерциализацию, не ограничиваясь таким пониманием, как получение прибыли через увеличение продаж.