How to Do Things with Categories: Product Meanings, Aesthetics and Technological Change in the Evolution of the Hearing Aid Industry

Anders Dahl Krabbe

Research output: ThesisPh.D. thesis


Consumers and other audiences draw upon cognitive categories when evaluating technological products (Clark, 1985; Kaplan and Tripsas, 2008). Categories such as “mini-van” or “computer” provide labels and conceptual meaning structures that consumers and other market actors draw upon in making sense of products when navigating in the market place (Rosa et al, 1999; Bingham and Kahl, 2013; Grodal, Gotsopoulos and Suarez, 2015). Category meanings are not solely influence demand-side evaluation of products, but also shape producers’ understandings of their products (Kaplan and Tripsas, 2008; Benner and Tripsas, 2012) and the way they seek to differentiate themselves from competitors (Kennedy, 2008; Anthony, Nelson and Tripsas, 2016). Apart from labels and meanings of what the category designates, categories also gain meanings from their embedding in a broader socio-cultural context (Weber, Heinze and DeSoucey, 2008; Khaire and Wadhwani, 2010). Scholars have called for further exploration of the socio-cultural context in technological product categories (Ravasi, Rindova and Dalpiaz, 2012; Glynn and Navis, 2013; Grodal and Kahl, 2017). Especially, attention is lacking to the socio-cultural significance that products take as material symbols (Douglas and Isherwood, 1979; McCracken, 1986; Belk, 1988; Mick and Fournier, 1998). Addressing this theoretical incompleteness is important to further the conversation on the interaction between technological change and categories (Kaplan and Tripsas, 2008; Benner and Tripsas, 2012; Grodal, Gotsopoulos and Suarez, 2015; Anthony, Nelson and Tripsas, 2016). To understand this, the evolution of category meanings needs to be analyzed in relation to the dynamics of how technological products evolve. Such aspects are left ungrasped in extant studies due to an empirical focus on traditional design-intensive industries such as clothing fashion (Cappetta, Cillo and Ponti, 2006), interior design (DellÉra and Verganti, 2011) and low-tech kitchenware (Dalpiaz, Rindova and Ravasi, 2016). In the context of technological industries, such dynamics currently lacks empirically grounded theorization. To address this inadequacy, I explored these questions through three distinct studies constituting the core of my dissertation research. The three studies take their empirical point of departure in a mixed-methods, longitudinal study of the hearing aid industry spanning 1945 to 2015. The data for the study consisted of material from hearing care trade journal publications ranging from 1947-2015. From trade journals, data on nearly the whole population of product launches in the interval were available as well as articles written by actors in the industry. To support the data set of materials from trade journal publications, I conducted a range of primary and secondary interviews with hearing aid producers. Since a vital part of the study consisted of product level analysis of designs, I triangulated observations of images with observations of physical designs in a hearing aid museum where the majority of archival data was collected. Finally, to trace consumer reception of innovations in the design of products and technological innovations, I constructed a data set based on posts from an online hearing aid consumer forum. The initial analysis each spawned into three distinct trajectories of analysis that is reported on in each of the three manuscripts contained in the dissertation.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Note re. dissertation

Grad tildelt d. 06-10-2017

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