Papers presented by Rachel Gross since 2019

2023 Detroit, MI, United States

"“Copper Men Do Not Get Cold Toes”: The Science and Selling of Comfort"

Rachel Gross, University of Colorado, Denver

Abstract:

Lumpy, Chauncy, and Sam are three oddly-named men at center of decades of comfort science research. Yet these three are not human, nor do they experience any sensation of comfort themselves. Instead, they are copper men, manikins whose “feelings” were used as stand-ins for human test subjects in the twentieth century as the scientific study of comfort evolved into a commercializable sensation. They represent the evolution of how scientists measure and study comfort, and the challenge of grappling with individual, subjective human sensations while striving towards a scientific goal of universal understanding of comfort as well as a corporate goal of selling comfort. This presentation traces three stages in the history of comfort science. In the nineteenth century, physiologists and hygienists developed the variables that eventually became associated with comfort, especially heat- and moisture-retention. In the early twentieth century, heating and cooling engineers put those variables to work and demonstrated faith in the notion that a “comfort zone” would capture most people’s experience of comfort. By the second half of the twentieth century, the new paradigm of “thermal comfort” more explicitly engaged with the idea that individual bodies experienced comfort differently. Comfort professionals by this point in time included a wide range of scientists, including physiologists, materials scientists, and engineers working in academia, for the U.S. military, and for private corporations. How comfort scientists and comfort marketers examined their primary charge changed over time over time. Nonetheless, even with the allowance for individual sensation, wanting to create a universal measure and universal control remained a consistent focus of comfort professionals’ work.

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2021 Hopin Virtual Events Platform

"Bringing the Outdoor Experience Indoors"

Rachel Gross, University of Colorado, Denver

Abstract:

Two megastores in Denver, Colorado illustrate the rise of big box in the outdoor industry. One, the REI flagship store, is a 90,000 foot conversion of a powerhouse adjacent to downtown, built as a public-private partnership with millions in subsidies and intended to be a tourist destination as well as a retail center. The other, Cabela’s is a hunting, fishing, and camping 90,000 square foot store situated alongside the interstate. Cabela’s features mounted animals and fish displays rather than eye-catching brick facades and soaring windows. In the outdoor industry, the rise of the big box stores happened in the 1990s. The shift from mail order to big box to internet sales (for some retailers) reflects a consistent desire on the part of retailers to reach a mass market rather than a specialty one. This might seem obvious, but in fact niche leisure interests were what drove outdoor stores for the first hundred years of their existence. The big box outdoor store only became possible when the outdoor industry reached a resonance that pushed beyond actual participation in outdoor sports. The growth of the chain retail store and expansion to new regions of the country also shows a particular attitude about the shifting responsibility of businesses toward environmental policies. In the 1970s, there was a moment of possibility where consumers demanded political action from their favorite outdoor stores, requesting trash pickups, letter writing campaigns, education about environmental ethics, and more. It seemed for a time that a counterculture business might bring progressive environmental practices into the mainstream. The evolution of the industry from founder-owned niche operations to portfolios of brands owned by multi-national conglomerates shifted the business imperatives towards growth and profits at any costs. In the outdoor world, big box stores are ultimately less about discounts at scale and more about shopping as entertainment and leisure.

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