Design and the Polysemy of Value: On a problem within the language of valuation studies


  • Johannes Coughlan Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin



semiotics, methodology, actor-network theory, pragmatism, ordinary language philosophy, performativity


Value and valuation are notoriously difficult terms, because they mean very different things in different contexts for different scholars. This problem can be described in linguistic terms as “polysemy”. In this article, I propose to reformulate the problem of value through the lens of polysemy as a problem within language. I offer an alternative to approaches that either narrow down value to one particular definition or disregard it altogether, turning value into a container concept for a variety of concerns. I seek thereby to avoid the twin risks of fragmentation or smothering. Following the lead of ordinary language philosophy, I distinguish between three different “grammars of value”. Scholars address value differently depending on their grammar. This shows best in the ways they present value as an intuitively intelligible phenomenon, and in the ways in which they challenge such intuitive understandings of value in their studies. To illustrate these grammatical distinctions, I refer to ethnographic studies of design practices, including excerpts from my own research in a German architecture office.




How to Cite

Coughlan, Johannes. 2023. “Design and the Polysemy of Value: On a Problem Within the Language of Valuation Studies”. Valuation Studies 10 (1):167-97.



Theme Issue. Valuation as a Semiotic, Narrative, and Dramaturgical Problem.