Our participants used two types of lists: physical and digital. David, Charles, Tina, Mark and Harry used physical (paper) lists. Liana and Brenda used digital lists, including lists on smartphones and lists provided by online grocery stores. George used neither. Given their predominance in our study, we first treat the assembly of physical lists, which were compiled over an extended period of time before shopping (e.g., over the week) and completed just prior to the shop or, alternatively, constructed ‘here and now’ on the day of the shop itself as needed.
It is notable too that physical lists were situated amongst the arrangement of cupboard space, shelves, and work surfaces to provide for ready access and use. Thus, physical lists were placed in sites where a high throughput of goods takes place, typically in or near to the kitchen ‘work triangle’ (Lange 2012) where food items in particular flow through the home at speed, which in turn occasions frequent entries being made on the list. This traffic shapes the very placement of lists and is accompanied by the assemblage of resources: paper, pads, pens, and vouchers, which are placed to enable and to reflect the potential anticipation of need. Physical lists are situated then within a physical ecology of anticipation.
Our studies also revealed that physical lists were constructed on the fly, and unique in that no two lists in the same home were the same week after week. There may be recurrent items on a list – e.g., milk, bread, cereal, etc. – but every list is different. It was also noticeable that entries on lists are ‘specifically vague’, which is to say that items are not described in detail, but only in terms sufficient for the list writer to identify the items required. Thus, and for example, someone might write ‘beans’. To the outsider what is needed may be opaque, but to the list writer this clearly specifies the kind, brand and quantity of beans needed. The clarity of the matter is provided by the list writer and reader’s membership competence. As a member of this home they thus know what ‘beans’ means here.
Lists were at one and the same time recognisable to us as outsiders and yet largely unintelligible when it came to specifying just what was anticipated. Item entries and annotations are evidently ‘indexical’ (Garfinkel 1967) to, and thus get their definite sense from, the local ecology of anticipation and the cohort that produced them. Lists are thus ‘procedurally encounterable’ (Wieder 1999) and acquire their sense from the practical activities and reasoning that provide for their construction. We find, for example, that annotations support the accomplishment of shopping, marking out where items are located in a store and the order of shopping. It is towards unpacking the indexicality and procedural encounterability of list construction that we turn next, focusing particularly on how lists are both incidentally and intentionally assembled and how need is mundanely anticipated in the course of these accomplishments.
The incidental anticipation of need
It was plain to see in our studies that need is often anticipated incidentally in the course of doing something else. List writing is interleaved with a contingent array of domestic activities that one might find in any home. A recurrent way in which need was incidentally anticipated was when items ran out or could be seen to be running low in the course of their use. In the following example, we see how the arrangement of item entry is configured with regard to the practical circumstances at hand, and involves Tina taking down a container of assorted dried herbs from the cupboard while making spaghetti bolognaise.
Tina: Ah we’re running out of thyme (shakes thyme pot, picks up pen and adds it to the list on the fridge)
Here, the addition of an item to the list is occasioned in preparing a meal. When getting the thyme out from the cupboard, just at the point when the process of cooking occasions its addition, Tina notices that it is running low. This triggers a series of actions that acknowledge and register prospective need, before returning to cooking the bolognaise sauce. As the example makes clear, need is contingently anticipated in the doing of mundane domestic activities, often at the point an item is taken from a shelf or cupboard or when it is disposed of, and turns upon seeing and noticing the numbers, quantities and/or amounts of remaining items. It is also the case that the recurrent nature of many mundane activities in the home (e.g. making tea or coffee or toast, etc.) provides ongoingly for incidental monitoring and drives a local life cycle of need anticipation.
It became evident in our studies that the incidental monitoring of items was differentiated in each household, in that not all members used or monitored the same items in the same ways. Thus, incidental monitoring is distributed across a division of labour, as described here when the fieldworker asked about the nappy bags on David’s list.
David: Well my wife uses them
David: predominantly, so she’s the one that notices when they’re empty.
Where the use of items is bound to the undertaking of particular activities, in this case the changing of the baby’s nappy, the practical task of making sure that those items are restocked is also routinely carried out by the individual who largely uses them. Anticipating incidental need is, then, bound to specific individuals who are responsible for doing certain ‘jobs’.
The anticipation of need may also occasion mutual monitoring. There are certain items that people do not want to run out of. In our study toothpaste and toilet roll were often cited, and participants sought to avoid running out of them by ensuring that they had more than one of these in stock.
David: We usually keep spare toothpaste in stock but my wife forgot to put it on the list so this time I bought three.
In addition to demonstrating that mutual monitoring is not fool proof, the example also demonstrates that it turns upon agreed measures of what constitutes ‘running low’.
Incidental anticipation turns upon methods that differentially distribute anticipatory rights and responsibilities across household members. Members do not all have the same rights and responsibilities: there are individual rights and responsibilities, where the anticipation of need is bound to specific individuals and activities; and there are mutual rights and responsibilities, where all members share the anticipation of need. These rights and responsibilities are each prefaced by the entitlement to add entries to the list, which some members do not have. In the homes we studied, children did not have the right to add items to the list themselves, for example, but instead had to ask those with entitlement rights to do so.
Fieldworker: Custard creams (reading from the list)?
David: Now I don't usually buy custard creams but my daughter [aged 6], er, her friend, when she goes to her house, they always have custard creams.
Fieldworker: OK right.
David: So she said Daddy can we have some of those custardy biscuits and I said yeah course we can. We usually buy something else for her, so she’ll get those instead.
In addition to being differentially distributed then, the local life cycle of need anticipation is also managed for some members of the home, and is organised with respect to the local social and moral order. Thus, and for example, managing his six-year old daughter’s intake of biscuits and what it is appropriate for her to have is, for David, an accountable feature of parenting, made visible through the work of assembling the list.
The intentional anticipation of need
The social and moral ordering of need anticipation is a dynamic and evolving matter. As children move between dependent and independent states the anticipation of need shifts from one of managing their rights and responsibilities to one involving them in the exercise. Thus we find that participants with teenage children often consult them, at least if they are around when lists are being collaboratively assembled. The collaborative making of lists marks the intentional anticipation of need and is concerned to identify items that are required on this occasion of shopping to fulfil need for the prospective period of time ahead. This is demonstrated in the example below, where Charles is preparing to go to the shop and seeks the help of his wife Julie and teenage daughter Fran in deciding what the family needs.
Charles: What kind of things do we need so I can get a sense of what we are out of?
Julie: OK, Bread.
Julie: There’s bagels there (in the bread bin) Fran.
Charles: (Gets up to check bread bin) We need bread.
Consulting household members as to what is needed routinely occurred as the doing of the household shop drew closer, e.g., the night before, the morning of, or just before the shop. As the above example makes visible, the intentional anticipation of need is routinely articulated through proposing candidate items (e.g., bagels) whose need status is determined through practices of looking-and-checking (e.g., looking in the bread bin, where it is found that what is actually needed is bread).
We found that looking-and-checking was often bound to individuals and their responsibilities and personal needs (e.g., a mother might check that items required by a baby go on the list as do items required by herself). Looking-and-checking often involves establishing how much of an item or items is left and what condition they are in (e.g., that they are still edible). It is also organised around cohorts of things, e.g., ‘stuff’ for the bathroom or cleaning. Looking-and-checking not only occurs as a preface to the shop, it is also temporally distributed. It can, for example, be anticipated in the incidental course of use that an item is needed, but that need is not registered and thus inscribed on a list until the moment of intentional assembly, as seen in the following extract where potential breakfast items are being discussed.
Julie: Coffee maybe. Actually, you don't have coffee do you
Charles: No? Well, actually I need coffee, thanks for that.
Julie: because Sarah Johnson I think had the last of it yesterday when she came round.
Charles: Oh did she now.
As can also be seen above, the collaborative assembly of the list is a matter of making what is needed accountable to the person who will add items to it, here and now, at just this moment. It is also a moment that provides for clarification of anticipated need, as can be seen in the following example.
Charles: What cereal?
Julie: Girls what cereal?
Charles: Not the chocolate ones.
Julie: Fran have you stopped eating malt wheats?
Fran: They’ve done something to the malt wheats, I don't know what they done but they’ve done something.
Fieldworker: They’ve changed have they?
Fran: They’ve done something and its not me being picky, they’ve done something.
Julie: Right so you don't want malt wheats. What do you want?
Fran: Rice Krispies.
Clarification may be required from specific members as above as to just what is wanted, and also to what has been previously written on the list (e.g., when an illegible or unfamiliar entry has been made). Discussion of food categories may also occasion members being called to account for not eating certain items and wanting other items instead (as again can be seen above).
Need is also intentionally anticipated in expressly planning for the prospective period ahead. This is done with reference to established preferences. That certain items are preferred does not mean that they are purchased every week, however. Their need is anticipated with respect to cycles of use, including seasonal cycles. So, and for example, crumpets may be a preferred item, but only in winter. Thus, while it is certainly the case that households have established preferences, this does not mean the cycle of their consumption is static. Planning for and purchasing items that satisfy established preferences depends on such matters as time of year and weather. This means that just what preferences are anticipated ‘here and now’ in planning ahead is, in many respects, a ‘movable feast’. The same applies to established routines, which are drawn upon by household members as a key driver for planning. However, despite the fact members can readily anticipate that they will routinely eat breakfast, prepare packed lunches, sit down for dinner together, etc., what they need is not so clear cut, as can be seen in the following vignette when Amy asks Mark what he wants for lunch next week.
Amy: Do you want umm four days worth of roasted veg and rice, or shall we do like two, three days and maybe do something else again?
Mark: Umm, well is there anything in there that you could have for lunch the next day?
Amy: No. Not really.
Mark: Do you want to do pasta instead one day?
As Amy and Mark make visible, planning with reference to established routines turns on building variability into them. After all, most people do not want to eat the same things day after day.
Planning not only turns on deciding what food to share, it also turns on deciding what to eat and when and with whom. Thus planning is wrapped up with the broader social demands that accompany being a household, a family, a couple, etc., and of what might aphoristically be called ‘breaking bread together’. The anticipation of need therefore turns in significant respects upon people’s schedules, and intentionally assembling a list is seen and treated as an occasion to announce these and articulate their prospective implicativeness.
Charles: Mum’s away Friday Fran, what do you want for dinner then?
In the course of planning, the implications of persons availability on what might take place and when is taken into explicit account, and shapes what goes on the list ‘here and now’. Wrapped up in this are considerations as to just who making a shared meal might fall to, with an individual’s competences driving just what goes on the list. Charles, for example, is not as accomplished a cook as Fran’s mum, which results in them discussing ‘easy’ meals to make on Friday. Just who has to provide for the routine’s accomplishment (e.g., eating a shared dinner) may even occasion alternative options (such as a takeaway). It is also the case that guests and visitors are factored into determinations of what is needed when considering the impact of schedules on the intentional anticipation of need.
Notwithstanding established routines and preferences, there is a strongly negotiated character to planning and need anticipation, which turns upon manifold variations and contingencies including item turnover, the weather, the season, who is available, when, who carries responsibility for cooking, and who else may be in attendance, all of which drives just what is put on the list ‘here and now’. One final matter is also key to the intentional anticipation of need. It was observable that list construction was also done with an eye to cost, with the candidacy of items being established as commensurate with what could be afforded. It was the case for some of our participants that the party who paid for the shopping had a direct impact on the anticipation of need. Thus we find that while people may co-habit, they may have independent financial arrangements and different levels of income to the effect that one party does not attend especially to cost whereas the other does. This may result in fewer, or smaller, or lesser amounts of things being added to the list, or them not being added at all. The anticipation of need is, then, not only wrapped up in the economics of the household but also in the economics of the interpersonal relationships within it.
Anticipating need online
As noted above, not all of our participants constructed physical lists in the course of need anticipation. Brenda and Liana used digital lists, including smart phones (typically for a handful of items required off the cuff) and those provided by online stores. Online shopping is possessed of many of the methodological features found in anticipating need during physical list construction. Thus we found participants looking and checking, consulting one another, planning with reference to preferences, routines, schedules and scheduled events (e.g., birthdays, parties, and guests), and cost. However, in the digital world the methodological construction of the list reflexively provides for the completion of the shop, i.e., in anticipating what is needed online participants are not only assembling a list but actually doing the shopping.
While sharing similar methodological features of physical list construction, need anticipation in the digital world is possessed of its own unique features too. One of the most grossly observable differences in our study is that, unlike their physical counterparts, digital lists are not specifically vague but consist of precise specifications of items. It is observable too that the temporal character of looking-and-checking is constrained by the digital. Digital lists are not situated in the ecology of anticipation but removed from the sites where a high throughput of goods takes place. They are only temporarily situated in the ecology of anticipation on the actual occasion of shopping (e.g., by placing a laptop on the kitchen table), thereby inhibiting incidental anticipation to noticeable effect.
Liana: See like coconut milk, I don't know if we’ve got some and like, sometimes I just get it anyway and sometimes I get up and check.
Liana’s anticipation of the need for coconut milk is occasioned by her looking at her ‘favourites’ list, i.e., a list of previously bought items provided by a digital shop. As with so many other items, the potential need for coconut milk was not encountered incidentally, but intentionally in checking the favourites list, which sometimes prompts looking and checking elsewhere in the home.
While digital lists inhibit incidental need anticipation, they do have their unique affordances. Favourites often provided a starting point for the current shop for our participants. Once exhausted they turn to other resources provided by online shops such as product ‘categories’, which are routinely used to identify items. Identification presumes that persons know what they want, and both shop furnished categories (e.g., ‘meat’, ‘fruit’, ‘toiletries’ etc.) and self-formulated categories (e.g., ‘mince beef’, ‘bananas’, ‘deodorant’, etc.) are used to locate sought after items. Furnished or formulated categories are also exploited to anticipate need, as can be seen in the following vignette where items for Christmas are being sought.
Brenda: Right, what else?
Frank: Just write Christmas things.
Brenda: (Types ‘Christmas things’ in search bar; the category Christmas is also furnished by the website).
As Brenda and Frank make visible, shop furnished categories or self-formulated ones (e.g., ‘Christmas things’) are leveraged to surf and browse digital shops to discover candidate items and find just which amongst them will satisfy their needs.
Need anticipation is also driven by reviewing the assembled online list, which our participants did to establish whether or not they had satisfied their prospective needs. This ‘review’ would typically involve assessing the meals provided by the items on that list and then supplementing it with further items if needs be. On completing the list, and moving to check out, participants would also be presented with automated anticipations or candidate items proposed by the online shop. These were seen by participants as items that may have been forgotten or that they had run out of based on prior shopping activity. Being presented with these items occasionally triggered looking-and-checking.
Liana: I don't know if I’ve got cheese actually (gets up from sofa and goes to the fridge, finds they have not got much cheese; searches for cheese deals and adds one to the online list).
Clearly there are various pathways whereby need is anticipated in the course of online shopping, but in each case the exact number, size, quantity, weight, amount or brand needed is determined at the interface in light of available choices on just this occasion of shopping. Choosing inevitably involves comparing and making selections from amongst multiple available items. Comparing and selecting turns upon striking a balance between a broad range of practical concerns to do with item selection – e.g., best deal, the look of an item, preferences, fit with meal plans, etc. – and the cost of the shop as a whole. Choosing items thus turns upon calculation, which is a complex matter that also plays out, and in richer ways, on the shop floor.