Relationship Journeys in the Internet of Things: A New Framework for Understanding Interactions Between Consumers and Smart Objects


Consumers’ interactions with smart objects have a relational nature and extensive research has supported the “relationship metaphor” as a fruitful way to understand consumer responses to consumption objects. But, smart objects pose unique challenges for considering the emergence of consumer-object relationships, because their degrees of agency, autonomy and authority lend them their own unique capacities for interaction. We present a new framework for consumer-object relationships based on the circumplex model of interpersonal complementarity, and situated in assemblage theory and object oriented ontology. Consumer-object relationship styles are defined in terms of two foundational dimensions of behavior, agency and communion, based on the expressive roles played by consumer and object. The overlay of assemblage theory provides a conceptually rich understanding of the space of master-servant, partner and unstable relationship styles, along with their concomitant positive (enabling) versus negative (constraining) consumer experiences. The model’s underlying geometry supports extensive empirical work, and provides a powerful managerial framework for measuring and tracking consumer-object relationships and the journeys they take over time.

Keywords: assemblage theory, consumer journeys, consumer experience, object experience, Internet of Things, intelligent devices

Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Advanced online publication:

Also available at SSRN:

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