Cultural probes : a speculative and creative method for environmental research

Justin Chun-Him LAU, Michelle W. T. CHENG*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


This article considers cultural probes as an experimental qualitative method in promoting collaborative and prefigurative participation in research. While the extant literature tends to frame cultural probes either as the discounted ethnographic tool or the means to gather design inspiration, such a framing also results in an irreconcilable methodological and conceptual dichotomy. Seeking to overcome this binary, this paper draws inspiration from Michel de Certeau’s concept of “poaching” to contemplate how cultural probes may elicit and provoke both inspirational and analytical data. Through an empirical study of the everyday waste practices of 10 young university students in Hong Kong, this study discusses the rationale of different cultural probes designs and participants’ experience in completing the probes. This paper argues that the cultural probes may offer a speculative and creative qualitative inquiry to cultivate one’s “attentiveness”, generate “politics of reconfiguration”, and make sense of “uncertainty” in knowledge production.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)386-398
Number of pages13
JournalLocal Environment
Issue number3
Early online date3 Feb 2024
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

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  • Cultural probes
  • creative methods
  • participatory methods
  • environmental research


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