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Anthropology Material Culture
by
Sophie Woodward

Introduction

The study of material culture centers upon objects, their properties, and the materials that they are made of, and the ways in which these material facets are central to an understanding of culture and social relations. It challenges the historical division between the natural sciences as being the place for the study of the material world and the social sciences as being where society and social relations can be understood. Instead, culture and society are seen as being created and reproduced by the ways in which people make, design, and interact with objects. It also challenges the assumption, perpetuated by disciplinary divisions and also philosophical trajectories, that the object and subject are separate, wherein the latter is assumed to be immaterial, and the former is assumed to be inert and passive. In seeing the material properties of things as central to the meanings an object might have, much work within material culture studies is critical of the idea that objects merely symbolize or represent aspects of a pre-existing culture or identity. A key area of contestation in the literature on material culture is the question of agency and the ways in which objects can produce particular effects or allow and permit certain behaviors or cultural practices. This is developed through the concept of objectification, which is central to many studies of material culture—albeit differently conceived dependent upon the disciplinary and theoretical stance taken—which explores the intertwined, and often dialectic, relationships between people and things. Those who study material culture are situated in a wide range of disciplines such as archaeology, anthropology, geography, history, design, and sociology. Although material culture studies cross many disciplines, there are still theories, methods, and perspectives that are firmly located within particular disciplines. Understandings of material culture have been central to anthropology since its inception; during the late 19th and early 20th century anthropologists primarily collected material culture (Kroeber, Boas) that was displayed in museums in Europe and North America. It was only with the start of ethnographic fieldwork that the study of the material culture became less important. This bibliography of material culture will not focus primarily upon the study of ethnographic museums (with the exception of the section on Display) but more on the so-called new material culture studies that have developed since the 1980s and that are characterized by combining ethnographic fieldwork and anthropological debate. Within this field, empirical research explores specific genres of material culture, such as food or clothing, and empirical and theoretical work extends this to consider categories of objects, such as gifts and commodities, as situated within wider systems of exchange. There is also a concern with how objects “move” between domains and different value systems as the practices and meanings surrounding physically changing objects themselves change.

General Overviews

Although understandings of material culture have a long history, they have often been implicit within ethnographic work, and as the dates of the texts selected here make apparent it is only more recently that these questions have been explicitly addressed. Handbooks and edited collections attempting to draw together key works or to introduce and overview the field have started to appear since the late 1990s. The Journal of Material Culture was created in 1996 and evidences the desire to provide a location for original material culture research. Buchli 2002, an edited collection, builds upon this, while attempting to more clearly explore the range of current anthropological approaches to material culture. A similar approach is taken in two handbooks that emerged in 2006 and 2010, Tilley, et al. 2006 and Hicks and Beaudry 2010; the Tilley, et al. 2006 edited handbook is very comprehensive in the amount of areas covered. Both handbooks are up to date on current stances in material culture understandings, and while they draw on different disciplines, both are particularly located and relevant to anthropology (and archaeology). Usefully, both point toward future directions in research rather than just consolidating the field. Henare, et al. 2007 attempts to forge a new direction in thinking through artifacts in ethnographic research. Alongside these edited collections, two single-authored books have been selected as useful summaries of the core ways in which material culture has been approached and also the implications of these approaches. Both Woodward 2007 and Dant 2007 provide useful overviews for students of the implications of looking at material culture for social theory and understandings of contemporary society.

  • Buchli, V., ed. 2002. The material culture reader. Oxford: Berg.

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    Edited collection with topics ranging from visual culture to heritage to consumption; it draws together the work associated with the Material Culture Group at University College London. Suitable as an introduction to the field for undergraduate and postgraduate students and also those researching in the field.

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  • Dant, T. 2007. Material culture in the social world. Buckingham, UK: Open Univ. Press.

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    Introduction to the themes and theories of material culture and their relevance for sociology; especially suitable for sociology undergraduates.

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  • Henare, A., Holbraad, M., and Wastell, S., eds. 2007. Thinking through things: Theorising artefacts ethnographically. London: Routledge.

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    Edited collection of global ethnographic encounters that, taken together, adopt the approach of thinking through things—developing theory through objects encountered in the field.

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  • Hicks, D., and M. Beaudry, eds. 2010. The Oxford handbook of material culture studies. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    It includes twenty-eight chapters written by experts from a range of disciplines; however, rather than celebrate the interdisciplinarity of material culture studies, this handbook highlights discipline-specific positions. It is of particular interest to anthropology and archaeology researchers and students.

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  • Journal of Material Culture.

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    Founded in 1996. Published by SAGE and based in material culture at University College London (managing editors); includes wide ranging interdisciplinary research into material culture broadly conceived.

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  • Tilley, C., W. Keane, S. Küchler, M. Rowlands, and P. Spyer, eds. 2006. Handbook of material culture. London: SAGE.

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    It includes thirty-three chapters by experts from a wide range of disciplines and it considers core theoretical perspectives through empirical examples. It highlights future research directions as well as “looking back”; suited to material culture researchers and students.

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  • Woodward, I. 2007. Understanding material culture. London: SAGE.

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    An introduction to material culture, drawing together interdisciplinary research; it includes suggested further readings and is particularly useful for undergraduate students of material culture.

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Theoretical Perspectives

The sources in this section each draw from and highlight different theoretical approaches to the study of material culture; although not necessarily covering all theoretical approaches they broadly represent many of the major theories and approaches that are taken within contemporary material culture studies. Some are predominantly theoretical (such as Haraway 1990) and others highlight the adoption of a particular approach or perspective through an empirical example, such as Helliwell 1996. Some of the texts included are foundational and seminal ones in setting up a novel theoretical approach that have subsequently gone on to be very influential and spawned further work. This is the case with Munn’s discussion of the processes of internalization and externalization (Munn 1970), which was then developed in Miller’s work on objectification (Miller 1987). Miller builds upon the theories of Hegel, Marx, and Munn, and in this text the author outlines the theory of objectification in relationship to mass consumption. The article by Latour (Latour 2000) has been selected as one of the more accessible sources written by him, exemplifying what has broadly been developed as Actor Network Theory, and Haraway 1990 has similarly been highly influential. Other texts selected provide more of an overview of research from a particular perspective, such as Olsen 2006, which explores a range of work on post-structuralism and its relationship to material culture studies. Structuralism and semiotics have been approaches that have been highly influential in material culture research, and Keane 2005 directly engages with the problems and challenges of the relationships between signs and semiotics and how to understand material objects.

  • Haraway, D. 1990. A cyborg manifesto: Science, technology, and socialist-feminism in the late twentieth century. In Simians, cyborgs and women: The reinvention of nature. Edited by D. Haraway, 149–181. London: Routledge.

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    Very influential (and cited) feminist text that outlines the hybridity of organism and machine and challenges the dualities of naturalness and artificiality.

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  • Helliwell, C. 1996. Space and sociality in a Dayak longhouse. In Things as they are: New directions in phenomenological anthropology. Edited by M. Jackson, 126–148. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.

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    Takes a broadly phenomenological approach to domestic architecture in Borneo, exploring the longhouse as a lived space, engaging with senses such as sound and smell.

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  • Keane, W. 2005. Signs are not the garb of meaning: On the social analysis of material things. In Materiality. Edited by D. Miller, 182–205. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    Explores the debates and challenges over reconciling semiotic approaches with understandings of materiality through the example of clothing. Complex and challenging piece for readers with a knowledge of semiotics and material culture.

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  • Latour, B. 2000. The Berlin key or how to do words with things. In Matter, materiality and modern culture. Edited by P. Graves-Brown, 10–21. London: Routledge.

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    Useful introduction to Latour’s ideas about the relationships between people and things through the empirical example of the Berlin key. Draws on only two references; it is an accessible outline of Latour’s core position (that has been developed as Actor Network Theory).

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  • Miller, D. 1987. Material culture and mass consumption. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

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    Applies and extends theories of objectification of Hegel, Marx, and Munn to understanding consumption. A hugely influential book in the field of modern material culture studies; essential reading for students and academics within the fields of anthropology, sociology, and geography.

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  • Munn, N. 1970. The transformation of subjects into objects in Walbiri and Pitjantjatjara myth. In Australian aboriginal anthropology: Modern studies in the social anthropology of the Australian aborigines. Edited by R. Berndt, 141–163. Canberra: Univ. of Western Australia Press for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.

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    Develops a theory of objectification through discussions of mythical beings and “the dreaming” and their relations to the object world. The processes of internalization and externalization Munn explores have been developed by and influenced Miller’s 1987 theory of objectification.

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  • Olsen, B. 2006. Scenes from a troubled engagement: Post-structuralism and material culture studies. In Handbook of material culture. Edited by C. Tilley, W. Keane, S. Küchler, M. Rowlands, and P. Spyer, 85–103. London: SAGE.

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    Explores the relationship between poststructuralism and material culture studies, including the problems and challenges of seeing material culture as a text.

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Subjects and Objects

The sources in this section are all engaging with a core debate raised by the study of material culture—namely, the relationship between objects and subjects and the problems of conceiving this as a dualism. The relationship is conceived as that between things and people, yet is also addressed in the literature on the body. The texts selected here on the body range from how we see sex, gender, and the body (Butler 2011, Laquer 1990) to how we conceive of this in terms of movement and bodily practices (Mauss 1973, Bourdieu 1977). Taken together all of these texts are engaging with ways of moving away from essentialist accounts of the body yet still accounting for the materiality of the body. Butler 2011 is not categorized as a material culture text (as it has been criticized for not taking enough account of the materiality of the body in it) but has been selected here in terms of how it complements sources such as Laquer 1990 in the discussion of the construction of sex, and in terms of the ways in which this approach can be useful to material culture studies of embodiment. Some of the texts selected are again foundational ones, such as Butler 2011, Mauss 1973, Bourdieu 1977, and Gell 1998, as they all construct core approaches for the first time in these accounts. Warnier 2009 explicitly engages with and critiques Mauss’s theory. Mol 2002 adopts a different approach to the body, by considering a specific illness, and develops the perspectives of Actor Network Theory (discussed in Theoretical Perspectives). Gell 1998 and Knappett 2005 move beyond the body to address the debates around the problematic relationship between people and things; Gell 1998 account relates closely to Miller’s discussion of objectification (cited as Miller 1987 under Theoretical Perspectives), although it explicitly addresses the questions of the possibility for the agency of objects, through the example of art. Gell 1998 starts to discuss the possibilities of networks, which is an issue that Knappett 2005 raises—albeit in a very different formulation.

  • Bourdieu, P. 1977. Outline of a theory of practice. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Develops theories of practice, objectification, and habitus. Very influential and provocative book but also complex; suitable for those with a background in anthropology or sociology.

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  • Butler, J. 2011. Bodies that matter: On the discursive limits of “sex.” London: Routledge.

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    Butler attempts to engage with the materiality of the body in her theory of the performativity of sex and gender. Seminal text in unsettling reductionist accounts of the body. Very dense text; suitable for top levels of undergraduate students and post-graduates.

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  • Gell, A. 1998. Art and agency: An anthropological theory. Oxford: Clarendon.

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    Raises questions regarding the “agency” of things and relations to personhood. Challenging and complex ideas presented.

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  • Knappett, C. 2005. Thinking through material culture: An interdisciplinary perspective. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

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    Predominantly rooted in archaeology but has wider relevance to anthropology; develops a relational perspective on artifacts and humans. Suitable for students who already have a background in anthropology.

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  • Laquer, T. 1990. Making sex: Body and gender from the Greeks to Freud. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    This challenges assumptions around sex and gender through a historical trajectory. Although Laquer’s “one-sex model” has been challenged, it is a provocative and accessible read. Useful for students of material culture, the body, and gender.

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  • Mauss, M. 1973. Techniques of the body. Economy, Culture, and Society 2.1: 70–88.

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    Seminal essay on cultural variations in how bodies move; accessible as it develops its theory through ethnographic observations. Originally published in 1935.

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  • Mol, A. 2002. The body multiple: Ontology in medical practice. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    Positioned within an Actor Network Theory framework, and part of the broader shift to utilizing a material culture approach in medical anthropology. Innovatively written book consisting of two texts, one including Mol’s analysis on the ethnography and the other reflections on the literature—which run in parallel.

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  • Warnier, J.-P. 2009. Technology as efficacious action on objects . . . and subjects. Journal of Material Culture 14.4: 459–470.

    DOI: 10.1177/1359183509345944Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Article places an emphasis upon techniques and technology to explore the relations between subjects and objects; it extends and critiques the French anthropological tradition of writers such as Mauss.

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Materials and Materiality

All the texts selected here engage with debates over materiality and materials, that is, the “thingness” of things and the ways in which this allows or constrains cultural categories to emerge. One influential way of conceiving this has been Gibson’s notion of “affordances” (Gibson 1979), which although written from the perspective of psychology has been hugely influential in particular in notions of design and material culture. Far more prominent is the recent debate over materiality, which is evident in Law and Mol 1995, which explicitly addresses the compatibility of notions of materiality and of sociality. Similar kinds of debates are apparent in Miller 2005, although it considers more explicitly these questions through anthropological examples, and widens the debate out from just looking at sociality. Colleredo-Mansfeld 2003 not only highlights the centrality of materiality to sociality but also problematizes how we see materiality by suggesting that ephemerality is a core material practice. The edited collection Miller 2005 is a consolidation of current debates around materiality and highlights the range of perspectives that are taken on the topic. These perspectives are often implicitly different from or complementary to each other, yet there are also explicit differences, seen in the chapters by Miller and Pinney within Miller 2005. The degree of contestation of the very terms material culture and materiality and what these mean are evident in the wider literature, which is why the articles Ingold 2007 and Tilley 2007 have been selected. Both articles were in the same special edition of the journal Archaeological Dialogues, and Tilley’s article is a direct response to Ingold’s. As such, when read together they provide a useful way of seeing the competing perspectives on whether the term materiality should even be used at all. Bennett’s philosophical exploration of this (Bennett 2010) sidesteps some of these issues by exploring questions of “matter,” although this relates to Ingold’s discussion of materials, albeit from a different disciplinary trajectory.

  • Bennett, J. 2010. Vibrant matter: A political ecology of things. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    Lucidly written book but requires a background and understanding of basic schools of philosophical thought and material culture. Written from the perspective of political theory.

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  • Colloredo-Mansfeld, R., ed. 2003. Special issue: Fleeting objects. Journal of Material Culture 8.3: 243–337.

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    Edited collection that considers empirical examples and larger theoretical issues that explore ephemerality as a material as well as social practice and as pivotal in the maintenance and creation of social relations.

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  • Gibson, J. J. 1979. The ecological approach to visual perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

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    Develops the theory of object affordances, which Gibson introduced in an earlier book chapter in 1977. He is writing within the discipline of psychology but it has been hugely influential in the design area and in research into design in particular.

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  • Ingold, T. 2007. Materials against materiality. Archaeological Dialogues 14.1: 1–16.

    DOI: 10.1017/S1380203807002127Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this polemic and strongly argued article Ingold challenges the usefulness of material culture and materiality, instead suggesting that “materials” is a useful future direction for research.

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  • Law, J., and A. Mol. 1995. Notes on materiality and sociality. Sociological Review 43:274–294.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-954X.1995.tb00604.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores how materiality and sociality interrelate; written in an accessible manner, as the theoretical ideas are illustrated and developed through a series of stories.

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  • Miller, D., ed. 2005. Materiality. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    Edited collection of ethnographic work that shows the range of perspectives taken on materiality. Not suitable as an introductory text on materiality, but ideal for those with some background in material culture already.

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  • Tilley, C. 2007. Materiality in materials. Archaeological Dialogues 14.1: 16–20.

    DOI: 10.1017/S1380203807002139Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Direct response to Ingold (as is the whole special edition) offering a contrasting position and defense of materiality. It is a very useful source for students (and researchers) as it is lucidly written and also outlines core debates over the concepts, weaknesses, and focuses of material culture research.

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Methods

Given the diversity of what is encompassed within the field of material culture studies in terms of disciplinary perspectives, and objects of study, then the methods adopted are similarly wide-ranging. The sources selected in this section are intended to show some of these possibilities and rather than being a comprehensive guide or sources that outline methods and how to do them, instead the sources are all ones that highlight possible approaches. All of the sources are accessible and suitable for students; the closest to an outline of possible methods comes in Pink 2009 and Banks 2001. Pink 2009 is useful as an introductory guide but is concerned with sensory ethnography and as such, it is better thought of as giving a wider context to material culture studies in terms of methodological tools, perspectives, and shifts within the social sciences. Banks 2001 is a useful practical guide (and the only source in this list resembling a “how to guide”) for how to use and interpret the visual in ethnography, which does in places explicitly engage with this as a means of understanding the material. The visual as a route into understanding and representing the material is explored in innovative ways in Crang 2010. An approach that has been widely adopted within material culture studies is commodity chain analysis and the ideas of “follow the thing”—these ideas were originally formulated in Marcus 1995, in the author’s discussion of multi-sited ethnographic approaches (see also followthethings cited under Approaching Specific Genres). Miller and Woodward 2011, an edited book and the linked website, has been included as an alternative take on the notion of multi-sited ethnographies as the project includes multiple global ethnographies of blue jeans (predominantly consumption) as a means to understanding the local and global through material culture. A complementary project to this one is Opening the Flatpack, which similarly explores a globally used product here through adopting innovative, interdisciplinary methods. Turning the focus to the challenges and possibilities of researching the making of material culture rather than just its consumption, Marchand 2001 explores the possibilities of learning through doing. Central to the discussion of how to do material culture research are not only what methods are used but also interpretations. The subtle issues and challenges of interpretations are addressed implicitly in Bloch 1995, which is a useful provocation to move away from searching for the “meaning” of things.

Making

This section draws together some core sources on production, craft, and design as they highlight the process of making as a material practice. All of the sources selected here focus upon the everyday and mundane rather than spectacular practices of making. There is a wide anthropological literature on production (seen here in Hansch 2011, Kharel 2006, Cooper 1988, and Mies 1982), and the sources here engage with various aspects and contexts of this. Mies’s account of the production of lace for a luxury Western market highlights both the gendered nature of that work and also the situatedness of specific material productions within wider capitalist systems. Kharel 2006 offers a vivid visual depiction of the hard labor, for both women and men, involved in a community centered on a slate mine. There is also an emphasis upon craft and skill in the literature; in Hansch 2011, the dismantling and then reassembly of trucks highlights the material creativity in the process. Similarly in Cooper 1988 the skills of woodcarving are highlighted, as these operate within wider historical and global shifts in relation to production. Discussions of craft and skills are developed in Ingold 2000, which draws upon an understanding of what materials allow through their properties, yet the core issue in this source is “skills” and practices. Ingold’s emphasis upon skill dovetails with a more recent resurgence in interest in craft, which is exemplified in Sennett 2008, a popular account that highlights skill and the material relationship between maker and object within a broader context of mass consumerism. Although much work written on craft and design focuses upon the act of making, several sources selected for inclusion in this section speak across the design/consumption divide (Attfield 2000; Shove, et al. 2007). Attfield’s influential account highlights the links between the designed object and what people do with it in everyday life. Shove, et al. 2007 similarly explores design and the use of things in the home but the emphasis is upon practices.

Consumption

One of largest fields of literature in material culture studies is within the area of consumption; this has been hugely influenced by the work of Bourdieu, Douglas and Isherwood, and Miller—all of whom are present here in selected sources. Firstly, Douglas and Isherwood 1996 (first published in 1979) has been groundbreaking in helping to shape the subsequent field of consumption studies, in particular through an anthropological approach. Bourdieu 1984 has been central in helping to develop understandings of how consumption may serve to create and reproduce social differences such as social class. Miller is the third key influence, and he has been prolific in what he has published both as a single author and through collaborations and edited collections. Miller 1998 highlights a range of ethnographic explorations of consumption approaches and as most chapters are written by the author’s former PhD students highlights how his approach has been extended by others. Ethical debates over the consequences of consumption are included here in the articles Miller 2001 and Wilk 2001—the latter a direct response to the former. Miller 2001 highlights the need to explore globally diverse experiences and offers a challenge to abstract moralizings. Wilk 2001 is not in disagreement with Miller 2001 but extends the understandings of morality to explore everyday moralities embedded in consumption. Within the field of consumption studies there are many different approaches to the study of empirical examples of consumption, and three of these approaches are exemplified in the final three sources. The approach of commodity chain analysis that became very influential in both geography and in anthropology is explored and developed through Fine and Leopold 1993 as a means of connecting production and consumption. Wilk 2006 tackles a specific commodity, another approach prevalent in the field to explore practices and debates around consumption. Finally, Foster 2002 highlights an approach that has been developed in particular through ethnographic approaches in anthropology: through consumption and a specific place or region.

Exchange

This section contains some of the foundational texts of anthropology, in terms of the beginnings of anthropology as a discipline (Malinowski 2005) and later core ideas that develop more specifically around material culture and exchange (Mauss 2002, Appadurai 1986). There is a wealth of literature on the kula exchange cycles in Papua New Guinea, which to a large degree departs from, or critiques, Malinowski’s account included here, or Mauss’s theorization. Malinowski 2005 is included due to the influence it has had on later theories of exchange and material culture. The emphasis in this work is upon how the act of exchange creates social status. Mauss 2002 has been pivotal in theorizing exchange, with the Kula being among the examples it explores. The author developed an understanding of the gift and commodity and the relations between the two, although he has been critiqued subsequently for the categorization of societies into types along a social evolutionary scale. However, his ideas about the commodity and the gift have been highly influential in later material culture studies. Thomas 1991, although it considers the specific example of Fiji, explicitly engages with the previous literature on gift and exchange and critiques the earlier emphasis upon social relations by emphasizing instead the materiality of the gift. This emphasis upon materiality is developed through Weiner 1992, Keane 1997, and Spyer 1998; Weiner’s work forms an explicit critique of Malinowski’s earlier work through her exploration of inalienability. Keane 1997 extends these considerations of materiality through the example of Indonesia, to explore connections between the symbolic, representational, and the material. A core emphasis within the literature on exchange is the ways in which values and statuses accrue through the passage and movement of goods; these ideas are taken up in Appadurai 1986, a seminal edited collection. It moves beyond just looking at exchange cycles to consider how the meanings of things shift between different value systems and domains. These issues are explored in Tranberg Hansen 2000 through the empirical example of the secondhand clothing trade in Zambia. The movement of things in unstable border spaces is taken up Spyer 1998, an edited collection in which the authors explore the fetish operating in various border contexts through notions of hybridity and mobilities.

  • Appadurai, A., ed. 1986. The social life of things: Commodities in cultural perspective. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    This edited collection explores the movement of objects and the ways in which values and social relations are created through this passage of goods. It includes Kopytoff’s article on the cultural biography of things. Essential and accessible reading for undergraduate students.

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  • Keane, W. 1997. Signs of recognition: Power and hazards of representation in an Indonesian society. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Draws upon an ethnography of representations and performance to develop an integrated study of words and of things. Innovative in connecting the symbolic and material.

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  • Malinowski, B. 2005. Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An account of native enterprise and adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. London: Routledge.

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    A seminal and highly influential ethnographic account of the Kula exchange cycles in New Guinea; social statuses are created through the passage and trade of necklaces and armbands. Originally published in 1922.

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  • Mauss, M. 2002. The gift: Forms and functions of exchange in archaic societies. London: Routledge.

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    First translated into English in 1954; published in French in 1950. Originally published in 1925. Foundational text for anthropological approaches to material culture exploring gift gifting as a form of exchange.

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  • Spyer, P., ed. 1998. Border fetishisms: Material objects in unstable spaces. London: Routledge.

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    Edited collection, wide range of global and historical examples to explore the fetish as it operates and moves at border spaces. Emphasis is placed on hybridity and the mobility of such objects.

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  • Thomas, N. 1991. Entangled objects: Exchange, material culture and colonialism in the Pacific. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Focuses upon colonial exchanges in particular; serves as a challenge to previous work on gift/commodity, as this book places more emphasis upon materiality.

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  • Tranberg Hansen, K. 2000. Salaula: The world of secondhand clothing and Zambia. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    Very accessible ethnographic work that explores the revaluation and negotiations around clothing that is discarded and then repurchased.

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  • Weiner, A. 1992. Inalienable possessions: The paradox of keeping-while-giving. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520076037.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Engages with and challenges the traditional perspectives of exchange as espoused by Malinowski 2005, in particular through an increased emphasis upon the materiality of the gift and as theories of the gift are gendered.

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Approaching Specific Genres

The literature on material culture considers a wide range of objects and materials, and the sources selected here do not even attempt to encompass this range and breadth. Instead this section will engage with the types of approaches that have been adopted to explore particular genres of material culture, or sometimes multiple genres. The significance of considering specific genres of material culture is not only to understand the breadth of what material culture studies encompass but also because materiality is key to an understanding of particular material relationships, whether certain genres lend themselves to particular approaches. One approach that has been adopted to a wide range of material culture studies is the commodity chain approach, seen here in Mintz’s seminal text on sugar (Mintz 1985), which highlights the changing global structures of capitalism. This approach lends itself to a wide range of genres of material culture, seen in here in the examples of the global trade in body parts (Scheper-Hughes 2000) and the Sony Walkman (Du Gay, et al. 1997). Although very different examples, they both broadly adopt a commodity chain approach (Scheper-Hughes 2000 directly influenced by Mintz 1985) with Du Gay, et al.’s example of the Walkman highlighting the classic commodity chain approach of following the thing through production, design, and consumption to shifting values as objects move and change. The website followthethings adopts the approach to a wide range of commodities, rather than just one, which highlights the possibilities for using this approach to consider the similarities and differences between different types of things. Wilk and Barbosa 2011 is an example of research into a global food source that discusses the possibilities of a comparative approach in material culture research; looking at a single food source in a wide range of contexts allows a thinking through the global and the local; Wilk and Barbosa 2011 applies this to food, but this approach is also applied to clothing, in Miller and Woodward 2011, and to furniture, in Opening the Flatpack (both cited under Methods). The dominant methodological approach to material culture has been through the ethnographic emphasis upon holism and context, as exemplified here in Woodward 2007, a book on women’s wardrobes, yet here the holism is the structuralist totality of the wardrobe itself as a source for the assemblage of outfits. An alternative form of holism can be found in the two final examples within the genre of clothing, which focus upon an event-centered approach. Haynes 1998 looks at the design, making, and wearing of a debutante’s ballgown as it articulates categories of elitism and Cole 1989 focuses upon the white wedding, with a particular emphasis upon the wedding dress.

Display

The literature on museum studies has been central to the foundation of material culture studies; O’Hanlon and Welsch 2000 highlights some of the issues pertaining to the early ethnographic collectors with the arrival of colonial settlers in Melanesia. Broadly, the literature on display centers upon the politics of display and interpretations of artifacts. As such, all of the sources in this section focus on questions of display and the political, ethical, and legal implications of this (such as Brown 1998 and Rowlands 2002). Shelton 2006 is a very useful overview of the area of museum studies in terms of the institution of the museum and what is displayed. Within the literature, debates over museology often center upon heritage, an aspect that is highlighted in Hoelscher 2006, a chapter in MacDonald’s book in which the author examines the historical changes in attitudes regarding the importance placed on heritage and how this affects contemporary museum practices. As the focus here is upon material culture studies, it was important to include a source that explicitly engages with artifacts themselves; Johannes 2004 is useful in highlighting some of these issues, in terms of the specific debates around how artifacts are understood and collected through ethnographic approaches, in particular here in relationship to the construction of the “other.” This article starts to point toward the moral and ethical issues that are involved in the acquisition, definition, and subsequent display of artifacts. Brown 1998 explores more concretely the moral and ethical issues related to the copyrighting of indigenous knowledge. Rowlands 2002 also offers a useful overview of the politics of heritage and debates over the implications of collecting and displaying material culture as objectified knowledge. Most sources in this section focus upon heritage and museums; the book Schneider and Wright 2010 focuses specifically upon art and the complex interrelationships between art, ethnography, and anthropology. Kratz 2002 seeks to bridge the visual and the traditional textual form of a book as it includes many of the photographs from the traveling exhibition that it documents at the same time as it explores issues surrounding cultural representations.

Place

The works by Bender, Ingold, Tilley, and Valentine were selected as they are all engaged, albeit in different ways, with the materiality of landscape in terms of the possibilities and limitations it poses, as well as subjective interpretations and experiences. This is lucidly outlined in Bender 2006, which draws together these ideas, including an attention to both individual subjectivities and how these are framed through social parameters of difference such as gender and ethnicity. Tilley 1994 explicitly develops a phenomenological approach to the study and understanding of landscape. This source is particularly useful and interesting as it strongly develops the theoretical stance, but includes a wealth of visual material as well as written academic words. Ingold 2000 incorporates some phenomenological understanding but attempts to connect this to evolutionary approaches as well, and the book, although on a common theme, is more a collection of connected essays on different aspects of the topic. Valentine 1996 extends the understanding of the landscape to include the urban landscape and the public spaces of the street in cities. This chapter is an exemplar of the vast geographical literature on space and place that contributes to material culture. Indeed, there is a dearth of anthropological literature on the built environment that tends to fall within geography. Wider sources, including ethnographic accounts of the materiality of space and place can be found in the journal Environment and Planning D. If these sources consider place through a more public sense of landscape, the final selections focus upon domestic spaces. They do not, however, suggest that there is a radical dualism between home and public spaces—a point made clear in Valentine 1996. Bourdieu 2003 is the author’s classic account of the structural oppositions of the Kabyle house; it highlights this issue of the connections between the home and wider space through understanding how the organization of space is mapped onto and mirrors wider cosmological and societal notions and categories. Through an in-depth ethnography of the home, Gullestad 1984 highlights the ways in which understandings of both the culture of the home and wider social values can be rethought. Similarly, Daniels 2010, in focusing upon the Japanese house, highlights how an exploration, both visually and through text, can challenge preconceived ideas of the home.

  • Bender, B. 2006. Place and landscape. In Handbook of material culture. Edited by C. Tilley, W. Keane, S. Küchler, M. Rowlands, and P. Spyer, 303–314. London: SAGE.

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    Very useful chapter that outlines the materiality of landscape and subjective engagements with it. Offers comprehensive overview of literature on the topic including gender and ethnicity and theoretical perspectives.

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  • Bourdieu, P. 2003. The Berber house. In The anthropology of space and place: Locating culture. Edited by S. Low and D. Lawrence-Zúñiga, 131–141. Oxford: Blackwell.

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    First published in 1970 in Social Science Information. Analysis of the interior organization of Kabyle house around structural oppositions. Although critiqued for being overly rigid, it is a very useful and accessible source to introduce understandings of space.

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  • Daniels, I. 2010. The Japanese house: Material culture in the modern home. Oxford: Berg.

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    Based upon ethnographic work in Japanese homes, this explores both material culture within the home and the home as material culture. Text and images are combined in the book (photography by Susan Andrews) to explore alternative modes of representing materiality.

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  • Environment and Planning D: Society and Space.

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    Interdisciplinary journal, but dominated by geographers; includes some very useful articles based upon some ethnographic discussions of the material aspects of space.

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  • Gullestad, M. 1984. Kitchen-table society: A case study of the family life and friendships of young working-class mothers in urban Norway. Oslo, Norway: Universitetsforlaget.

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    Draws upon an in-depth ethnography taking place in women’s homes in the suburbs of Bergen, Norway, Gullestad explores the home and its culture from the perspectives and experiences of the women themselves.

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  • Ingold, T. 2000. The perception of the environment: Essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill. London: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203466025Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Original fusion of anthropology, phenomenology, and evolutionary approaches to look at people’s experiences of the environment.

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  • Tilley, C. 1994. A phenomenology of landscape: Places, paths, and monuments. Oxford: Berg.

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    Extended photographic essay. Very useful in the balance of theoretical discussions of landscape with ethnographic/archaeological specificity and in balance between words and images.

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  • Valentine, G. 1996. (Re)negotiating the ‘heterosexual street’: Lesbian productions of space. In Body space: Destabilising geographies of gender and sexuality. Edited by N. Duncan, 145–154. London. Routledge.

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    A geographical approach to the multiple dimensions of public space (the street) and its relation to private spaces; focuses upon sexuality, power relations, and renegotiations.

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LAST MODIFIED: 05/28/2013

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199766567-0085

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