Disobedient Objects

Hannah Knox, Lecturer in Digital Anthropology and Material Culture, UCL Anthropology Zapatistas. Attribution: Nathan Gibbs https://flic.kr/p/3eMx1h Licensed under Creative Commons.

Zapatistas. Attribution: Nathan Gibbsflic.kr/p/3eMx1hLicensed under Creative Commons.

 

In 1996 I worked in Mexico for eight months and during my time there visited the famous village of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas. One of my abiding memories of San Cristobal was of the women from the village who were selling artisanal products to tourists on cloths laid out on the floor in the square in front of the church. Whilst the sale of artisanal objects was commonplace in Mexican villages, in amongst the traditional traditionally dressed dolls I had been surprised to see dolls sporting cloth balaclavas and guns. The dolls were a homage to Subcomandante Marcos and the 1994 uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) against the Mexican government and its signing of the NAFTA free trade agreement with the United States.…

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Changes afoot at Material World Blog

Some of you more regular readers may have noticed that we’ve been posting less at material world blog of late. When Danny Miller and I started the blog in 2006 the blog was a way for me to keep my connection to the vibrant material culture group in the Anthropology Department at UCL where I had been a doctoral student as well as to connect UCL to the broader interest in material culture developing in the US. Since 2006 we have had a series of dedicated editors and editors-at-large, based all over the place, who have regularly provided content ranging from exhibition and book reviews through to notes from the field and good links. One of the things I’ve liked most about the site is that is its commitment to many voices and the space it has given to students and to scholars whose first language is not English to present their ideas.…

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On Scanning Fluff

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I’ve been working on a paper for a workshop on “Transforming data: drawing otherness into data debates” next week. I will be talking about one of  my current research projects, Te Ara Wairua – Pathways of the Intangible. In collaboration with Kura Puke and Stuart Foster of Massey University and Te Matahiapo Research Organization in Aotearoa New Zealand we have been exploring how digital technologies can connect to a Maori Korowai (cloak) held currently in the UCL Ethnography Collections.

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Tukutuku roimata, I.0013, see, ethcat.museums.ucl.ac.uk/detail.aspx?parentpriref=[/caption]

Together we are developing a critical perspective on the ways in which digital technologies can, or cannot, be used to connect communities to far away collections. We all have different interests and investments in the project, and these have generated different research questions.…

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EASA review

Theodoros Kyriakides (a doctoral candidate in the anthropology of illness at the University of Manchester) provides a blog review for Savage Minds of the recent 13th Biennial EASA conference, held at Tallinn University in Estonia from 31 July to 3 August.

Over at the Allegra site, one can find some recent interviews with EASA President Noel Salazar as well as the co-chairs of the conference’s scientific committee, Carlo Cubero and Patrick Laviolette. A visual archive of the conference has also been collated.…

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Best of Material World: Digital Media

Since the Material World Blog began, the digital media landscape changed dramatically. In social media terms, we have moved from Friendster, MySpace and Orkut to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp, with a range of other digital, mobile and social media becoming embedded within many people’s everyday lives around the world. These transformations resulted in an increasing number of posts that explored the changing relationships with digital media and made visible the materiality of the digital worlds. In my review of the best of digital media on Material World Blog, five key themes emerged.

(1) The first theme clusters around questions of place and materiality with the growth in digital media. These include Jean-François Blanchette’s wonderful post analysing bits and the software history  as well as Toby Wilkenson’s examination of the consequences of google earth for our relationship to place in a time of google earth. Graham H.…

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Best of Material World Blog: Landscape and Place

Patrick Laviolette (EHI, Tallinn University, hosts of EASA2014)

In terms of providing reflections on the material dimensions of place and landscape, here are some links to what I feel have been amongst the more provocative postings on the blog over the years. Many of the authors to the links below implicitly, or sometimes even explicitly ask: how do we depict our spatial experiences through the digital medium of blogging?

In Feb 2007, Graeme Were put up a piece simply entitled ‘Footpaths‘ by Kate Cameron-Daum. It is an eye-catching post which stirred my own curiosity on methods of walking, particularly in the countryside. Similarly, Peter Oakley’s observations at Tyntesfield house in A Roof with a View, reflects upon the postmodern condition of a heritage site standing below some scaffolding.…

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Made in Palestine

Christopher Pinney, UCL

[Please note: this  post was written before the intensification of the current Israeli offensive on Gaza]

I decided to transgress the BDS (Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions) injunction and attend a conference on ‘The Photographic Imagination’ in Tel Aviv in June 2014 for several reasons.  The two central ones concerned, firstly, the Apartheid analogy. Having taught a short course at the University of Cape Town in 2000 it was quite apparent that there were many courageous dissident academic intellectuals that had been a key element of the resistance during the 1980s and earlier. Collaboration with them would have been quite different from buying South African produce. The second reason has an element of illogicality, which is repeatedly pointed out to me: Syria.…

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Best of Material World Blog: Museums, Exhibitions, Archives, Memorials

Since its inception, Material World has treated museums and archives not only as repositories of material culture, but as material culture–that is, material products as well as producers of culture and social memory. As institutions, they are sites of collection and exhibition, acts that have their own material and materializing dimensions.

Here are some of our favorite posts about museums, exhibitions, archives, and memorials:

Graeme Were reviews the Musée du Quai Branly a year after it opened.

Anna Weinrich examines two permanent museum exhibitions in Australia featuring Aboriginal culture and collections by a foundational anthropologist, testing out the new museology against the politics of Aboriginal voice.

Diana Young discusses her curatorial efforts to enliven museum collections in dialogue with Aboriginal artists.

Bethany Edmunds reviews two British exhibitions of Pacific material, reflecting on the role of language in framing both historic and contemporary art and material culture.…

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Mundane Objects: Materiality and non-Verbal Communication by Pierre Lemonnier

Haidy Geismar, UCL

The latest issue of Hau has a symposium on Pierre Lemmonier’s latest book, Mundane Objects, with commentary by Bruno Latour, Chris Ballard, Tim Ingold, Paul Graves-Brown, Susanne Küchler and a response by Pierre Lemmonier. The series of comments essentially sum up a “state of the art” comment on material culture theory, which Tim Ingold pithily sums up to date:

Perhaps there is something to be said for going back to the anthropological debates of the 1960s and 1970s on such themes as symbolic condensation, the distinction (or lack of it) between ritual and practical-technical actions, and how to do things with and without words. Arguably, our understandings have not been much advanced by subsequent approaches to material culture, for example by treating it as a system of signs whose meanings could be read off from the objects themselves, by entering them as candidates for social life but only as tokens of exchange among human beings, or by focusing on their consumption at the expense of their production.Nor—and here I agree wholeheartedly with Lemonnier—is there anything to be gained from leaving the heavy lifting to such philosophical juggernauts as “agency” and “materiality.” Most agency-speak is as tautologous as the functionalism it replaced: where before, if the presence of a thing has effects (and it would not be present if it did not), these effects were attributed to its functioning, nowadays they are attributed to its agency.

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Material culture in Hungary and everywhere else

Daniel Miller, UCL

Krisztina Fehérváry 2013 Politics in Color and Concrete: socialist materialities and the middle class in Hungary. Indiana University Press

Léna Pellandini-Simányi  2014 Consumption Norms and Everyday Ethics. Palgrave Macmillan

Hungary is a good place to take stock of the current state of material culture studies. Because Hungary is simply a good emblem of `anywhere,’ in that it represents neither a vanguard nor a backwater, but works as simply another ordinary place. That is significant to me because the material culture studies that I guess I have always wanted to promote are precisely about this same ordinary whether as blue jeans, or domestic interiors.

Fehérváry’s exemplary scholarship, both historical and ethnographic, takes us through both socialist modernism and post-socialist consumer modernism in the development of contemporary Hungary.…

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