Book Review: My Life with Things: The Consumer Diaries by Elizabeth Chin

Haidy Geismar, UCL Anthropology

My Life With Things: The Consumer Diaries by Elizabeth Chin, 2016. Duke University Press.

My Life with Things is an engaging, quirky, auto-ethnography detailing key moments of Elizabeth Chin’s life, focusing especially on her passionate relationship with commodities and processes of consumption (from shopping in thrift stores and on eBay through to her obsessions with home decoration). Narratives and diaries written over several years present Chin’s anxieties, desires, and needs as they are emerge in relation to shopping for clothes, for her home, and for her daughter. These are interspersed with a tracking of the personal and familial relationships of Karl Marx. The central argument, that the personal is political, that materiality matters, and that political economy is a sensorium of lived experience as well as a systemic process of the book builds upon Peter Stallybrass’ beautiful essay, Marx’s Coat (1998).…

Continue Reading 0

On Miniatures: a dialogue

In a new series of postings, we draw two research projects on miniatures together in dialogue:

Miniatures Matter

Jonathan Walz, Rollins  College

Jonathan Walz is an anthropologist who practices archaeology in eastern Africa and the western Indian Ocean. This contribution arises from his long-term interest in representations of archaeology and Africa and previous explorations of miniatures, often overlooked by archaeologists more typically drawn to monuments. The tendency to miniaturize impacts the form and substance of practices, materials, and the eventual effects of things on humans in the endless entanglement of material, agency, subjectivity, memory, and affect. Postage stamps collapse of multiple symbols into proximity motivates metonymy and the exchanges and contests among bundled ideas rooted in the negotiated political landscape of the public and nation-state.

Continue Reading 1

Broken Stories

Adam Drazin, UCL Anthropology

How, when and why do people start to see something as”broken”? Do objects around the home just have two states, broken and working, or are there many other kinds of states they can be in? Clearly, the significance of many domestic objects is in relation to the projects of home which surround them and preoccupy the groups of people living together in a household. In some ways, household things are materialisations of projects, and ideas of being broken and fixed express this.

The Broken Stories project involved a group of Masters students on the UCL course Materials/Anthropology/Design at UCL working with Fixperts on issues of what kinds of fixing happen in the home, and what kinds of situations the Fixperts might get involved in.…

Continue Reading

Knowledge as Material Movement in Surfing and Anthropology

David Whyte, UCL Anthropology

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0211.

Unpacking at Duggie. Photo: David Whyte

“We’re probably going to surf Banna Strand, but the swell might still be a bit small, I just can’t decide.” Dylan slumps back into the passenger seat of my car and throws his phone momentarily from his hands. He has spent most of the journey with it held to his nose, furrowing his brow as he examines various surf forecasts from across the southwest coast of Ireland. Dylan is one of those people for whom finding good waves has become an obsession, and missing them an unthinkable tragedy. It is a cold October morning, and the swell from Hurricane Joaquin is forecast to make landfall along Ireland’s Atlantic coast around lunchtime.…

Continue Reading

The Lunar New Year Gift Index 2.0

Members of the Emerging Subjects project at UCL and the National University of Mongolia contributed to this post.

 What does focusing on gifts given and received during the Lunar New Year tell us about the general economy in Mongolia? Last year we posted our first Lunar New Year Gift Index (LNYGI) and found that the slowing economy shaped how Mongolians celebrated the holiday, with people confining the celebrations to fewer days and opting for more useful gifts (like socks) that support Mongolian businesses. This year, Mongolia’s economy has been shaken further with pressures of increasing public and private debt and the slowdown of commodity prices globally. We found that people bought less over-all in preparation for the Lunar New Year. While prices have decreased (especially the price of meat), the cost of this year’s celebration was very straining. …

Continue Reading

The Absent Stone

Sandra Rozental, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Cuajimalpa,
Mexico City
La Replica
The Absent Stone (2013) is a documentary film that combines contemporary ethnographic filmmaking, animation and a wide range of found footage and archival visual materials to tell the story of the largest single-stone sculpture in the Americas, and how it was transported from a village in the Texcoco area to one of Mexico City’s busiest streets. In 1964, the sculpture, which archaeologists believe to be a pre-Columbian rain deity, was forcefully removed from Coatlinchan following military intervention. Using national patrimony laws to justify the extraction, the state repurposed the 167-ton carving as a monument marking the entrance of the newly-built National Anthropology Museum. The engineers and architects in charge of the feat were stunned when the sculpture’s arrival resulted in one of the most abundant rainfalls the city has ever seen during its alleged dry season.…
Continue Reading

Big Bang Data

Jo Cunningham, UCL Digital Anthropology

Recently, a cohort of students from the Masters in Digital Anthropology course visited the ‘Big Bang Data’ exhibition at Somerset House.  Exploring the rise of Big Data, the exhibition featured a mix of pieces commissioned from media artists alongside exhibits explaining the history and scope of the ‘data explosion’.  Here are a few of the students’ reactions to exhibition pieces that inspired them:

 


Big Data and Twig Data by Jo Cunningham

BBD

The Big Bang Data exhibition identified 2002 as a landmark year for data when digital took over from analogue. During 2009, more data was produced than all the preceding years put together.  This explosion in data production is linked with the capacity to store data and one of the exhibits showed the evolution of storage devices, from punchcards that could hold just 0.08 kilobytes, to floppy disks, CDs, and finishing with DNA, 1 gram of which can store 455 exabytes.  

Continue Reading

Charlotte’s stockings, Emily’s walking stick, Anne’s handkerchief

Samantha Ellis at the Times Literary Supplement reviews a new book by Deborah Lutz, The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in nine objects. 

This book is partly an attempt to talk to the dead, by looking at (and holding, sniffing, weighing) the Brontës’ things. Fans of the writers who cross the world to gaze at Charlotte’s stockings and Anne’s bloodstained handkerchief, sequestered behind glass, might envy Lutz’s intimacy with these objects. They sometimes speak as eloquently about their owners as the books, maybe because although we may not have written great novels, we all have stuff. We have also all watched CSI, so there is something familiar about Lutz, hunched over a scratch on Emily Brontë’s desk, as she says herself, “Was this a message from the dead, or just the results of a bump into a table?

Continue Reading

The Anti-Camera

Christopher Pinney, UCL Anthropology

I recently came across M.N. Srinivas’ observation that his enthusiastic engagement with photography, during his fieldwork in Mysore in the late 1940s, earned him the nickname “chamara man”. He notes that in Kannada chamara denotes whisks made of the long hair from a yak’s tails used by servants to keep flies away from Rajas and by priests to preserve the purity of icons.

In the Madhya Pradesh village where I have worked intermittently since 1982 you will hear echoes of the metaphor that informs the South Indian description of Srinivas as “chamara man”. For instance, Jagdish Sharma, the pujari of the Krishna temple once joked that my video camera embodied “yantra, mantra, [and] tantra”, yantra being the design (“made in Japan”), mantra being the information it stored, and tantra being the magic of technology (its “mashinari”).…

Continue Reading

Some thoughts about the 9/11 Memorial and Museum

Haidy Geismar, UCL

I recently spent an afternoon at the site of the former twin towers, where now there lies, imprinted on the foundations, one of the largest memorials I have visited, and underneath that a cavernous museum, both dedicated to memorializing the events of September 11, 2001. This review has emerged out that experience and from a conversation with Harvey Molotch who recently wrote a review of the 911 museum at Public Books. Called “How the 9/11 Museum Gets Us” Molotch reflects on the affective qualities of the museum, pulling together a powerfully christian iconography, personalizing the experience by exploring the victims in material detail through their possessions, and whitewashing historical context.

Photography was not allowed inside the main exhibit so the images I present show the memorial, and the outer areas  of the museum which allow the visitor to traverse the spectral foundations in the former basement of the building, punctuated by large remnants of the day, such as the Vesey street stairs, one of the few pieces of architecture left in one piece which has been relocated here through to fire trucks and steel girders.…

Continue Reading

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes