Living with Things

Danny Miller, UCL
LwTcover web.jpg
A new book has just been published by Nicky Gregson, Professor of Human Geography at Sheffield University, well known through her previous publications such as Second Hand Worlds. The latest book is called Living with Things (Seankingston.co.uk). I admit to a bias, since I am the editor of the series this appears in, and indeed I would use the opportunity to encourage people to send manuscripts. We are certainly interested in material culture books with an anthropological inflection. Living with Things reports a fascinating ethnography of a former coal-mining village in North-East England, seen largely through the internal relationships between the long term lives of objects in the home and the long term occupancy of the homes.
Two main aspects of these relationships emerge through the writing. The first is the idea of accommodating, the way things have to be shifted around and reordered in relations to events such as moving in, doing up the place or having children. With the further implication that, without such events, things often remain stable occupants of home for very considerable periods. But then there is just as much on the internal circulation of objects within the home that may eventually lead to their being thrown out or otherwise disposed of. So here exchange appears mainly as a study of the internal dynamics of households. I confess this is very much my kind of ethnography with considerable attention to the long term trajectories of objects such as toys and appliances. It is the kind of ethnography which shows why material culture is often an ideal conduit for conveying how essential, ordinary, mundane and therefore often quite overlooked practices are central to the normative form of everyday life. Which, after all, these days is increasingly a matter of what happens within the private home.

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6 Responses to Living with Things

  1. Material Girl, UCL March 21, 2007 at 12:52 am #

    Thanks for introducing this new book to us~ I will go to the bookstore and readthis book after my essay due on this Friday.

  2. Solen Roth, UBC March 21, 2007 at 10:13 pm #

    This book sounds very interesting indeed. Along those very same lines, I would also strongly recommend “La vie des objets” by Thierry Bonnot (for those of you who read French, for I don’t think it has been translated into English… could this task be taken up by your editor?). Based on an ethnography of ceramic production and exhibition in the Bourbince Valley (center of France), Bonnot explores the ‘biographies’ of stoneware pottery (and other objects), from the factory to collectors’ shelves, the homes of factory workers, flea markets and museums. Do you know if Nicky Gregson cites Bonnot or knows about his work, despite the possible language barrier? These two books really seem to be in the same vein…

  3. Alex Golub, U Hawai'i March 22, 2007 at 8:44 pm #

    The book does sound interesting but (as we say in the States) ninety bucks is a big ask. Especially for a print on demand press. Any chance of seeing something in paper?

  4. Sean Kingston, Sean Kingston Publishing March 26, 2007 at 7:51 am #

    @ Solen: I don’t think the book cites Bonnot; however, the book likely to be the next in this series is study of pottery and potters in Catalonia…
    @ Alex: Print-on-demand costs more per book than litho print. Our pricing is competitive. Browse Routledge US’s anth. books for instance, their HBs are mainly $120-145, and they don’t have to convert those low-value $ back into £, nor will they get screwed for such high discounts by middle-men. HBs are always mainly aimed at libraries, but we try and price ours so that they are within reach for those keen on the topic (UK price is equivalent to, say, a mid-price sweater). The income from these books pays my mortgage and puts food on the table for my children, I can’t afford to give them away! Indeed, from colleagues within academic publishing, the criticism I receive is that I don’t charge enough…
    If the book is successful, there will be a paperback in due course.

  5. Fiona Parrott UCL April 9, 2007 at 1:05 pm #

    A good ethnography and fun to read. I particularly enjoyed the account of the gendered dynamics of consumption and disposal within couples. Now we know why men need to go to the tip so often… More seriously it reveals the complex and emotive basis upon which the huge quantities of household ‘wasting’ hang.

  6. Jenny Brown, Beamish Museum October 1, 2007 at 3:00 pm #

    A very intriguing review on a wonderful site. I look forward to reading this ethnography as I work in a museum in North East England that specializes in the material culture of ordinary folk! Thank you.

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