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?
Christopher Tilley, Department of Anthropology, University College London (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Robert Macfarlane Landmarks (2015) London: Hamish Hamilton, 387pp. £20.00 rrp
This is the fifth book by Macfarlane about British landscapes. The ‘landmarks’ of the title are not what one might expect: they are words. The book is about the power of words in place making. This reminds us that landscapes may be material topographic realities but they are simultaneously constituted in the mind. Traditionally, in academic debates, landscapes have been regarded as either reductively shaping the manner in which people think or blank slates on which people inscribe the way in which they think in more or less any way they like. In this respect their material topographies become mere backdrops to an understanding of the manner in which they are understood.…
Haidy Geismar, UCL
As I’m sure you are all aware, last week Vanuatu was devastated by Cyclone Pam, battering the country with winds of over 270 mph. The storm knocked out the country’s telecommunications and transport infrastructure and now, just a few days later, it is estimated that more then 70% of the population are left homeless, without adequate drinking water, and without food. The long term prospects for food security are also bad as most of the garden crops that people live off have been destroyed. President Baldwin Lonsdale has announced that the storm had “wiped out” recent development and that “everything” would have to be rebuilt.
Vanuatu is the place that I have worked as an anthropologist since 2000.…
This critical examination of the 2013 double issue of Museum Anthropology Review (MAR), entitled “After the Return: Digital Repatriation and the Circulation of Indigenous Knowledge,” (volume 7, numbers 1-2) was written by our spring 2014 class on the Anthropology in and of Museums, as part of the Museum Studies MA Program at New York University. Contributors included Brittany Darrow, Christina Fernandez, Mary Kate Gliedt, Houda Lazrak, Jacqueline Masseo, Maria Montenegro, Edward Ovadek, and Laura Williams; and the project was overseen by our professor, Dr. Sabra Thorner (who facilitated class discussion on the journal issue and its broader context in Anthropology and Museum Studies, and had a final editorial role over the contents). We’d like to collectively thank Barbara Mathé, Museum Archivist and head of Library Special Collections at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York, who planted the seed for this idea and participated actively in several conversations about this issue’s contents and significance; and Jim Enote, Director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center at Zuni, New Mexico, who was a guest speaker in our class during the process.…
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.…
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.…
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.
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.…
Emily Brennan, UCL Anthropology
Edited by Anu Kannike and Patrick Laviolette, 2013, Estonia: University of Tartu Press.
This volume addresses the dynamics of materiality over time and space. In cross-cultural, multi-temporal and interdisciplinary studies the authors examine how things gain meaning and status, generate a multitude of emotions, and feed into the propagation of myths, narratives and discourses. The book is divided according to four themes: soft objects, stoic stories, consuming and the collectable, and waste and technologies. The first section discusses the meanings of the lived environment on the individual and national levels. The second section provides specific examples on the role of things in identity construction. The third section focuses on historical and contemporary aspects of consumption and collecting.…
Distributed Objects: Meaning and Mattering after Alfred Gell.
Edited by Liana Chua and Mark Elliot
Berghahn Books (London & New York), 2013
By Fiona P. McDonald (University College London)
According to Georgina Born in Distributed Objects: Meaning and Mattering after Alfred Gell, “we all have our own Alfred Gell” (p. 130). Therefore, I too must admit to having my own Alfred Gell—one more clearly understood to me after exploring an entire volume dedicated to what can best be summarized as profound scholarly reflections on the distributed effects of Alfred Gell’s endeavor to identify an anthropological theory of art in his Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory (1998). Distributed Objects is a captivating pendant piece to Gell’s original publication.…