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.
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.…
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.…
Adam Drazin, UCL Anthropology, and convener of the MA program Culture, Materials and Design
In a recent interview on BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Aloud (www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03bfk9h), the book the Noodle Narratives was compared to Sidney Mintz’s classic study Sweetness and Power (sidneymintz.net/sugar.php). In Sweetness and Power, Mintz famously shows how sugar underwrote and structured the capitalism of slave labour and factory labour in the British Empire, and convergently set out what class meant in the British Empire in consumption.
Is this comparison justified? Are noodles the capitalist staple infusing our contemporary world system?
For Frederick Errington, Deborah Gewertz and Tatsuro Fujikura, noodles represent ‘Big Food’. They a staple food, made from wheat processed to have flavour, carbohydrates, just enough protein, an unimaginable (and unnecessary) shelf life, and adaptability of consumption. The authors illustrate their capacity for cultural shape-shifting. From Japanese noodle museums, they are heritage. Among American students and convicts, they provide for sensitive, personal and memorable moments. In Papua New Guinea, instant noodle-based entrepreneurialism forms the basis of kinds of private enterprise which anthropology has for a long time identified as potentially deeply significant moments of local sociocultural change.…
By Aaron Glass (Bard Graduate Center)
After knowing about the book for a couple of years, I finally found the time to read The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010), Edmund de Waal’s evocative exploration of his material patrimoine. The book traces its author’s geographical, archival, and emotional wanderings though the past century and a half and across the globe as he pieces together the story of his family, largely through its accumulated—and then mostly alienated—collections. Where objects are no longer extant, de Waal reconstructs their once-presence from lists, ledgers, account books, registries, catalogues, photographs, letters, memoirs, and novels.…
Ruth Phillips (2011, Montreal: McGill-Queens’s University Press)
Reviewed by Aaron Glass (Bard Graduate Center)
“Canada’s collaborative models of museum practice have arisen as organically from its history as the canoe or the snowmobile.”
The first sentence of Ruth Phillips’ long-awaited volume of essays on museums and indigenous people encapsulates a number of her analytical perspectives: it delimits the general institutional field of her study and suggests that particular collaborative practices are characteristic of their national context and their slowly evolving forms. But by invoking iconic modes of both indigenous and settler transportation, Phillips also implies that the museum itself is a form of technology—an engineered machine for achieving specific goals. She even materializes her own contributions to the field by invoking the polysemous term “pieces” to describe the essays contained herein.…