Archive | From the editors

New Radio Program: Objects of Desire

Every day this week, Radio Four will air “Objects of Desire” at 12.04, which explores some of the main concerns of Material Culture Studies:

This is the story of how the things we accumulate around us say more than we might imagine about who we are.

“The fate of the object,” said the French thinker Jean Baudrillard, “has been claimed by no-one.” Unless, of course, the object in question is the Mona Lisa or the Albert Jewel. In these programmes, Matthew Sweet will be looking at the other stuff. The cups. The spoons. The knick-knacks. The things we might keep, even if we don’t quite have the room for them.

Through the prism of what people have in their homes, Objects of Desire explores the work of sociologists and anthropologists like Pierre Bourdieu and Mary Douglas, and philosopher Gaston Bachelard, in order to understand the curious mixture of display, memory, emotion and chance that informs the objects we surround ourselves with.

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UCL Anthropology launches joint cross-section seminar series on “resilience”

UCL Anthropology launches a joint cross-section seminar series titled “Resilience – Merits and Critique of a Concept.

Beginning after November reading week, the series will use insights from social anthropology, material culture studies, medical anthropology and biological anthropology to explore and critique peoples’ resilience in the face of social and/or ecological difficulty in a range of ethnographic settings.

The seminars will run from 11-1pm in the department and are open to students, academics and the public. For more information follow the link below:

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Anthropology and Photography

Anthropology & Photography (ISSN 2397-1754) is a new open-access RAI publication series edited by the RAI Photography Committee. Emerging from the international conference of the same name organized by the RAI at the British Museum in 2014, the series will highlight and make available to the widest possible audience the best new work in the field.

We are eager to solicit new contributions from anthropologists and practitioners which could be visual, textual, or somewhere in between.

Guidelines for submission:

Texts should be on average 4-6,000 words, normally with anything up to 30 images. We are interested in the intersections of text and image, and the capacities of the visual to convey anthropological ideas or participate in anthropological debates. We are also interested in supporting publications that are primarily visually based and are interested in the potential of the anthropological photo-essay or extended documentary project.…

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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”).…

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New Open Access Series: Anthropology and Photography and open access initiatives from the Global Social Media Impact Study

Haidy Geismar, UCL

The movement towards open access has continued to gain momentum in the social sciences, and in anthropology, with important new journals such as Hau; and new movements to develop alternative publishing collectives afoot. I have just stepped down as editor of the Journal of Material Culture where we are moving a little slower. We have committed to ensuring that there is at least one open access article per issue, and Sage has a very generous Green archiving policy which allows the accepted version of an article to be made available immediately. However, Sage owns both the title and the back issues of the journal which makes a transition to fully open access more of a decision to form a completely new title.…

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Cyclone Pam – Support Vanuatu

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.…

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Collecting Collections and digital ways of knowing

Haidy Geismar, UCL

Talpa sp, Mole, Adult, Z2754 UCL Grant Museum of Zoology, © 2014 UCL. CC BY-NC-SA license.

Talpa sp, Mole, Adult, Z2754
UCL Grant Museum of Zoology, © 2014 UCL. CC BY-NC-SA license.


Last term I taught parallel undergraduate and Masters seminars exploring the creation of knowledge systems in museums and the effects of shifts towards the digital on the organization of knowledge and museum epistemologies. All the students had to create a project that digitally presented a series of objects, drawn from across UCL Museums and Collections and created a new digital collection environment. The project aimed not to create an online exhibition but to think about the potentials, and limitations, of digital representation and modes of organization for creating knowledge about both specific objects and from the collecting together of different objects.…

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Mimesis as Infection: Charlie Hebdo seen from the Indian Archive

Christopher Pinney, UCL Anthropology


The recent events in Paris have focused attention on the complex relationship between different varieties of Islam and the image. Historians will rightly point to a French tradition of anti-clerical satire that reaches back to Diderot’s Supplement to Bougainville’s Voyage of 1771, and which provides a frame through which Charlie Hebdo’s provocations make sense. I’ve taught Diderot’s brilliant critique of Christian missionary hypocrisy in an imaginary Tahiti over several years and remain fascinated how one needs to continually remind oneself that this is fiction, a mere “supplement”. Diderot’s central Tahitian character, Orou, is a powerful vindication of Diderot’s “foisting” technique in which he “takes over Bougainville’s Voyage shamelessly rewriting and falsifying it” inserting “speeches and arguments that for the ‘enlightened’ reader, seem to cry out so urgently to be spoken”.…

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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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Occasional Paper No 4: Properties and Social Imagination

Haidy Geismar, UCL Anthropology

We are pleased to announce the latest issue of our Occasional Paper Series as well as the relaunch of the site with new and improved design by our newest editor, Matt Hockenberry.

Properties and Social Imagination is a book length project that drew on explorations and experiments by students and staff working with UCL’s Ethnography Collections.

The project has drawn together Masters and PhD students, staff, and a team of scholars and artists based in the College for Creative Arts at Massey University. Our primary focus is UCL’s ethnographic collections and we have explored the dynamic ways in which the formal qualities of stone, wood and cloth create new cultural sensibilities and new collaborative research practices. Our projects instantiates the dynamism of collections-based research and presents a number of visual projects inspired by these processes, demonstrating that collections are not static but continually in motion.…

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