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”.…

Continue Reading

Christmas Leftovers

Christmas Leftovers

Josh Burraway, Social Anthropology, UCL

 With the festive season chronologically behind us (and yet despairingly in front of us) we can breath a brief sigh of relief as we enter the new year. Or at least we think we can. Although the wrapping paper, discount champagne and dodgy fireworks have indeed been put away for another year, most of us are undoubtedly returning to our homes and into a decidedly uncanny space. If you are anything like me, the residual objects of the Christmas break will no doubt still be adorning the living room. The slowly withering tree in the corner, the wreath on the door that has overstayed its welcome, the flaccid bunting of Christmas tinsel hanging stubbornly to what will surely be its final resting place, and, most interestingly to me – the dense sea of Christmas cards that have colonised the mantelpiece since the fateful day that November mercilessly toppled into December.…

Continue Reading

Sonically Transforming Washi Paper

Jessica Knights, Material and Visual Culture MA, UCL Anthropology


While undertaking my Master’s in Material and Visual Culture in UCL’s anthropology department last year, I received a Heinz Wolff Materials Bursary to carry out a project at the University’s Institute of Making. My proposal was to explore the properties of Washi paper, a type of handmade paper made in Japan. Washi is made predominantly from the paper mulberry (kozo) tree by traditional methods, and has been used for diverse purposes; from raincoats to kimonos, aerial bombs to toilet paper (Barrett 1983). I first became interested in this material through bookbinding, and was struck by its strength and durability as much as its tactility, delicacy, and softness.

My approach was largely influenced by our course literature, in particular the work of Tim Ingold.…

Continue Reading

The Material Culture of the Boxer – a post-fieldwork reflection

[By Pete Lockwood, a former MSc Social Anthropology student (2013-14) from UCL]




When I conducted fieldwork in an Essex boxing gym for my MSc dissertation in Social Anthropology over the summer months of 2014, like a lot of other fieldworkers might do, I was reading bits of theory that seemed to speak to my emerging ethnographic data. Because my fieldwork was still going on, I ended up thinking about a few ideas that ultimately never made it into my dissertation. In the end, my argument turned out to be about the self, and the forms of practical “poiesis” through which the self is transformed in boxing (cf. Herzfeld 1985). But in building an argument about the relationship between the “sensori-motor conduct” of sport – practical activity that is inherently perceptual and has effects on human beings as subjects (Warnier 2009: 465) – and notions of personhood in a Western social context, I perhaps didn’t do enough justice to the “material culture” that “props up” sensori-motoricity as a principle of being-in-the-world (Warnier 2007: 1-3).…

Continue Reading

Trees and Fairy Lights

Timothy Carroll, UCL Anthropology

Source: http://www.london-attractions.info/trafalgar-square-christmas-tree.htm Source: www.london-attractions.info/trafalgar-square-christmas-tree.htm

London’s Trafalgar Square holds a rather central spot in the festival seasons of the city. Early in December, as it has since 1947, it again played host to a towering conifer gifted to the people of Britain by the city of Oslo, Norway, in appreciation for their help during World War II. With some press announcement about the tree fresh in my head, I left London to attend the Anthropological Association in America, held this year in Washington D.C. There, by matter of course, I happened upon an other Norwegian Christmas Tree, this one tucked in corner near the Metro entrance (the West Carriage Porch, to be exact) of Union Station. This one is given by the people of Norway to the United States as a gift of appreciation for the assistance given to Norway during and after World War II, a long established tradition going back, the Union Station says, to 1996.…

Continue Reading

Exploring Digital-Visual Anthropological Research Methods: www.photoblogsiran.com

[This is an invited post from a PhD student working at Oxford University, accompanied by a series of comments about visual methods from PhD students working at UCL]

Shireen Walton, PhD candidate in Anthropology, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford


Oxford Digital Ethnography Group (OxDEG)/www.facebook.com/groups/OXDEG/


In June 2013, after nine months of ethnographic fieldwork researching Iranian popular photographic practices in Iran, the UK and online, my principal participants (Iranian photobloggers, based inside and outside of Iran) and I discussed the idea of co-curating a digital photography exhibition of their work. The idea of developing an innovative, site-specific methodology emerged during the research process, but seemed appropriate given that a) it reflected what photobloggers do – they create digital exhibition spaces in the form of photoblogs to share their photographs with viewers across the world – and b) it would establish a relevant digital environment in which to participate and observe their practices.…

Continue Reading

Exhibit B

Probing further: the untormented “white body”

Exhibit B

Protesters gather at the Vaults Gallery during a rally that led to Exhibit B by South African artist Brett Bailey being cancelled. Photograph: Thabo Jaiyesimi/Demotix/Corbis

How does one review an exhibition that has been banned from public view? The censorship of Exhibit B earlier this year in London constitutes yet another interesting visual and performative episode in Brett Bailey’s controversial saga currently touring Europe, as his ‘tableaux vivants’ or living displays of black performers in various scenes (supposedly) representative of slavery and colonialism gave rise to impassioned protest and resulted in its closure.

What this controversy reveals for critique, more than it has censored for content, is the problematic format of performance in today’s art scene.…

Continue Reading

The Power of Print

When Philae phoned home to Earth a couple of weeks ago, the world cheered. The European Space Agency (ESA) had achieved an amazing first in space exploration – landing a robotic lander on a comet! A comet! However, the cheers became somewhat subdued within hours of the landing, all because of a shirt. The print of a shirt, to be exact.

London native Dr. Matt Taylor, ESA Project Scientist, sparked a social media storm with his apparel during a media briefing on that historic 12th of November.



Women, and men, from all backgrounds and professions took to Twitter in outrage at Taylor’s shirt, citing the shirt as sexist and perpetuating the glass ceiling for women in STEM fields.…

Continue Reading

Disobedient Objects

Hannah Knox, Lecturer in Digital Anthropology and Material Culture, UCL Anthropology

Zapatistas. Attribution: Nathan Gibbs https://flic.kr/p/3eMx1h Licensed under Creative Commons.

Zapatistas. Attribution: Nathan Gibbs
Licensed under Creative Commons.


In 1996 I worked in Mexico for eight months and during my time there visited the famous village of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas. One of my abiding memories of San Cristobal was of the women from the village who were selling artisanal products to tourists on cloths laid out on the floor in the square in front of the church. Whilst the sale of artisanal objects was commonplace in Mexican villages, in amongst the traditional traditionally dressed dolls I had been surprised to see dolls sporting cloth balaclavas and guns. The dolls were a homage to Subcomandante Marcos and the 1994 uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) against the Mexican government and its signing of the NAFTA free trade agreement with the United States.…

Continue Reading

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.…

Continue Reading

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes