Tag Archives: material culture

Mundane Objects: Materiality and non-Verbal Communication by Pierre Lemonnier

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. The argument is no less circular, and equally ridiculous, especially coming from the mouths of celebrity philosophers. The concept of “materiality” is just as vacuous, no more so than when the abstraction that led from materials to materiality is followed by a counterreification from materiality to materialities, leading to the absurdity of describing a thing made from many different materials as an assemblage of multiple materialities. We have had more than enough of both agency and materiality, and they have got us nowhere. We need to go back to basics. But do we start with objects or affects, artifacts or materials,communication or participation? In each of these pairings, Lemonnier opts for the former. I opt for the latter (Ingold 2012). I wonder whether there might be some way of putting these two perspectives together. Now, that would be an advance.

In other commentary, Latour applauds Lemmonier’s emphasis on techniques and technology as a way to subvert the ethnocentric preoccupation with a crude object focus that comes with many contemporary theorizations of materiality, recognizing the very plasticity of the material world and Susanne Küchler provocatively thinks through the nascent material qualities of computers and other interactive digital technologies.

 

 

CFP: Missionaries, Materials and the Making of the Modern World

15-17 September 2014
Emmanuel College Cambridge
United Kingdom

While some scholars have understood the activity of overseas Christian missionaries primarily in terms of a ‘Colonization of Consciousness’ (Comaroff & Comaroff 1992), a range of recent scholarship has also emphasised the profoundly material dimensions of much missionary activity. While religious conversion was never unimportant historically, many missionaries have been equally heavily involved in practical projects to remake the world. Their global projects have transformed landscapes, forms of architecture and modes of dress, but have also shaped underlying narratives of modernity and modernisation (Keane 2007).

This flagship international conference will bring scholars from different disciplines together with heritage professionals to explore the global networks of exchange established by Christian missionary organisations, the materials that circulated through these, and the transformational effects these exchanges had in many different parts of the world, including Europe itself. 
Abstracts of up to 200 words emailed to: ga343@cam.ac.uk
Deadline is 29 April
Dr Chris Wingfield
Senior Curator (Archaeology)
MAA, Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology
University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3DZ
Tel: + 44 (0)1223 333515
Keep up to date with MAA on facebook: www.facebook.com/MAACambridge

Agbogbloshie: the world’s largest e-waste dump – in pictures | Environment | theguardian.com

 

Adam Nasara, 25, uses Styropor, an insulating material from refrigerators, to light a fire

Adam Nasara, 25, uses Styropor, an insulating material from refrigerators, to light a fire

Agbogbloshie: the world’s largest e-waste dump – in pictures | Environment | theguardian.com.

 

Discarders of electronic goods expect them to be recycled properly. But almost all such devices contain toxic chemicals which, even if they are recyclable, make it expensive to do so. As a result, illegal dumping has become a lucrative business.

Photographer Kevin McElvaney documents Agbogbloshie, a former wetland in Accra, Ghana, which is home to the world’s largest e-waste dumping site. Boys and young men smash devices to get to the metals, especially copper. Injuries, such as burns, untreated wounds, eye damage, lung and back problems, go hand in hand with chronic nausea, anorexia, debilitating headaches and respiratory problems. Most workers die from cancer in their 20s

CFP – Thinking with Things, 1500-1940

Call For Papers
Thinking with Things, 1500-1940:
An interdisciplinary material culture workshop for graduate students
25th April 2014

Deadline for abstract submission: 3rd March 2014

Keynote speaker: Dr Spike Bucklow, Hamilton Kerr Institute, Cambridge
Closing Remarks: Dr Katy Barrett, Royal Museums, Greenwich

Thinking with Things is a one-day workshop to be held on Friday 25th
April, 2014 at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and
Humanities (CRASSH), at the University of Cambridge. Research students
from any discipline within the arts, social sciences, and humanities are
invited to submit proposals for papers, and/or panels of three papers,
that consider how ‘things’ can put a new perspective on the past. This
workshop is affiliated with the ‘Things: Comparing Material Cultures’
seminar series at CRASSH www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/programmes/things

Continue reading

CFP: “Threads of Circulation”

Ohio State University, Department of History of Art

Columbus, OH, April 11 - 12, 2014

Proposals due: January 17, 2014 (extended deadline)

This conference seeks papers that address and examine the shifting 
trajectories and connected histories of individual objects and
 ideologies across time and space. Over the last decade, there has been 
increased interest in network culture in ancient cultures, the early
 modern world, and postmodern globalization. This conference will focus 
on the ways in which material culture – singular artworks, objects, and 
technologies – reveals what Sanjay Subrahmanyam proposes as “the at
 times fragile threads that connect the globe.” In paying particular
 attention to perhaps paradoxical heterogeneity and following the
“fragile threads” of memory, history, and culture, this conference 
confronts and questions historical and cultural transmission across 
time and space.

Continue reading

Mary Douglas Awards for Master’s study at UCL

The Anthropology department at UCL (University College London) is pleased to announce the Mary Douglas Awards, to students applying for Master’s programmes for entry in September 2013.  These fee waivers, worth between £2000 -£ 4000 pounds will be awarded based on the merit of individual applications.

There are three exciting and complementary Masters programmes for students interested in objects, art, museums, digital technologies and media, follow the respective links for details regarding how to apply:

MA Material & Visual Culture:  for object-focused cultural explorations, visual culture, consumption, and heritage

MSc Digital Anthropology: exploring the role of the digital in social life in cross-cultural perspective

MA Culture.Materials.Design:  for design anthropology, the new anthropology of materials, and the anthropology of making

 

Review: Peter Carey’sThe Chemistry of Tears

Untitled 2Haidy Geismar, UCL

[Ed note: This is Material World Blog's 1000'th post!]

I’ve been thinking about novels that have something profound to contribute to Material Culture Studies having just read Peter Carey’s The Chemistry of Tears which is a remarkable instantiation of the affective entanglement of techniques, materials, and emotion.

A bare overview: the story focuses around Catherine Gehrig, a bereaved horologist, whose secret lover (a colleague at a fictitious London museum) has suddenly died. Her boss, in an attempt to help her suffering, gives her several boxes to work on: the contents of which need to be conserved and put back together. The boxes contain a dismantled automata made in the 19th century in Germany. A number of notebooks accompany the object and stealing them to read at home she enters the world of Henry Brandling, recently bereaved of a young child himself, and desperate to prevent the death of his ailing son. Brandling travels to Bavaria to commission the production of a copy of Vaucheron’s shitting duck, convinced that the majesty of the automata might contain a form of healing power. He encounters an eccentric giant of a clockmaker, who seems to him to be stark raving mad, and who with his angelic apprentice, makes not a duck, but a wonderful metal swan swimming on a glass lake, swallowing silver fish. Reading alongside Catherine the curator in the present day, is her own eccentric assistant who is in a relationship with Catherine’s dead lover’s son and who also becomes obsessed with the potential of the automata to contain the power over life and death. Catherine is distraught, self medicates with alcohol and booze, yet for much of the book she engaged in the quiet technical practice of conservation, observation and research. Similarly, the disquiet and personal dramas of all of the other characters are both stayed and channelled by the majestic automaton. The story is complex, told in interweaving parallel narratives each with a specific focus on place, technical processes of engineering and conservation, and personal drama, the combination of which overly the metaphysical nature of the book as a whole.

The book is fundamentally, for me anyway, about replication. As the magical swan (and the other automata) replicate animals, they also replicate human minds (a slippage in the word computers which in Brandling’s time referred to a person undertaking numerical calculation). Catherine’s therapy of putting this machine back together is replicated in reverse by the mental  breakdown of her assistant, whose own relationship with Catherine’s lover’s son mirrors or replicates that of her mentor. The machines are put together as they decompose their makers.

Continue reading

NEH Summer Institute on American Material Culture

American Material Culture: Nineteenth-Century New York
NEH Summer Institute for College and University Teachers

At the Bard Graduate Center, New York City, July 1-26, 2013

Objects matter. Material culture scholars use artifactual evidence such as consumer goods, architecture, clothing, landscape, decorative arts, and many other types of material.

The Bard Graduate Center will host a four-week NEH Summer Institute on American Material Culture.  The institute will focus on the material culture of nineteenth century and use New York as its case study because of its role as a national center for fashioning cultural commodities and promoting consumer tastes. We will study significant texts in the scholarship of material culture together as well as in tandem with visiting some of the wonderful collections in and around New York City for our hands-on work with artifacts. The city will be our laboratory to explore some of the important issues of broad impact that go well beyond New York.

We welcome applications from faculty and others with some experience doing object-based work, as well as those who have never taught or studied material culture. Application materials and other information about content, stipends, housing, etc. is available at bgc.bard.edu/neh-institute.   The deadline is March 4, 2013.


David Jaffee
Bard Graduate Center

For more information, please contact:

Katrina London
Bard Graduate Center
38 West 86th Street
New York, NY 10024
212.501.3026 / nehinstitute@bgc.bard.edu

The Future of Ethnographic Museums

Pitt Rivers Museum & Keble College

University of Oxford, United Kingdom

19th – 21st July 2013

 Ethnographic museums have a long and distinguished history but they have also been the subject of criticism and complaint. During the second half of the twentieth century they therefore underwent something of an identity crisis. More recently however, many of these institutions have been remodeled or rethought and visitor numbers have only increased. This conference seeks to analyze these shifts and to ask what the remit of an ethnographic museum should be in the twenty first century. Keynote lecturer: Prof. James Clifford. Other distinguished speakers include: Ruth Phillips, Sharon Macdonald, Wayne Modest, Corinne Kratz, Kavita Singh, Annie Coombes and Nicholas Thomas. Join us for lectures, debate and a series of art and music events in the unique environment of the Pitt Rivers Museum. For more information visit here:

Contact: conference@prm.ox.ac.uk