Material Culture

 

The study of material culture centers upon objects, their properties, and the materials that they are made of, and the ways in which these material facets are central to an understanding of culture and social relations. It challenges the historical division between the natural sciences as being the place for the study of the material world and the social sciences as being where society and social relations can be understood.

Instead, culture and society are seen as being created and reproduced by the ways in which people make, design, and interact with objects. It also challenges the assumption, perpetuated by disciplinary divisions and also philosophical trajectories, that the object and subject are separate, wherein the latter is assumed to be immaterial, and the former is assumed to be inert and passive.

In seeing the material properties of things as central to the meanings an object might have, much work within material culture studies is critical of the idea that objects merely symbolize or represent aspects of a pre-existing culture or identity. A key area of contest in the literature on material culture is the question of agency and the ways in which objects can produce particular effects or allow and permit certain behaviors or cultural practices.

This is developed through the concept of objectification, which is central to many studies of material culture—albeit differently conceived dependent upon the disciplinary and theoretical stance taken—which explores the intertwined, and often dialectic, relationships between people and things. Anthropology - Material Culture - Sophie Woodward Read More

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