Materiality

Duke University Press
Free sample

Throughout history and across social and cultural contexts, most systems of belief—whether religious or secular—have ascribed wisdom to those who see reality as that which transcends the merely material. Yet, as the studies collected here show, the immaterial is not easily separated from the material. Humans are defined, to an extraordinary degree, by their expressions of immaterial ideals through material forms. The essays in Materiality explore varied manifestations of materiality from ancient times to the present. In assessing the fundamental role of materiality in shaping humanity, they signal the need to decenter the social within social anthropology in order to make room for the material.

Considering topics as diverse as theology, technology, finance, and art, the contributors—most of whom are anthropologists—examine the many different ways in which materiality has been understood and the consequences of these differences. Their case studies show that the latest forms of financial trading instruments can be compared with the oldest ideals of ancient Egypt, that the promise of software can be compared with an age-old desire for an unmediated relationship to divinity. Whether focusing on the theology of Islamic banking, Australian Aboriginal art, derivatives trading in Japan, or textiles that respond directly to their environment, each essay adds depth and nuance to the project that Materiality advances: a profound acknowledgment and rethinking of one of the basic properties of being human.

Contributors. Matthew Engelke, Webb Keane, Susanne Küchler, Bill Maurer, Lynn Meskell, Daniel Miller, Hirokazu Miyazaki, Fred Myers, Christopher Pinney, Michael Rowlands, Nigel Thrift

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About the author

Daniel Miller is Professor of Anthropology at University College London. He is the author of many books, including The Sari (with Mukulika Banerjee); Capitalism: An Ethnographic Approach; A Theory of Shopping; and The Internet: An Ethnographic Approach (with Don Slater). He is the editor, most recently, of Home Possessions: Material Culture behind Closed Doors and Car Cultures.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
Jul 18, 2005
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Pages
304
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ISBN
9780822386711
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Language
English
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Genres
Psychology / Research & Methodology
Social Science / Methodology
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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The meaning that people attribute to things necessarily derives from human transactions and motivations, particularly from how those things are used and circulated. The contributors to this volume examine how things are sold and traded in a variety of social and cultural settings, both present and past. Focusing on culturally defined aspects of exchange and socially regulated processes of circulation, the essays illuminate the ways in which people find value in things and things give value to social relations. By looking at things as if they lead social lives, the authors provide a new way to understand how value is externalized and sought after. They discuss a wide range of goods - from oriental carpets to human relics - to reveal both that the underlying logic of everyday economic life is not so far removed from that which explains the circulation of exotica, and that the distinction between contemporary economics and simpler, more distant ones is less obvious than has been thought. As the editor argues in his introduction, beneath the seeming infinitude of human wants, and the apparent multiplicity of material forms, there in fact lie complex, but specific, social and political mechanisms that regulate taste, trade, and desire. Containing contributions from American and British social anthropologists and historians, the volume bridges the disciplines of social history, cultural anthropology, and economics, and marks a major step in our understanding of the cultural basis of economic life and the sociology of culture. It will appeal to anthropologists, social historians, economists, archaeologists, and historians of art.
A Theory of Shopping offers a highly original perspective on one of our most basic everyday activities - shopping. We commonly assume that shopping is primarily concerned with individuals and materialism. But Miller rejects this assumption and follows the surprising route of analysing shopping by means of an analogy with anthropological studies of sacrificial ritual. He argues that the act of purchasing goods is almost always linked to other social relations, and most especially those based on love and care.

The ethnographic sections of the book are based on a year's study of shopping on a street in North London. This provides the basis for a sensitive description of the issues the shopper confronts when making decisions as to what to buy. Miller develops a theory to account for these observations, arguing that shopping typically consists of three major stages which reflect the three key stages of many rites of sacrifice. In both shopping and sacrifice the ultimate intention is to constitute others as desiring subjects. Finally the book examines certain historical shifts in both subjects and objects of devotion, in particular, ideals of gender and love.

This treatment of shopping from the perspective of comparative anthropology represents a highly innovative approach to one of the most familiar tasks of our daily lives. Written in a clear and accessible manner, this book will be of interest to students and academics in anthropology, sociology and cultural studies, as well as anybody who wants to consider more deeply the nature of their own everyday activities.

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