The Meaning of Things: Domestic Symbols and the Self

Cambridge University Press
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The meaning of things is a study of the significance of material possessions in contemporary urban life, and of the ways people carve meaning out of their domestic environment. Drawing on a survey of eighty families in Chicago who were interviewed on the subject of their feelings about common household objects, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Eugene Rochberg-Halton provide a unique perspective on materialism, American culture, and the self. They begin by reviewing what social scientists and philosophers have said about the transactions between people and things. In the model of 'personhood' that the authors develop, goal-directed action and the cultivation of meaning through signs assume central importance. They then relate theoretical issues to the results of their survey. An important finding is the distinction between objects valued for action and those valued for contemplation. The authors compare families who have warm emotional attachments to their homes with those in which a common set of positive meanings is lacking, and interpret the different patterns of involvement. They then trace the cultivation of meaning in case studies of four families. Finally, the authors address what they describe as the current crisis of environmental and material exploitation, and suggest that human capacities for the creation and redirection of meaning offer the only hope for survival. A wide range of scholars - urban and family sociologists, clinical, developmental and environmental psychologists, cultural anthropologists and philosophers, and many general readers - will find this book stimulating and compelling.
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About the author

Eugene Halton is Professor of Sociology and American Studies at the University of Notre Dame. In addition to being coauthor of The Meaning of Things, he is author of Bereft of Reason (1995, 1997), Meaning and Modernity (1986), and a forthcoming book on American culture.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Cambridge University Press
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Published on
Oct 30, 1981
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Pages
304
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ISBN
9781107392823
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Language
English
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Genres
Psychology / Developmental / Child
Psychology / Social Psychology
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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The present volume in the series focuses on homes, residences, and dwellings. Although many fields have had a long-standing interest in different aspects of home environments, the topic has recently come to the forefront in the interdisciplinary environment and behavior field. Researchers and theorists from many disciplines have begun to meet regularly, share ideas and perspectives, and move the investigation of psychological, social, and behavioral aspects of home environments to the central arena of environment and behavior studies. This volume representative-though not comprehensive attempts to provide a sampling of contemporary perspectives on the study of home environments. As in previous volumes, the authors are drawn from a variety of disciplines, including environmental design fields of architecture and planning, and from the social science fields of psychology, sociology, anthropology, and history. This diversity of authors and perspectives makes salient the principle that the study of homes in relation to behav ior requires the contributions of many disciplines. Moreover, the chap ters in this volume reflect an array of research and theoretical view points, different scales of home environments (e.g., objects and areas, the home as a whole, the home as embedded in neighborhood and communities, etc.), design and policy issues, and, necessarily, a com parative and cross-cultural perspective. Home environments are at the core of human life in most cultures, and it is hoped that the contributions to this volume display the excite ment, potential, and importance of research and theory on homes.
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