Materiality and Society

Materiality and Society

Materiality and Society

Materiality and Society

Synopsis

The traditional approach to culture focuses on the symbolic meanings of objects rather than the impact that these objects have on contemporary life. Using the car as a recurring theme, Tim Dant challenges the well-established idea that consumption is the principal relationship with "things" in our lives and argues that it is through material interaction with the objects around us that we confront our society. Drawing on, and debating with, historical, philosophical, and theoretical discourses that address materiality, this book is of interest to students and researchers in a variety of disciplines, including sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, and technology studies.

Excerpt

We spend much of our waking time more or less alone, not interacting with anyone. But we are always living with the things that have been produced within our society, things which have a cultural resonance that makes the flow of our lives feel familiar, just as much as the sound of our language does. At work, at rest, at play, whether other people are involved or not, material things accompany the activities of our body and provide the environment for everything we do. and in the world of the second millennium, for most of us, these material things are human made, shaped or placed in accord with the conventions of our culture – whether it is the trees in the local park or the arrangement of furniture in an office. As a sociologist interested in theoretical ideas and as a social policy researcher interviewing all sorts of different types of people – usually the least well-off in our society – I began to realize that much of what society gives to people that is useful, is stuff. It is the material environment of homes and workplaces and all the things in them that shape the context in which our personal lives of loves and ambitions are played out. Now although this has always been the case, material life has for long periods of history been relatively stable with new types of objects or technologies being introduced relatively slowly. in earlier times, our material environment was much more shaped by nature and our response was oriented by need rather than choice. But at the turn of the twenty-first century what seems to be of constant interest and concern to us is the stuff that surrounds us, that we use and that we live in and among.

In the past it was religious beliefs, a sense of shared pride in nationality or a common ideology that gave a society its identity. in the late modern world it is as likely to be the shared difficulties we have in moving about our society or in getting the mundane things of life to work properly, that give us a sense that we share the world. What all humans have in common is our sense of embodiment, which means that whatever our many differences, we know that we have at least similar practical experiences of the material world we live in. in an earlier book Material Culture in the Social World (Open University Press, 1999), I explored a number of the ways in which this commonality of embodied experience shapes society. I argued that it was not simply in consuming, if that means buying, acquiring or appropriating things, that material culture was meaningful to us. I suggested . . .

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