Anthropology and the Individual: A Material Culture Perspective

Anthropology and the Individual: A Material Culture Perspective

Anthropology and the Individual: A Material Culture Perspective

Anthropology and the Individual: A Material Culture Perspective


Anthropology is usually associated with the study of society, but the anthropologist must also understand people as individuals. This highly original study demonstrates how methods of social analysis can be applied to the individual, while remaining entirely distinct from psychology and other perspectives on the person.

Contributors draw on approaches from material culture to create fascinating portraits of individuals, offering analytical insights that convey ethnographic encounters with often extraordinary people from Turkey, Spain and Britain to Albania, Cuba, Jamaica, Mali, Serbia and Trinidad.

Exploring relationships to places and spaces such as social networking sites, to persons such as parents, to ethical concerns such as fairness and to ideas such as the ideology of struggle, Anthropology and the Individual shows how the study of the individual can provide insights into society without losing a sense of the particularity of the person.


Unlike most social science books about the individual, this volume is not concerned with individualism or with the way different societies conceptualize individuals. Because, irrespective of whether people live within a highly individualizing or a highly socialized environment, we still have the task of understanding them as individuals. Furthermore anthropologists, in particular, commonly convey their findings through the presentation of individuals who were encountered during fieldwork.

Using the perspective of material culture, the contributors to this volume create a highly original approach to our understanding of the individual. We start by appropriating anthropological perspectives that were first developed for the study of society and show how these can be adopted for the study of individuals. The intention is to move beyond both an opposition between individual and society, and also beyond the tendency to use the individual as the minimal exemplification of an entity we term ‘society’. Instead we recognize how we have to keep focused simultaneously on the larger institutions of kinship, political economy and the state and also on the individual persons that live within and through these.

We achieve this through our analysis of what this volume identifies as an aesthetic of order that may be derived from various relationships. These may be relationships to objects—such as cars, houses and cloth; to places—such as social networking sites on the Internet or a city; to relationships—such as to parents or community, or to larger discourses—such as that of struggle, or fairness. The configuration of such an order may be found both at the level of society but, as this volume shows, also integrated at the level of an individual’s sense of himself or herself and his or her world. This approach also makes explicit what is conveyed when we use the lives of individuals to make claims and generalizations about society. The book thereby contributes an original perspective on individuals that is distinctly anthropological rather than psychological. Examples range from Istanbul, London and Madrid to Albania, Cuba, Jamaica, Mali, Serbia and Trinidad.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.