Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds

Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds

Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds

Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds

Synopsis

The role of objects and images in everyday life are illuminated incisively in Material Vernaculars, which combines historical, ethnographic, and object-based methods across a diverse range of material and visual cultural forms. The contributors to this volume offer revealing insights into the significance of such practices as scrapbooking, folk art produced by the elderly, the wedding coat in Osage ceremonial exchanges, temporary huts built during the Jewish festival of Sukkot, and Kiowa women's traditional roles in raiding and warfare. While emphasizing local vernacular culture, the contributors point to the ways that culture is put to social ends within larger social networks and within the stream of history. While attending to the material world, these case studies explicate the manner in which the tangible and intangible, the material and the meaningful, are constantly entwined and co-constituted.

Excerpt

Jason Baird Jackson

Material Vernaculars: An Introduction

A book series about which I am very hopeful and a collection of scholarly essays that I hope you will engage and profit from—introducing them both is my task. They are twin hopes twisted like two fibers wound around each other to produce what I intend as a stronger piece of string. Extending the metaphor, I can observe that the techniques by which the world’s peoples produced cordage were among the earliest and most fundamental matters that the then young fields of anthropology and folklore studies concerned themselves with. We often speak of string as a “simple” thing, but early work in my fields understood its production by varied means and of varied materials as a vital accomplishment and as a widespread human necessity. Around the world, string was—and is—the basis for cultural elaborations of a near infinite sort. Think about fishing nets, home building, bird cages, weaving, bridge-building … the list goes on and on, but think also, for instance, of string figures—a classic ethnographic topic if there ever was one—which can underpin such arts as storytelling and can contribute to such crucial dynamics as the socialization, and the amusement, of children. While my own children are more likely today to be amused by a game or story presented on a mobile phone, they—middleclass children from the middle of the United States—can still make a cat’s cradle, and they learned how to do so informally from peers. That this is so points to one intended purpose for this series devoted to understanding material and visual culture within particular social worlds. Older concerns in the older fields of material culture studies have not stopped being relevant in a world of mobile phones, server farms, and genetically modified salmon. While I have no particular author in mind, the Material Vernaculars series will, I hope, be the perfect series in which a careful, thoughtful, sophisticated study of handmade (perhaps soon, we might say “artisanal”) string might be . . .

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