National Identity, Popular Culture and Everyday Life

By Tim Edensor | Go to book overview

4
Material Culture and National Identity

Like space, the material worlds of objects seem to provide evidence of the commonsense obviousness of the everyday. By their ubiquitous presence, things provide material proof of shared ways of living and common habits. By their physical presence in the world, and in specific times and places, things sustain identity by constituting part of a matrix of relational cultural elements including practices, representations, and spaces which gather around objects and minimise the potential for interrogation.

In this chapter, I want to follow on from the previous two chapters by exploring the ways in which things are organised and distributed in familiar and symbolic object worlds to constitute cultural, spatial and performative contexts. A focus on national material culture is not meant to occlude the numerous ways which we might use to identify distinctive object worlds (by gender, ethnicity, class, region, etc.) but to suggest again that epistemologically and ontologically, things are partly understood as belonging to nations.

There is no doubt that in sociology until recently, objects have been relegated to a position of insignificance. Despite the fact that all human societies surround themselves with instrumental, decorative, religious and symbolic objects, dominant sociological theories have tended to conceive them as either associated with their relation to labour – in Marxist readings – or as vehicles for status (Knorr Cetina, 1997: 11). Yet people grow up relating to things – some more familiar than others – in changing but identifiable object worlds. The sheer extent of the material world ranges from the distribution of things at home, work and in public space. An introduction will address the multiple cultural dimensions of things insofar as they relate to the expression and experience of national identity, before moving on to look at how cars, those most symbolic modern objects, materialise national identity.


Social Relations and Object Worlds

Human societies are invariably supported by a material infrastructure. Social interaction is partly enabled and characterised by the things which pass between people in the mundane material transactions of their everyday lives. People collectively come to (temporary) arrangements about the value of particular things, what

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