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The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Consumption and Consumer Studies by J. Michael Ryan, Daniel Thomas Cook

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Material Culture Studies

SUSAN FALLS

Savannah College of Art and Design, USA

DOI: 10.1002/9781118989463.wbeccs166

A broad interdisciplinary endeavor addressing empirical and theoretical questions, material culture studies examine the dynamic role things play within social organization and in subjective experience. It is partly through our interactions with material culture (at times referred to as “goods,” “commodities,” “objects,” “artifacts,” or even “stuff”) that we both interpret and insert ourselves into the world, and thus it is an extremely significant, but oddly underexamined area of research, perhaps because, as many scholars have pointed out, the ubiquity of material culture makes it easy to overlook. If you are reading this book, you are likely surrounded by material culture designed, produced, advertised, exchanged, and consumed in the context of late capitalism; since most commodities contain an aspect of materiality, studies of material culture intersect with work on consumption and political economy.

The history of material culture scholarship is grounded in nineteenth-century museum work, anthropology, archaeology, collecting and exhibition practices, colonialism, and consumerism (Buchli 2002). As the methods of studying human society were revised, the notion of “culture” underwent critique from fields such as anthropology, literary criticism, and geography, and as the use of linguistic and structuralist theory to explicate nonlinguistic “texts” became increasingly ...

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