Material Culture Preface

In Phillip Vannini (ed.), Material Culture and Technology in Everyday Life: Ethnographic Approaches. New York, NY, USA: (2009)
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Material culture and technoculture not only provide openings to study culture, but raise questions about contemporary materialism and technology more generally as well. Material culture tells a story, though usually not the whole story. The meanings of things are various, and finding out what they are requires a variety of approaches, from simply asking people what their things mean or observing how they use or don’t use them, to backtracking their history, or contextualizing them in broader cultural context. The transition from hunter-gatherer life to that of agriculturally-based civilization some twelve thousand or so years ago was a great watershed of consciousness, not only radically altering the relation to the living environment, but also producing the origins of materialism. One of civilization’s dubious distinctions was to introduce poverty as well as property and wealth. Consumption is clearly a driving force on the globe today, powering economies, promising identities, providing a cornucopia of commodities. Technoculture is at its center, both in material devices and in the ideas they communicate about how what one has affects what one is and can be. The problem of materialism is not whether to have materials for living, but in allowing them to become goals in themselves.

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Eugene Halton
University of Notre Dame


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