HOME

TheInfoList




Material culture is the aspect of
social reality Social reality is distinct from biological reality Reality is the sum or aggregate of all that is real or existent within a system, as opposed to that which is only Object of the mind, imaginary. The term is also used to refer to the ontologica ...

social reality
grounded in the objects and
architecture upright=1.45, alt=Plan d'exécution du second étage de l'hôtel de Brionne (dessin) De Cotte 2503c – Gallica 2011 (adjusted), Plan of the second floor (attic storey) of the Hôtel de Brionne in Paris – 1734. Architecture (Latin ''archi ...

architecture
that surround people. It includes the usage, consumption, creation, and trade of objects as well as the behaviors, norms, and rituals that the objects create or take part in. Some scholars also include other intangible
phenomena A phenomenon (; plural phenomena) is an observable fact or event. The term came into its modern philosophical Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, existence, knowledge ...
that include sound, smell and events, while some even consider language and media as part of it. The term is most commonly used in archaeological and anthropological studies, to define material or artifacts as they are understood in relation to specific cultural and historic contexts, communities, and belief systems. Material culture can be described as any object that humans use to survive, define social relationships, represent facets of identity, or benefit peoples' state of mind, social, or economic standing. Material culture is contrasting to
symbolic cultureSymbolic culture, or nonmaterial culture Culture () is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior and Norm (social), norms found in human Society, societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, Social norm, customs, capabi ...
, which includes nonmaterial symbols, beliefs, and social constructs. The scholarly analysis of material culture, which can include both human made and natural or altered objects, is called material culture studies. It is an
interdisciplinary field Interdisciplinarity or interdisciplinary studies involves the combination of two or more academic disciplines into one activity (e.g., a research project). It draws knowledge from several other fields like sociology, anthropology, psychology, e ...
and methodology that tells of the relationships between people and their things: the making, history, preservation, and interpretation of objects. It draws on both theory and practice from the
social sciences Social science is the branch The branches and leaves of a tree. A branch ( or , ) or tree branch (sometimes referred to in botany Botany, also called , plant biology or phytology, is the science of plant life and a branch of biol ...

social sciences
and
humanities Humanities are List of academic disciplines, academic disciplines that study aspects of human society and culture. In the Renaissance, the term contrasted with Divinity (academic discipline), divinity and referred to what is now called classic ...

humanities
such as ,
archaeology Archaeology or archeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis Analysis is the process of breaking a complexity, complex topic or Substance theory, substance into smaller parts in order to gain a better underst ...
,
anthropology Anthropology is the scientific study of human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most abundant and widespread species In biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms, including their anatomy, ...
,
history History (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approxima ...

history
, historic preservation,
folklore Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the tradition A tradition is a belief A belief is an attitude Attitude may refer to: Philosophy and psychology * Attitude (psycholog ...

folklore
,
archival science Archival science, or archival studies, is the study and theory of building and curating archive An archive is an accumulation of Historical document, historical records – in any media – or the physical facility in which they are located. ...
,
literary criticism Literary criticism (or literary studies) is the study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature. Modern literary criticism is often influenced by literary theory, which is the philosophical analysis, philosophical discussion of literature ...
and museum studies, among others.


Material value

Research in several areas looks into the reasons for perceiving an object as having meaning. Common reasons for valuing material lie in their monetary or sentimental value. A well-known related theory is 's endowment effect theory. According to Kahneman, people infuse objects they own with a higher value than they do if they do not own the object. The endowment effect is found to occur as soon as an item is acquired and the effect increases over time. Another way in which material can hold meaning and value is by carrying communication between people, just like other communication forms such as speech, touch and gesture. An object can mediate messages between time or space or both between people who are not together. A work of art, for example, can transfer a message from the creator to the viewer and share an image, a feeling, or an experience. Material can contain memories and mutual experiences across time and influence thoughts and feelings. A study found that couples who have more items that were jointly acquired and more favorite items among them had higher-quality relationships. Researchers from the fields of sociology, psychology, and anthropology have also been fascinated by gift-giving, a universal phenomenon that holds emotional meaning using material culture. According to Schieffelin, "gift-giving is a vehicle of social obligation and political maneuver." defines the gift as creating a special bond between the giver and the receiver. According to Mauss, the giver never really leaves the gift but becomes part of the receiver's future by inserting the gift into their life. A gift leads at some point to another gift in response, which creates a special reciprocal bond between people.


History

Material culture studies as an academic field grew along the field of
anthropology Anthropology is the scientific study of human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most abundant and widespread species In biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms, including their anatomy, ...
and so began by studying non-Western material culture. All too often, it was a way of putting material culture into categories in such a way that marginalized and hierarchized the cultures from which they came. During the "golden age" of
museum A museum ( ; plural museums or, rarely, musea) is a building or institution that Preservation (library and archival science), cares for and displays a collection (artwork), collection of artifacts and other objects of artistic, culture, cu ...

museum
-going, material cultures were used to show the supposed evolution of society from the simple objects of non-Westerners to the advanced objects of Europeans. It was a way of showing that Europeans were at the end of the evolution of society, with non-Westerners at the beginning. Eventually, scholars left the notion that culture evolved though predictable cycles, and the study of material culture changed to have a more objective view of non-Western material culture. The field of material culture studies as its own distinct discipline dates to the 1990s. The '' Journal of Material Culture'' began publishing in 1996.
Collecting The hobby A hobby is considered to be a regular activity that is done for enjoyment, typically during one's leisure time Leisure has often been defined as a quality of experience or as free time. Free time is time Time is ...

Collecting
habits date back hundreds of years.


Contributors

Leslie White Leslie Alvin White (January 19, 1900, Salida, Colorado The City of Salida ( ; Spanish Spanish may refer to: * Items from or related to Spain , * gl, Reino de España, * oc, Reiaume d'Espanha, , , image_flag = Bandera de Esp ...
was an American anthropologist, known for his advocacy of theories of
cultural evolution Cultural evolution is an evolutionary theory Evolution is change in the Heredity, heritable Phenotypic trait, characteristics of biological populations over successive generations. These characteristics are the Gene expression, expressions ...

cultural evolution
,
sociocultural evolution Sociocultural evolution, sociocultural evolutionism or cultural evolution are theories of sociobiology Sociobiology is a field of biology that aims to examine and explain social behavior in terms of evolution. It draws from disciplines includi ...
, and especially
neoevolutionism Neoevolutionism as a social theory attempts to explain the evolution of societies by drawing on Charles Darwin Charles Robert Darwin (; 12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882) was an English naturalist Natural history is a domain ...
and for his role in creating the department of anthropology at the
University of Michigan , mottoeng = "Arts, Knowledge, Truth" , former_names = Catholepistemiad, or University of Michigania (1817–1821) , budget = $8.99 billion (2018) , endowment = $17 billion (2021)As of October 25, 2021. ...

University of Michigan
Ann Arbor. He was president of the
American Anthropological Association The American Anthropological Association (AAA) is an organization of scholars and practitioners in the field of anthropology Anthropology is the of ity, concerned with , , , and , in both the present and past, including . studies patterns ...
(1964). He wrote ''The Science of Culture'' in 1949 in which he outlined schema of the world as divided into cultural, biological, and physical levels of phenomenon. White believed that the development of culture rested primarily on technology and that the history of human technology could be understood through the study of human-produced materials. American anthropologist
James Deetz James Deetz (February 8, 1930 – November 25, 2000) was an American anthropologistAn anthropologist is a person engaged in the practice of anthropology. Anthropology is the study of aspects of humans within past and present Society, societies. ...
, known for his work in the field of
historical archaeology Historical archaeology is a form of archaeology Archaeology or archeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis of material culture. Archaeology is often considered a branch of socio-cultural anthropology, but arch ...
, wrote the book "In Small Things Forgotten" in 1977 and published a revised and expanded version in 1996. He pioneered there the ideas of using neglected substances such as trash pits, potshards, and soil stains to reveal human actions. By analyzing objects in association with their location, the history of that location, the objects they were found with, and not singling out the most valuable or rarest ones, archaeologists can create a more accurate picture of daily life. Deetz looks at the long view of history and investigates the impact of European culture on other cultures across the globe by an analysis of the spread of everyday objects. Ian M. G. Quimby's ''Material Culture and the Study of American Life'', written in 1978, tried to bridge the gaps between the museum world and the university and between curator and historian. Quimby posits that objects in museums are understood through an intellectual framework that uses non-traditional sources. He also describes the benefits of work on exhibit design as a vehicle for education. Thomas Schlereth, Professor Emeritus of American Studies at the
University of Notre Dame The University of Notre Dame du Lac, known simply as Notre Dame ( ) or ND, is a private Private or privates may refer to: Music * "In Private "In Private" was the third single in a row to be a charting success for United Kingdom, British ...
, wrote about philosophies and methods of teaching history outside the traditional classroom. In his book ''Artifacts and the American Past'', Schlereth defines material culture study as an attempt to explain why things were made, why they took the forms they did, and what social, functional, aesthetic, or symbolic needs they serve. He advocates studying photographs, catalogues, maps and landscapes. He suggests a variety of modes for interrogating artifacts. Professor Kiki Smith of
Smith College Smith College is a private Private or privates may refer to: Music * "In Private "In Private" was the third single in a row to be a charting success for United Kingdom, British singer Dusty Springfield, after an absence of nearly two decades ...

Smith College
, asserts that “…clothes can reveal much about lives from the past,” and that garments preserved in collections are akin to other artifacts, including books, diaries, paintings and letters. She established the Smith College Historic Clothing Collection with 3000 items for the college's theater department. This archive of women’s clothings and accessories, from all social classes, is a resource for courses in costume design, history, material culture, and literary history and curatorial practices.
Gerd Koch Gerd Koch (11 July 1922 – 19 April 2005) was a German cultural anthropologist best known for his studies on the material culture of Kiribati Kiribati (), officially the Republic of Kiribati (Gilbertese language, Gilbertese: '' ibaberik ...
, associated with the
Ethnological Museum of Berlin The Ethnological Museum of Berlin (german: Ethnologisches Museum Berlin Berlin (; ) is the Capital city, capital and List of cities in Germany by population, largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,769,495 inhabitants, as ...
, is known for his studies on the material culture of
Tuvalu Tuvalu ( or ; formerly known as the Ellice Islands Tuvalu ( ; formerly known as the Ellice Islands) is an island country An island country or an island nation is a country A country is a distinct territory, territorial ...

Tuvalu
,
Kiribati Kiribati (), officially the Republic of Kiribati (Gilbertese language, Gilbertese: '' ibaberikiKiribati''),
and the
Santa Cruz Islands The Santa Cruz Islands are a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Southern Ocean (or, depending on definitio ...
. During his early field work in 1951 to 1952, Koch developed techniques in the recording of culture, including the use of tape recorders and cinematographic cameras.


Archaeology

Archaeology Archaeology or archeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis Analysis is the process of breaking a complexity, complex topic or Substance theory, substance into smaller parts in order to gain a better underst ...
is the study of humanity through the inferential analysis of material culture to ultimately gain an understanding of the daily lives of past cultures and the overarching trend of human history. An
archaeological culture An archaeological culture is a recurring Assemblage (archaeology), assemblage of types of Artifact (archaeology), artifacts, buildings and monuments from a specific period and region that may constitute the material culture remains of a particular ...
is a recurring assemblage of the
artifactArtifact, or artefact, may refer to: Science and technology *Artifact (error) In natural science Natural science is a branch of science Science (from the Latin word ''scientia'', meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that ...
s from a specific time and place, most often that has no written record. These physical artifacts are then used to make inferences about the ephemeral aspects of culture and history. With more recent societies, written histories, oral traditions, and direct observations may also be available to supplement the study of material culture. Beginning in the European
Renaissance The Renaissance ( , ) , from , with the same meanings. is a period Period may refer to: Common uses * Era, a length or span of time * Full stop (or period), a punctuation mark Arts, entertainment, and media * Period (music), a concept in ...

Renaissance
and the culture's fascination with classical antiquities, the study of artifacts from long-lost cultures has produced many forms of
archaeological theory Archaeological theory refers to the various intellectual frameworks through which archaeologists interpret archaeological data. Archaeological theory functions as the application of philosophy of science Philosophy of science is a branch of ph ...
, such as
trans-cultural diffusion In cultural anthropology and cultural geography, cultural diffusion, as conceptualized by Leo Frobenius in his 1897/98 publication ''Der westafrikanische Kulturkreis'', is the spread of culture, cultural items—such as ideas, fashion, styles, rel ...
,
processual archaeology Processual archaeology (formerly, the New Archaeology) is a form of archaeological theory that had its genesis in 1958 with the work of Gordon Willey and Philip Phillips, ''Method and Theory in American Archaeology,'' in which the pair stated th ...
, and
post-processual archaeology Post-processual archaeology, which is sometimes alternately referred to as the interpretative archaeologies by its adherents, is a movement in archaeological theory that emphasizes the subjectivitySubjectivity in a philosophical Philosop ...
. Additionally, archaeological sub-disciplines have emerged within the field, including
prehistoric archaeology Prehistoric archaeology is the study of the past before historical records began. It is a field of research that looks at all the pre-urban societies of the world. It also has distinctive set of procedures for analysing material remains so that arc ...
,
classical archaeology Classical archaeology is the archaeological investigation of the Mediterranean The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by the Mediterranean Basin In biogeography, the Mediterranean Basin (also known as ...
,
historical archaeology Historical archaeology is a form of archaeology Archaeology or archeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis of material culture. Archaeology is often considered a branch of socio-cultural anthropology, but arch ...
,
cognitive archaeology Cognitive archaeology is a theoretical A theory is a rational type of abstract thinking about a phenomenon A phenomenon (; plural phenomena) is an observable fact or event. The term came into its modern philosophical usage through Immanuel ...
, and
cultural ecology Cultural ecology is the study of human adaptations to social and physical environments. Human adaptation refers to both biological and cultural processes that enable a population to survive and reproduce within a given or changing environment. This ...
. Recently, a scientific methodology and approach to the analysis of pre-historic material culture has become prevalent with systematic excavation techniques producing detailed and precise results.


Anthropology

Anthropology Anthropology is the scientific study of human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most abundant and widespread species In biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms, including their anatomy, ...
is most simply defined as the study of humans across time and space. In studying a human culture, an anthropologist studies the material culture of the people in question as well as the people themselves and their interactions with others. To understand the culture in which an object is featured, an anthropologist looks at the object itself, its context, and the way that it was manufactured and used. The first anthropologist interested in studying material culture was
Lewis Henry Morgan Lewis Henry Morgan (November 21, 1818 – December 17, 1881) was a pioneering American anthropologist and social theorist who worked as a railroad lawyer. He is best known for his work on kinship and social structure, his theories of social evolu ...
, in the mid-19th century. He is most known for his research on
kinship In anthropology, kinship is the web of social relationships that form an important part of the lives of all humans in all societies, although its exact meanings even within this discipline are often debated. Anthropologist Robin Fox states th ...

kinship
and social structures, but he also studied the effect of material culture, specifically technology, on the evolution of a society. Later in the 19th century,
Franz Boas Franz Uri Boas (July 9, 1858 – December 21, 1942) was a German-born American anthropologist and a pioneer of modern anthropology Anthropology is the scientific study of human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most populous and wides ...
brought the fields of anthropology and material culture studies closer together. He believed that it was crucial for an anthropologist to analyze not only the physical properties of material culture but also its meanings and uses in its indigenous context to begin to understand a society. At the same time in France,
Émile Durkheim David Émile Durkheim ( or ; 15 April 1858 – 15 November 1917) was a French sociologist. He formally established the academic discipline of sociology and, with Max Weber Maximilian Karl Emil Weber (; ; 21 April 186414 June 1920) was a Ge ...

Émile Durkheim
wrote about the importance of material culture in understanding a society. Durkheim saw material culture as one of the social facts that functions as a coercive force to maintain
solidarity Solidarity is an awareness of shared interests, objectives, standards, and sympathies creating a psychological sense of unity of groups or classes, which rejects the class conflict Class conflict, also referred to as class struggle and class ...

solidarity
in a society.
Claude Lévi-Strauss Claude Lévi-Strauss (, ; 28 November 1908 – 30 October 2009) was a French anthropologist An anthropologist is a person engaged in the practice of anthropology Anthropology is the of ity, concerned with , , , and , in both the presen ...
, in the 20th century, included the study of material culture in his work as an anthropologist because he believed that it could reveal a deeper level of structure and meaning unattainable by typical
fieldwork Field research, field studies, or fieldwork is the empirical research, collection of raw data outside a laboratory, library, or workplace setting. The approaches and methods used in field research vary across branches of science, disciplines. ...
. According to Lévi-Strauss, material culture can recall the mindset of a people, regardless of intervening time or space. Also in the 20th century,
Mary Douglas Dame Mary Douglas, (25 March 1921 – 16 May 2007) was a British anthropologistAn anthropologist is a person engaged in the practice of anthropology. Anthropology is the study of aspects of humans within past and present Society, societies. ...
thought that anthropology was about studying the meaning of material culture to the people who experience it.
Marvin Harris Marvin Harris (August 18, 1927 – October 25, 2001) was an American anthropologistAn anthropologist is a person engaged in the practice of anthropology. Anthropology is the study of aspects of humans within past and present Society, societies. ...
, a contemporary of Douglas, put forward the theory of cultural materialism and said that all aspects of society have material causes.


Sociology

In archaeology, the idea that social relations are embodied in material is well known and established, with extensive research on exchange, gift giving and objects as part of social ceremonies and events. However, in contradiction to archaeology, where scientists build on material remains of previous cultures, sociology tends to overlook the importance of material in understanding relationships and human social behavior. The social aspects in material culture include the social behavior around it: the way that the material is used, shared, talked about, or made. An object cannot hold meaning in and of itself and so when one focuses on the social aspects of material culture, it is critical to keep in mind that interpretations of objects and of interactions with them are the ones to evoke importance and meaning.


Heritage industry

Museums and other material culture repositories, by their very nature, are often active participants in the heritage industry. Defined as "the business of managing places that are important to an area's history and encouraging people to visit them," the heritage industry relies heavily on material culture and objects to interpret cultural heritage. The industry is fueled by a cycle of people visiting museums, historic sites, and collections to interact with ideas or physical objects of the past. In turn, the institutions profit through monetary donations or admission fees as well as the publicity that comes with word-of-mouth communications. That relationship is controversial, as many believe that the heritage industry corrupts the meaning and importance of cultural objects. Often, scholars in the
humanities Humanities are List of academic disciplines, academic disciplines that study aspects of human society and culture. In the Renaissance, the term contrasted with Divinity (academic discipline), divinity and referred to what is now called classic ...

humanities
take a critical view of the heritage industry, particularly heritage tourism, believing it to be a vulgar
oversimplification The fallacy of the single cause, also known as complex cause, causal oversimplification, causal reductionism, and reduction fallacy, is an informal fallacy Informal fallacies are a type of incorrect argument In logic Logic (from Ancient Gre ...
and corruption of historic fact and importance. Others believe that the relationship and the financial stability it brings is often the element that allows curators, researchers, and directors to conserve material culture's legacy.


Current production

Some observers advocate intentionally altering the material cultures created by current civilizations. For example,
waste reduction Image:Waste hierarchy rect-en.svg, thumbnail, 300px, Waste hierarchy. Refusing, reducing, reusing, recycling and composting allow to reduce waste. Waste minimisation is a set of processes and practices intended to reduce the amount of waste produc ...
advocates within
environmentalism Environmentalism or environmental rights is a broad philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about existence Existence is the ability of an entity to interact with physical real ...
advocate teaching design approaches, such as
cradle-to-cradle design Cradle-to-cradle design (also referred to as 2CC2, C2C, cradle 2 cradle, or regenerative design) is a biomimetic approach to the design of products and systems that models human industry on nature's processes, where materials are viewed as nutrien ...
and
appropriate technology Appropriate technology is a movement (and its manifestations) encompassing technological Technology ("science of craft", from Ancient Greek, Greek , ''techne'', "art, skill, cunning of hand"; and , ''wikt:-logia, -logia'') is the sum of Art t ...

appropriate technology
.
Anti-consumerism Anti-consumerism is a sociopolitical ideology An ideology () is a set of belief A belief is an Attitude (psychology), attitude that something is the case, or that some proposition about the world is truth, true. In epistemology, philosopher ...
advocates encourage consuming less (thus creating fewer artifacts), engaging in more
do-it-yourself "Do it yourself" ("DIY") is the method of building, modifying, or repair The technical meaning of maintenance involves functional checks, servicing, repairing or replacing of necessary devices, equipment, machinery A machine is any ...
projects and
self-sufficiency Self-sustainability and self-sufficiency are overlapping states of being in which a person or organization needs little or no help from, or interaction with, others. Self-sufficiency entails the self The self is an individual person as the ob ...
(changing the quality of artifacts produced), and localism impacts the geographic distribution and uniformity of artifacts.


See also

*
Anti-consumerism Anti-consumerism is a sociopolitical ideology An ideology () is a set of belief A belief is an Attitude (psychology), attitude that something is the case, or that some proposition about the world is truth, true. In epistemology, philosopher ...
*
Disposable A disposable (also called disposable product) is a product designed for a single use after which it is recycle Recycling is the process of converting waste Waste (or wastes) are unwanted or unusable materials. Waste is any substan ...
*
Museum anthropology Museum anthropology is a domain of scholarship and professional practice in the discipline of anthropology. Characteristics A distinctive characteristic of museum anthropology is that it cross-cuts anthropology's sub-fields (archaeology, cultural a ...
* Museum folklore *
Over-consumption Overconsumption describes a situation where the use of a natural resource , Malaysia is an example of undisturbed natural resource. Waterfalls provide spring water for humans, animals and plants for survival and also habitat for marine organisms. ...
*
Planned obsolescence In economics Economics () is the social science that studies how people interact with value; in particular, the Production (economics), production, distribution (economics), distribution, and Consumption (economics), consumption of good ...
*
Sustainable consumption Sustainable consumption (sometimes abbreviated to "SC") is the use of material products, energy and immaterial services in such a way that their use minimizes impacts on the environment, so that human needs can be met not only in the present but als ...
* Non-material culture


References

{{DEFAULTSORT:Material Culture Philosophy of technology Methods in archaeology Cultural studies Western culture eo:Materia kulturo