Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: 7 b&w photos, 1 table Published: July 2005

Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Sociology > Social Theory

Throughout history and across social and cultural contexts, most systems of belief—whether religious or secular—have ascribed wisdom to those who see reality as that which transcends the merely material. Yet, as the studies collected here show, the immaterial is not easily separated from the material. Humans are defined, to an extraordinary degree, by their expressions of immaterial ideals through material forms. The essays in Materiality explore varied manifestations of materiality from ancient times to the present. In assessing the fundamental role of materiality in shaping humanity, they signal the need to decenter the social within social anthropology in order to make room for the material.

Considering topics as diverse as theology, technology, finance, and art, the contributors—most of whom are anthropologists—examine the many different ways in which materiality has been understood and the consequences of these differences. Their case studies show that the latest forms of financial trading instruments can be compared with the oldest ideals of ancient Egypt, that the promise of software can be compared with an age-old desire for an unmediated relationship to divinity. Whether focusing on the theology of Islamic banking, Australian Aboriginal art, derivatives trading in Japan, or textiles that respond directly to their environment, each essay adds depth and nuance to the project that Materiality advances: a profound acknowledgment and rethinking of one of the basic properties of being human.

Contributors. Matthew Engelke, Webb Keane, Susanne Küchler, Bill Maurer, Lynn Meskell, Daniel Miller, Hirokazu Miyazaki, Fred Myers, Christopher Pinney, Michael Rowlands, Nigel Thrift


“A] lively volume. . . . This book makes the reader engage with a range of old and new arguments on materiality and pushes their boundaries in a way that makes it important reading for a broad anthropological public.”
— Francesca Merlan, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“For museum scholars, careful consideration of materiality—and of the ideologies of the material world conveyed by museum practice—is imperative. This volume will be an important resource for such a project.” — Jessica Cattelino, Museum Anthropology

“This is an important book that readers of Technology and Culture should find both challenging and rewarding. . . .” — Marcia-Anne Dobres, Technology and Culture

“Throughout the chapters, the analyses are of high quality. The authors know their cases and present them well. At the same time, they connect to the broader issues the volume intends to raise and to the rising literature on ‘materiality. . .’” — Peter Wagner, American Journal of Sociology

“A milestone collection. Of all of the recent works on material culture available, this is the one that exposes the complete range of perspectives and theoretical strategies that the most noted scholars are trying out and the interdisciplinary connections and alliances that are shaping the field.” — George Marcus, Rice University

“There have been many recent stabs at the idea of materiality. With both authority and intellectual generosity, these anthropologists and their colleagues take us beyond ‘things’ and ‘objects’ to ask about concrete presences, qualities, surfaces, and the formation of phenomena. A magisterial and highly original collection.” — Marilyn Strathern, University of Cambridge

“This is first-class scholarship: lively, consequential, engaging, informed, and lucid. Daniel Miller and his colleagues explore—with imagination, ethnographic insight, and remarkable clarity—a range of related issues central to current debates within and beyond cultural anthropology.” — Donald Brenneis, University of California, Santa Cruz


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Daniel Miller is Professor of Anthropology at University College London. He is the author of many books, including The Sari (with Mukulika Banerjee); Capitalism: An Ethnographic Approach; A Theory of Shopping; and The Internet: An Ethnographic Approach (with Don Slater). He is the editor, most recently, of Home Possessions: Material Culture behind Closed Doors and Car Cultures.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Materiality: An Introduction / Daniel Miller 1

Objects in the Mirror Appear Closer Than They Are / Lynn Meskell 51

A Materialist Approach to Materiality / Michael Rowlands 72

Some Properties of Art and Culture: Ontologies of the Image and Economies of Exchange / Fred Myers 88

Sticky Subjects and Sticky Objects: The Substance of African Christian Healing / Matthew Engelke 118

Does Money Matter? Abstraction and Substitution in Alternative Financial Forms / Bill Maurer 140

The Materiality of Finance Theory / Hirokazu Miyazaki 165

Signs Are Not the Garb of Meaning: On the Social Analysis of Material Things / Webb Keane 182

Materiality and Cognition: The Changing Face of Things / Susanne Kuchler 206

Beyond Meditation: Three New Material Registers and Their Consequences / Nigel Thrift 231

Things Happen: Or, From Which Moment Does That Object Come? / Christopher Pinney 256

Contributors 273

Index 277
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3542-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3530-6
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