My Life with Things

The Consumer Diaries

My Life with Things

Book Pages: 248 Illustrations: Published: June 2016

Author: Elizabeth Chin

American Studies, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Cultural Studies

Unconventional and provocative, My Life with Things is Elizabeth Chin's meditation on her relationship with consumer goods and a critical statement on the politics and method of anthropology. Chin centers the book on diary entries that focus on everyday items—kitchen cabinet knobs, shoes, a piano—and uses them to intimately examine the ways consumption resonates with personal and social meaning: from writing love haikus about her favorite nail polish and discussing the racial implications of her tooth cap, to revealing how she used shopping to cope with a miscarriage and contemplating how her young daughter came to think that she needed Lunesta. Throughout, Chin keeps Karl Marx and his family's relationship to their possessions in mind, drawing parallels between Marx's napkins, the production of late nineteenth-century table linens, and Chin's own vintage linen collection. Unflinchingly and refreshingly honest, Chin unlocks the complexities of her attachments to, reliance on, and complicated relationships with her things. In so doing, she prompts readers to reconsider their own consumption, as well as their assumptions about the possibilities for creative scholarship.


"Chin composes a sprawling paean to the joy of stuff and the impossibility of our ever eschewing it. In My Life With Things, she is winningly alert to the ambivalence around our acts of consumption, both the awful guilt and the immeasurable pleasure nonetheless."  — Shahidha Bari, Times Higher Education

"My Life with Things is a refreshing and honest book, which gives a rich insight into the experience of engaging with auto-ethnography. It should certainly appeal to the more adventurous, less conventional academic from across the social sciences and not just anthropology, the author’s home discipline.... At the end of the day, researchers interested in anthropology, auto-ethnography and/or consumption looking for an insider account complete with warts and all, should find this an invaluable companion." — Christina Goulding, Consumption Markets & Culture

"With herself as both subject and object of study, Chin . . . weaves a highly personal, idiosyncratic, and explanatory narrative. Ever the provocateur, she brings her own consumer diaries over the span of several years into conversation with the likes of Karl Marx, not only at a theoretical level but also as biographical touchstones. The narratives, structured around the themes of inheritance, survival, and love, detail the author’s close relationship with the everyday items that surround her. The results can be exhilarating, giving readers self-reflexive pause on the consumptive world and how they got there." — C. R. Yano, Choice

"My Life with Things is a strange yet fascinating look at our cultural preoccupation with owning and communing with physical objects. Chin uses her anthropological background to present an autoethnography, combining research, theory, and personal writing to criticize (and commiserate with) our love of objects."
  — Jess Kibler, Bitch

"Elizabeth Chin’s My Life with Things: The Consumer Diaries, is a fantastic book. I can’t imagine anyone reading it and not wanting to become an anthropologist. It is also one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time, with actual laugh-out-loud moments." — Ben Highmore, New Formations

"Part academic study and part personal essay, My Life with Things offers both casual and scholarly readers an entryway into conversation about the place of material possessions in our lives.... [A] nuanced reflection on both the fact that we are inescapably tied to our possessions and the ways they connect us to our loved ones and neighbors around the world." — Lee Hull Moses, Christian Century

"My Life with Things is an engaging, quirky, auto-ethnography detailing key moments of Elizabeth Chin’s life, focusing especially on her passionate relationship with commodities and processes of consumption (from shopping in thrift stores and on eBay through to her obsessions with home decoration)." — Haidy Geismar, Material Worlds blog

“Chin deserves praise for exploring how nonacademic writing can also develop its theoretical insights.” — Christopher Breu, American Literary History

My Life with Things is thought-provoking in the best sense of the term. It poses new questions, approaches old ones in fresh ways, and tugs at the complex heart of people’s relationship to the things they have and the things they want.” — Carrie M. Lane, American Ethnologist

"In the end this book, as Chin tells us, is a focus on moments, rife with the complexities and contradictions of everyday life. Just as in other life moments and journeys, it is full of fodder for contemplation and discussion as well as catalysts for new perspectives. I can imagine it as a resource for teachers as well as students, and I envision many imaginative and lively discussions based on objects described in this book as well as the particular objects animating others’ lives and relationships." — Patricia L. Sunderland, Journal of Anthropological Research

"In this highly anticipated volume Elizabeth Chin provides what is sure to be a classic text in consumption studies: a breakthrough auto-ethnography that exposes this mundane space as the highly affective, contradictory, and political space that it is. Smart, beautifully written and honest, My Life With Things is a singular achievement and an unprecedented work that will forever trouble how we think about consumption and the very craft of contemporary ethnography." — Arlene Davila, New York University

"In My Life With Things Elizabeth Chin offers a smart and fascinating look at the historical, political, personal, and material specificity of people's relationship to commodities. Chin's use of short essays, autoethnography, colloquial language, and often poetic prose make for an elegant, original, insightful, and accessible book." — Erica Rand, author of Red Nails, Black Skates: Gender, Cash, and Pleasure on and off the Ice


Availability: In stock
Price: $25.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Elizabeth Chin is Professor of Media Design Practices at Art Center College of Design and the author of Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumer Culture.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  vii

1. Introduction  3

2. The Entries  37
My Life with Things  37
Learn to Love Stuff  38
Banky  40
A Digression on the Topic of the Transitional Object  42
Cebebrate!  56
My Purple Shoes  58
Newspapers  61
Rose Nails  63
The Window Shade  67
Napkins  69
My White Man's Tooth  72
Should I Be Straighter  76
Cyberfucked  79
Knobs  80
Glasses  82
Curing Rug Lust  85
Window Shopping Online  89
Catalogs  92
Other People's Labor  95
Making Roots/Making Routes  98
My Closet(s)  101
Joining the MRE  108
Fun Shopping  114
Preschool Birthday Parties  114
Xena Warrior Consumer Princess  118
I Love Your Nail Polish  120
Little Benches  123
The Kiss  126
Are There Malls in Haiti?  127
Baby Number Two Turned Me into Economic Man  129
Pictures of the Rice Grain  132
Panting in Ikea  136
Capitalism Makes Me Sick  139
My Grandmother's Rings  147
Anorectic Energy  157
Mi-Mi's Piano  162
Dream-Filled Prescriptions  169
The Turquoise Arrowhead  170
Turning The Tables  173
Minnie Mouse Earring Holder  176
Make Yourself a Beloved Person  181

3. Writing as Practice and Process  187

4. This Never Happened  203

Notes  221

Bibliography  227

Index  235
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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