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Material Culture

Teacher: Julie Shackelford     Lessons: 4/week

Objects do not simply reflect social worlds, they actively co-constitute them, and it is through our relationships with people and things that we come to know the world and our place in it. As noted by Daniel Miller (2008), ‘people are not fully determined culturally, or parentally; but neither are they free agents who choose who they become’ (Miller, The comfort of things, 2008: 293). In other words, we are networks of relationships, rather than simply independent individuals, with objects and ‘things’ creating us just as much, if not more, than we create them. In this way, studying material culture can help us to illuminate ‘larger’ social, historical and political processes that would be difficult to comprehend otherwise.


To investigate the ‘social life of things’ (Appadurai 1986) in a variety of contexts

To examine the impact of material culture on ourselves, our relationships and our understandings of what it means ‘to be human’

To deepen our awareness, appreciation and understanding of the material world in which we live

Following a general introduction to material culture studies, each week focusses on a particular theme, such as: Object Lessons; Heritage & Museums; Techniques, Technology & the Body; Art; Visual Culture; Consumption; Architecture; Landscape; and the Digital.

The course is approached through a combination of formal lectures, large- and small-group discussions, hands-on laboratory sessions, and weekly fieldwork experiences which we will record in our lab books to share with one another. As such, it will provide students with 1) a basic understanding of some of the core theoretical concepts of material culture studies and 2) a practical ‘toolkit’ to analyse objects and material practices in a diversity of environments and contexts.

International People's College, Montebello Allé 1, 3000 Helsingør, +45 49 21 33 61