Summer Studies

07Jan07


On Wednesday I started my first session of Material Culture and Consumer Society at school. It seems like it should be a really good class and I thought I would discuss the class and post some notes.

So the class deals with a few key topics…

The impact on the environment and economy
What objects tell us about our society
The motivations behind consumption
The politics and history of consumption

In the first class we discuss how cultures are represented within their objects. Culture is the human response to problems in its world; taking the form of many good and bad solutions that can be used for good and bad purposes.

When we discussed the definition of consumption in the mass lexicon as the fetishizing of objects as if they had magical powers. This thought made me think that if this is true that most objects we buy are purely meant to appeal to us on this level. Most objects are not purely functional things that we cannot live without, but instead elaborate ways to achieve simple things. While there also exists objects that are functional yet are embellished to appeal to consumers on this magical level (the computer comes to mind: a functional object that can do some things well and promises to be the solution to all your problems).

Another interesting point was the differentiation between consumer and citizen. Where a consumer simply takes for there own benefit, the citizen takes to give. The prof related this to JFK’s famous “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” I found this idea to be very similar to the interaction in the media that we are seeing today in things like Web 2.0. The new consumer is a citizen, a member of a tribe.

Finally before we watched The Red Violin (which I had never seen and highly recommend it) we touched on what the course’s focus was: the analysis of material culture. In this definition the prof pointed out that analysis is understanding, not simply condemning or condoning. I think this holds true in today’s society and is definitely a view that we should take into consideration. Without understanding we cannot see the true culture.

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