Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Materielle Kultur

One of the great things about studying in Frankfurt, apart from the scholarly resources available in the libraries, is that there are many scholars working in different - but related - fields who collaborate regularly. Although we may study ancient coins or ceramics, for example, we should be aware of theoretical and methodological advances in art history, archaeological field methods, economic theory, anthropology, sociology, etc.

One interesting book that I recently came across, after seeing a colleague's copy and later purchasing a copy of my own, is Hahn, H.P. 2005. Materielle Kultur. Eine Einführung. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag [also available on AbeBooks]. The author is a professor in the Institut für Historische Ethnologie at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität in Frankfurt.

In my view the book should be an important resource for more than just anthropologists and enthnologists; archaeologists, numismatists, art historians, sociologists, and others who study material culture should find something of interest here. Yes, it's a book on theory and the information is densely packed, but it is always good to reevaluate our approaches to material objects. Sometimes in our various researches, we have a tendency to move away from attention Quellenkritik - the rigorous examination of our sources. Often times, we take certain ideas, interpretations, and assumptions for granted without questioning the circumstances in which they arose or the society in which they were conceived. We can sometimes fall into the trap of unawarely imposing modern understanding of objects or concepts onto ancient cultures. This book addresses the use and study of material culture in a systematic, historiographic, and theoretical fashion, prompting us to a more conscious state of awareness of some of the perils involved in the interpretation of material objects and the many dimensions governing their interpretation and meaning. Since I have been working with the meaning of images and their semantic character, I've been finding discussions in his fourth chapter, "Bedeutungen der Dinge,"particularly useful.

Prof. Dr. Hahn also runs a web resource on the research discussed in his book.

For those who do not have a copy of the book in a nearby library, the table of contents might be useful for anyone curious about the subject matter:

  1. Perspketiven auf materielle Kultur. Zum Aufbau dieser Einführung; Ding, Sache, Gegenstand: Begrifflichkeiten materieller Kultur; Versuche der systematischen Dokumentation
  2. Die Materialität der Dinge und ihre Wahrnehmung. Bedingungen der Wahrnehmung von Gegenständen; Objekte und Errinerung; Objektbiographien; Zum Eigensinn der Dinge
  3. Zum Umgang mit Dingen. Lebensstile und Motive des Konsums; Georg Simmel; Thorstein Veblen; Pierre Bourdieu; Neuere Schicht- und milieubezogene Ansätze; Konsumkritik ("Use less things"); Konsumwandel; Güterexpansion und das "Bild der Begrenztheit der Güter"; Begrenzte Bedürfnisse und Luxusgüter; "Echte" und "Falsche" Bedürfnisse?; Geringer und großer Sachbesitz; Interpretationen des Konsumwandels; Warenform, Waren- und Gabentausch; Aneignung von Dingen; Zum Umgang mit Dingen in Haushalten
  4. Bedeutungen der Dinge. Materielle Kultur als Zeichensystem und Objektbedeutungen; Zeichensysteme; Objektzeichen als "unscharfe" Zeichen; Beispiele für die Beschreibung von Objekten und ihren Bedeutungen; Petr Bogatyrev; Roland Barthes; Mary Douglas; Sprache und Dinge; Dinge sind kein Text - Grenzen der kommunikativen Dimension von Objekten; Worter und Sachen; Objektkategorien und Stil als Bedeutungsträger; Ethnische Identität und materielle Kultur; Metonyme und Metaphern
  5. Epilog.