The last few days I’ve been at a conference on Medieval Materiality. For those not familiar, there’s a lot of talk in my field of the “material turn,” in which questions about material culture and object-related analyses (of many sorts) are becoming more central, where once they were quite peripheral.
Among the many things that interested me, though, was the divide between people working on discrete pieces of material culture – i.e. stuff – and those working more abstractly on ideas about materiality – i.e. how people thought about stuff. This is an overly simplified dichotomy, of course, as there are many fine gradations, but it did seem evident to me, and I’m curious about the ways we might ease that gap.
Is there, in fact, any real connection between the literary scholar looking at a metaphor as object, or the art historian thinking about light as object (both fun talks) and the historian looking at textile production or donations to a church (both fun talks!)? Does the shared interest in stuff actually make us think there’s a connection when none exists?
These are just musings at the end of a very long weekend, head too packed with ideas to be articulate, but noted so I can return to them at a later date.
FWIW, my piece was on a monk who depicted “wisdom” as a material commodity that merchants should pursue as if it were gold.
As I finish my book proofs, I still wrote a few blogs:
Lessons from Swimming Lessons; or, How Not to Work with Kids with Disabilities.
And a brief comment on a piece about design, given that All Tech is Assistive Tech
Light writing week next week too. Working line by line through my book, looking for errors (so it’s mostly dogs that aren’t barking).
2 Replies to “Sunday Roundup: Material Culture”
I have wondered whether Daniel Miller’s concept of materiality and the subsequent publications might not owe something to the audit pressures under which British academics labor, where I understand tenure to be effectively be nonexistent at this point. If it isn’t apparent, I’m not a huge fan of the materiality approach. It seems abstract (ha!) in the extreme to me.
Well, there's no question that every UK academic is under enormous pressure to do two things.
1) Build a group of people who can conceptualize a meta-project.
2) Publish furiously.
Miller's project definitely fits into that framework.
That said, I am finding explorations of medieval ideas about materiality an extremely useful lens for better understanding my subject, the identity formation in medieval Venice. I'm really a pragmatist, not a theorist, and pragmatically such approaches seem useful to me.