Laura’s weekly review week 2

Posted: January 18, 2012 by macdo142 in Jan 18


The objective of Material Objects as Facilitating Environments: The Palestinian Diaspora (2010) by Zeynep Turan examines material possessions of members of the Palestinian diaspora in the United States in order to differentiate between collective memory and the social phenomenon of remembering which is an individual act: two concepts that have in the literature been traditionally undifferentiated. The purpose is to recognize that the object provides a two way-street for identity; objects are given importance by members of a diaspora but should also be recognized for how their physical properties themselves can determine their meaning, to what extent and to what quality, they experience a sense of belonging. Depending on the physical way they interact with a person, can influence in what manner these objects transmit emotive responses, trigger memory and reproduce and re-invent identity

The narrative strategy is to relate her finding through the words of her subjects. Her most effective strategy is to link each participant with their own individual sense of attachments to Palestine in order to contextualize the relationships with each object. A good example of this is the contrast between Hiam Sabat and Samy Malik. Sabat whose parents, through their own efforts to reproduce the ‘old country’ in her childhood home, have instilled in her a “profound bond” with her home land, On the other hand, Malik’s parents did not make a concerted effort to transmit that sense of home, yet his contact with Palestine at school sparked in him a desire to trace his roots. Each participant is free to state how they conceive their identity.

the author builds off the theoretical framework of psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott and his behavioural notions of how relationships between material objects and self-identity  create spaces of single generational security. The purpose of this qualitative study is to understand how a diaspora with a legacy of displacement, a strong sense of homeland (both culturally and spatially) yet without the legal structures to validate them,  gives long-term continuity to their sense of collective identity through personal objects, in a multicultural setting, for the purpose of determining predictive patterns of behaviour of preservation (e.g. the idea to return)

Turan’s research is based on qualitative field research using American born persons of Palestinian descent. Although she does not explicitly state her methods of analysis, it appears that she is evaluating the participants responses in relation to their social situation. More importantly she is seeking to determine individual relationships between objects and the person in order to prove that not all objects can evoke feelings in the same way and that it is not always us who give meaning to the object, but the other way around. for example, Samy Malik’s treasures his tea pot because it was inherited through his grandmother, but since it does not relate well with his concept of a strong and political Palestine, he limits his interactions with it (and therefore its association with his heritage).

the author clearly articulates her objectives and claims at the beginning.  however she does not  clearly place her research in context to a research problem at hand. it was more useful to read the conclusion in which she makes the research question clearer, It was only at the end that I better understood the gap she was trying to bridge (i.e. the role objects played in facilitating transitions for a diasporic group member and the role the materiality of that object produced long term identities). I felt there was more validity to her conclusions than the Shankar article’s because she selected a sample for her field research. Her methods were well thought out because her research participants had to meet a requirements (at least one family member who had experienced dislocation and possess an object that tied them to that family history) which was relevant to the research question. At the same time she does not make it clear how she probed for her answers to her questions. It was unclear whether her questions were standardized and neutral or if it was more informal and open to dialogue. her clear use of example and her reference to psychological research, made a convincing argument

The Turan reading gives valuable insights as to how multifaceted the conceptualization of home is within the diaspora and provides a description of the nation building process outside of the more homogenizing mechanisms of Anderson’s “Imagined Community”


The Objective of Metaconsumptive Practices and their Circulation of Objectifications (2006) by Shalini Shankar is to introduce language into the studies of objects and diaspora within the middle-class Desi population of the Silicon Valley CA, in order to demonstrate how discourse within their diasporic community determines the meanings of the relationship with those objects.

Objects need not belong to an individual in order for it to transmit meaning and mediate relationships within the community: The manner in which material aspects of objects are talked about referentially and the way social status of the object is indexed, is a process of producing an objective reality that can disseminated through visual representation to be experienced by others. Physical objects can therefore belong to many members of the community through the appropriation of ownership through familial ties.

In the Shankar reading, I have methodological concerns with evidence she has gathered for her argument. While participants are free to express how they conceive their identities in Turan’s research, Shankar method is to be a direct participant as a community member in order to gather qualitative information. Thus the narrative style of the article at times feels more story-like rather than factual (thinking of the case in which 19 year old Simran spends time looking for her red wedding outfit and explaining her cancelled arranged marriage). Perhaps she is trying to illustrate the values in the community which she mentions can underpin “consumption and style in this diasporic community”. However she also admits that she will contextualize metaconsumption in a ”broader discussion…in order to illustrate how it works within this specific community”. Therefore the reading would have been less confusing if many examples of various communities were used to elaborate on this broader consumption, or if clearer examples of how the narrative related to their values of social prestige and status.

The Shankar article provides insight on how environment can influence the degree of nostalgia and the motivations behind remembering. In the first reading, some of the participants say that living in New York among so many national backgrounds, caused them to desire a tangible relationship with their origins, while in Metaconsumption, the Desi community were surrounded with their own culture, making a hybrid of their roots and American lifestyle more mainstream.

Bridge the Readings

While Turan’s article focuses mostly on unique objects that are largely inherited and possess heirloom-like qualities, Shankar’s article focuses on consumptive behaviour of mass produced objects. They do overlap however, Both readings demonstrate that not just older, un-replicable pieces can have deep meanings of belonging and identity. For example, Turan describes the Kaffiyah (Arab head scarf now a Palestinian symbol) which as a result of 21st century resistance movement against Israeli occupation, caused them to be mass-produced. Another example is Warda Raleh’s ikea bed frame which looks just like her grandfathers. All objects within Shankar’s research are mass produced (cars, electronics and even the hip hop music that influences their desi-bling). These stories are important not only because they exemplify how the operative effects of an object are contextually bound, but also how belonging, nostalgia and the traditional notion of home are dynamic and constantly being produced.


Turan- to what extent do these objects create an emotional longing for return, or do they serve more as personalized reminders of where they perceive they came from?

Shankar- in what way does living in the Silicon valley influence their values, and in what ways do their diasporic experiences  shape them?

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