Commentaries fo Feb1

Posted: January 30, 2012 by shihhsuanchou in Uncategorized

In “Theory of things” the author built on the idea that people make objects, and objects in terms make people, attempt to provide a theory which would bring this man/object relationship further, create transcendence between them. The author first challenged the approach taken by many evolutionary anthropologists to make function the center in explaining human adaptation and development. The author points out that many human practices, beliefs were irrelevant of its physical function, but are shaped by the “complexity and elaboration of symbolic ritual and social distinctions”. He instead draws upon the framework provided by “Frame analysis” and Structuralism, demonstrated with various examples that Things works most effectively when they are invisible, being familiar, taken for granted. This, which the author refers to as “material culture”, makes us who we are by being the exterior environment, and we grow up through the everyday routine of interact with those Things, without paying much attention.

The author theorized this process by drawing upon classical texts in the social science such as Hegel and Marx, and creates a framework which people develop through a process of externalization, self alienation, and objectification. He also points out the potential oppressive capability of the Things/Objects once they are externalized. Using the theory of George Simmel the author explains that the subjective only gain from objectification when it can assimilate the expanding objective culture and what can’t be assimilated becomes oppressive. One such example is money, which on one hand allowed immense freedom and equality, is also a driver of inequality. A contradiction is also exist in the way which our religion, culture treat the material. Almost all social institutions place the immaterial above the material, which ironically is expressed best by extensive material culture. Humanity is often defined in relation to the material, whether is to obtain it or escape it, or both at the same time.


In “Object, exchange Anthropology” The author attempts to build a theoretical framework which can be used to look at the exchange of material in non-western societies. The author suggests that exchange is a political process It reflects and constitutes social relationships between groups and individuals. Cultural differences must be acknowledged and interpreted in a way which reflects local and global historical perspectives.

The author critiques the traditional position of western scholarship of describing non western society as the “other” against western modernity, and thus their economic system being the “savage commerce”. Drawing upon Bronsilaaw Malinowski’s studies the author argues for localized and intensive ethnographic study which adopts the native point of view, see their institutions and behaviors in native terms. The author continue to expand on the different forms of exchange, especially concerning with inalienability of gift. He started with Mauss’ distinction between commodity and gifts, which argue that objects take form of commodity in capitalist society, whereas objects becomes gifts in clan-based society respectfully. Furthermore Mauss claimed that commodities are alienable, independent objects while gifts are inalienable, dependant subjects. The author do not completely agrees with Mauss’ theory for example the notion of the donor acquire superiority through giving have no theoretical necessity. However he uses these distinct forms as a useful departure point by showing gifts radically different from commodities, since the action of giving has a distinctly social effect which commodity transactions don’t. Also by exploring the exchangeability of things depending upon their culturally specific features, the author stated that particular article can be understood as something which can be given, but only at certain time and space. The author wish to disable the simple connection between the gift/commodity opposition and tradition/modern, clan/class, by establishing a greater degree of diversity and contingency.

Both authors attempt to create a more comprehensive theory in dealing with objects and ways which objects interact with people. Whereas Miller pay much focus on the objects which we don’t see, Thomas focus on the objects which we do see and take around. Both in its humidity and activity objects constitute who and what we are.

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