Jan.31 Object Theory II

Posted: January 30, 2012 by lilzak in Uncategorized

Miller’ article “Theories of Things”, attempts to argue that things make people and people make things. He presents several theories that try to explain how the two influence each other and thus create culture more specifically material culture. One theory addresses the material itself while others go into psycho spiritual characteristics of material such as phenomenology. The author specifies the theories of objectification by Hegel, Marx and Simmel and the nature of materiality and concluded with the consequence of these theories.

Miller seems to jump from one idea to the next which may difficult to follow especially if the reader is not familiar enough with these theories. However, he tried to produce a material culture theory which I find interesting. He states that sociologist Goffman argued that: much of our behaviour is cued by expectations, determined by the frames which constitute the context of action. (Theories, 49).  I think this means that whatever context we are exposed to gives us the cue or signal we need that will determine the response which are not conscious hence the reason why we look for cues. So it would seem that we go from framing to expectation which is the cue to how we behave.

The other theory by art historian Gombrich focused on the relevance of the framing of artworks rather than the artworks themselves. Gombrich argued that when a frame is appropriate we don’t see it because it is a seamless fit so as to convey that it is the framed that is the focus. I think if the frame was central then it would place the artwork on the peripheral causing the artwork to blur. This would cause the artwork to lose its exclusivity. This analogy by Gombrich shows how we see the cue because the expectation is on the work of art thus the frame has to insignificant to the extent that it shows off the work without drawing undue attention to itself. We expect this. (50).

Prestations: Benefit-French origin


Thomas’ article “Objects, Exchange, Anthropology” he explains the Inalienability of the Gift using A. Gregory’s ideas of the difference between gift and commodity stating that objects take the form of gifts and commodities in clan based and class based societies. In clan based societies the dominant process of exchange is consumption and personification or self-replacement of people but in class based societies it is production and objectification. Therefore, the clan based consumes and replaces while the class based produces and commodifies objects.

I don’t agree with Gregory’s fundamental principle of the giver being superior to the receiver because it produces a ‘relationship of indebtedness’. This would not be a gift. It was more like a bribe or insurance because you expect something in return at some later time. If a gift has indebtedness it would be gratitude. According to Gregory a gift has rank so a good gift can place in front of another whose gift is less in value to the receiver. Gregory also states that a gift attached to indebtedness is more of an inversion of the commodity. Therefore, a gift can only be inalienable if it is not a commodity thus obligations are unacceptable.


  1. lynndts403 says:

    I completely agree that a gift does not create a dominant-inferior relationship between the giver and the receiver. To me, the concept of a gift is something one gives to another without an expectation for payment or exchange. I feel that if there is an expectation of something in return whether it be in someone’s good graces or to get an advantage in a situation; it no longer constitutes a gift but rather a bribe.

  2. tupakkat says:

    I was intrigued by Thomas’ and Bourdieu’s explanation about gifts because they go beyond what we assume on first thought: Everyone would agree that the character of a gift lies precisely in a lack of expectation of a reciprocation.

    However, if we think about it deeper, we see that everything we give carries some expectation. That’s why we teach little children to say “thank you” from an early age. As soon as they start forming words we urge them to thank their grandma for her gifts, later we encourage them to write letters or help with chores etc. Surely, the grandma does not “expect” it, she is not “buying” gratitude or help. But think this scenario further and imagine, what happens, if there is never any reciprocation of any form, the grandmother keeps sending gifts and money, and never gets a thank you, a letter or kind words in return. Society, if not parents and grandparents, would certainly discourage and condemn such behaviour. Rightfully so. Human relations build on reciprocity, they only exist in reciprocity.

    The only act I can think of that does not require some form of reciprocation is anonymous donation – and often (not always) people donate with the hope of some higher reward. Even orphan sponsorships make sure that the donor receives letters from the child and regular reports.
    Therefor, Bourdieu’s thesis of gifts being transactions stretched out in time might sound very cold and businesslike but I think it quite accurately depicts human reality.

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