Reading response Feb 1

Posted: February 1, 2012 by shaunpoon in Uncategorized

When reading both articles, “Theories of things” and “Objects, Exchange, Anthropology“, the representation of the object and its worth takes varying forms.

As Miller identifies in his piece, the focus rests upon the theories material culture and that in order to truly understand people, we must ideally understand “things” and our relationships with them. As people we construct things, and in this material culture that we live in we are also concerned with how these things make/form ourselves. Miller cements his point by referencing sociologist Goffman who has a theory based on our behaviour being cued by expectation, however the cues that tell us to interpret these behaviours are typically unconscious (Miler 49). He continues by introducing his own theories about things and that they work by being invisible in the sense that they are overlooked yet subconsciously play distinct roles in our lives. Through a theory of practice outlined by Bordieu are we able to interact through everyday routines which ultimately lead to consistent mixing with things, allowing us to adapt and learn.

Miller uses these examples, as well as the support of Hegel, Marx and Simmel to further his point of the material culture that we indulge in. As Hegel mentions, in each stage creates a new thing outside of ourselves, thus seeing it as an extension of ourselves (Miller 58). This concept is ideal of the theories presented by Marshall McLuhan and objects being an extension of our self (ex. glasses are an extension of our eyes, or spoon as an extension of the arm). Through these concepts, the author builds on the idea of objectification and how it is beneficial to individual growth, with that it harvests our interaction and cultural roles within society.

In the other piece, “Objects, Exchange, Anthropology“, Thomas is more straightforward in his approach in that things/objects take on a more physical aspect, and that the transactions/exchanges between people constitute a social relationship (Thomas 7). He goes on a tangent about various exchange systems and how they have played a historical role in society from bartering onwards. The object is considered something tangible, and is supported by A. Gregory’s idea of commodities and gifts, displaying that objects take these roles in clan based and class societies  but there is a clear separation between the two. A commodity is seen as something with a price, whereas a gift has rank, however they are both found in all societies (Thomas 17).

The piece also focuses on the historical aspects of material objects and mentions how the object acts as a vehicle for bringing past into present (Thomas 23). Furthermore, the dynamics of social change are located in keeping, giving and replacing, which concentrates ones identity.

These readings have rather unique perspectives on how one interacts with an object, in what seems like somewhat conflicting ideals, as one sees objects in a physical form, the other has a stronger focus on its immaterial form.

Question: How can culture guide our thought processes of objectification? How can somebody who is seen as a “gift giver” be someone who is superior to the receiver? What sort of social ramifications can this cause?

  1. tupakkat says:

    Hello Shaun,

    taking Millers explanation of objectification as Hegel’s concept of self-alienation and the way we enhance our capacity as human beings, I would say culture is the frame for our related thought processes. However, the question that arises out of that for me is: what elements of culture other than material culture exist and how do they interact with the material culture in these processes?

    Regarding the “gift giver”, I would say that the implicit obligation of the presentee to -at some point of time- reciprocate in one way or the other puts him in an inferior position, similar to the one of a debtor. Bourdieu described the gift as an exchange transaction disguised by stretching it out in time, a very intriguing explanation.
    According to Mauss, who is also cited in several readings, in giving a gift, the person of the giver and the gift amalgamate, the giver gives part of himself and the presentee experiences the person of the other in the gift.
    Either way, I think, it can have severe social repercussions if the expected reciprocation fails to materialize. The mildest form may be some hard feelings on sides of the giver, but depending on how much a certain gift was valued by the giver, it could also lead to the complete severance of friendship or kinship ties.

  2. jnnice says:

    Hi Shaun,

    The question was something that I wanted to ask too. My current opinion is more to consider about nature of gift. The case we can think of is the “gift giver” is giving a gift that is not what the receiver had to pay with money, but it was more likely be offered to the receiver. The receiver has to accept it unless it is necessary to have better relationship with the giver, whichever that is. But as how I understood the point of a reading, the gift, without money, has inalienable value in it, which can be given to the receiver as a sign of paying respect or gratitude. Maybe this is more relevant to the purpose of giving a gift or the premises of the scene. In this particular case, that would be the ‘paying back’ as opposed to ‘paying forward’.

    As well, we should consider the point that said, the giver gains more superiority than the receiver, not only in terms of the actual social or economic class divisions but in terms of how the receiver feels to the giver. Unless that was expected to be given, it would be a surprise to get a gift, and if the gift is a good or necessary item to the receiver’s standard, and if the receiver knew the giver’s true intention that supposed to be good, then the gift would make the receiver to put the giver in somewhat higher position than others around him.

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