Twenty years ago, Arjun Appadurai published a seminal collection on The Social Life of Things, marking a watershed in anthropological understandings of consumption, circulation, and production, and the role of objects in mediating between cultural sensibilities and economic flows. This work has stimulated a wealth of interest in materiality, and over the years, research has sought to expand the insights of Appadurai’s collection to shed greater light on the relationship between mind, matter, and subjectivity. Drawing on these recent developments, this course aims to explore the material dimensions of cultural life and cultural production. As we engage with contemporary and classic writings in cultural anthropology, archaeology, philosophy, and social theory, we will grapple with several key issues: the boundaries between objects and subjects; the agency of persons and things; the relationship between objects and meaning, between experience and imagination; and the production of sociality in the actions/transactions linking people to their material world. The question of value is crucially implicated in these processes, and will require particular attention. And because material transactions are embedded in overlapping fields of power and politics, we will remain attentive to the ways in which objects make/mark/transgress difference, inequalities, and social boundaries. While we will discuss theories of materiality per se, our focus will rest mostly in theorizing how things work in and through concrete social and historical contexts. In this light, ethnographic studies will provide precious resources in helping
us outline the logics, terrains, and lineaments of material and cultural production. Indeed, a central goal of this course is to examine how we can mobilize ethnographic insights on object worlds to reframe or expand archaeological inquiries and possibilities, and how, in turn, archaeological imaginations may help to enhance anthropological understandings of materiality.