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Materiality and Social Life

année académique

Titulaire(s) du cours

Alexander NEWELL (Coordonnateur)

Crédits ECTS


Langue(s) d'enseignement


Contenu du cours

Human sociality would be impossible without the mediation of material things through which consciousness is shared and “culture” is formed, and such collective immaterial worlds are deeply embedded within the production and perception of material reality. This course examines the way we produce social relationality, social forms, cultural schemas, and structures of power and hierarchy by consuming, exchanging, making, and inhabiting the things around us. We will investigate the relationship between materiality and meaning both in the historical development of the human species and across a wide variety of contemporary societies, from hunter-gatherers to the high consumerism of contemporary capitalism. In the anthropological tradition of problematizing the opposition between persons and things, the course considers hybrids such as fetishes, masks, relics, art objects, historical antiquities and other sacred objects for what they can tell us about more quotidian interactions between humans and their possessions. Consumer culture, fashion, and self-construction through the display of things are all social activities at the core of sociality in capitalist societies, materializing and fixing cultural categories such as gender, ethnicity, class, and generation. Through ethnographic exploration of cognitive and social consequences of tools, technological transformation, and rampant accumulation of possessions we will discover the agency of material things and the ways in which materiality often exceeds our efforts to culturally constrain matter within social expectations. Finally, we will explore the environmental consequences of contemporary practices around materiality, the sheer excess of human production, and what social alternatives might produce alternative material realities.

Méthodes d'enseignement et activités d'apprentissages

The course is a hybrid between ex cathedra teaching and seminar. Students are always encouraged to break into the lecture and to respond to one another, and at times the professor will ask students for their perspective or interpretation of the readings. The smaller the number of students taking the course, the more the course will tend towards seminar style teaching.

Références, bibliographie et lectures recommandées

These are provided in the course plan available on UV

Autres renseignements




Méthode(s) d'évaluation

  • Autre

A written essay at the end of the course combining independent research and course readings/theories makes up 75% of the grade. Regular participation in Nota Bene makes up another 25% of the grade.

Construction de la note (en ce compris, la pondération des notes partielles)

An essay of 2500-3500 words, applying course readings and class discussion to ethnographic observations of globalization in one's own experience. (75% or 15 points)

Regular participation on Nota Bene (an online forum where students and the professor comment on and discuss the readings): (25% or 5 points)

Langue(s) d'évaluation

  • anglais
  • français