Week 11 Commodities and Consumption

The main reading for this week’s class was Stuff by Daniel Miller, which looked to “understand, convey, and appreciate our humanity is through attention to our fundamental materiality” (4). Through this, Miller wished to break out the opposition between person and thing and rather see them affecting one another so that man is just as shaped by things as he shapes things.  Miller began his examination by looking at clothes and how they are worn in Indian, Trinidad, and London, in which he contended that “there is no true inner self…the clothes were not superficial they actually were what made us what we think we are” (13).  Miller’s second chapter looked at the influences in his theories, namely that of the philosopher Hegel, in which there is a process of conciseness that “simultaneously produces that which we colloquially come to talk about as objects and subjects” (57). This idea when combined with Marx’s theories, leads one to the idea of self-alienation, or objectification, in which “we enhance our capacity as human beings” (59). These ideas are important because they cause a struggle with the self over the benefits and harms of objects as well as the conflict between the ideal and the reality. Indeed, this was seen in Miller’s examination of houses where he believed that when decorating his house he felt a disconnect between what he imaged the ideal house would look like and the disappointment that the reality could not live up to. Furthermore, Miller’s conclusions on houses led him to believe that stuff serves as the connection between the relationships of alienation of “powers of the state and the markets” with that of gender (88). Miller’s study of stuff in terms of material culture led him to declare that it is one of the most effective and enriching ways to the nature of relationships and personhood (153).

Miller’s work is important because it is a direct challenge to dualism of man and material. Indeed, looking at objects as having the power to shape humans is an interesting perspective, since it can reveal much about the human condition. The area was Miller made his case most strongly was when looking at modern technology, such as cell phones, and how that is reshaping interactions in Jamaica. By demonstrating that the relationship between man and objects is not a one way street, Miller showcases the importance that stuff plays in our daily lives. Furthermore, one of the most impactful claims by Miller was his idea of the “humanity of things” in which objects are important because we do not seen them and that they “gently help you learn how to act appropriately” (50 & 53).

This ideas will be important to keep in mind for my material culture study since I should not only look as to what man’s relationship to the torpedo reveals but also the torpedo’s relationship to man. Indeed, Miller’s ideas would seem to mean that the existence of weapons would thus shape how we understand the world by making us accept war as a part of the human condition. Thus, the question in some ways becomes do we fight because we have weapons or do we have weapons in order to fight.


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