Material Culture

This category contains 7 posts

“Sing Red to Fight Darkness”: Chinese Urban Development as Apocalypse

“Yes, people are constructed by their material world, but often they are not themselves the agents behind that material world through which they must live” (Miller 2009: 84). “The apocalyptic describes not just the spilling forth of the unseen, but also of the undifferentiated matter of the possible, of what could have been and was … Continue reading

The Mini Museum: An Alchemy of Value

How small can an object be and still have value? How can a valuable object be fragmented to the point of destruction—where each individual piece is so small as to be nearly valueless—and yet when collected together with other basically valueless fragments become something completely different—something more valuable? The formula is a strange alchemy of … Continue reading

“Moroccan” (Tourist) Things

Sleeping Under a Bridge in Shanghai

Yesterday, while walking along the Suzhou River in Shanghai, I came across an area under a bridge where a bunch of migrant workers were living. They weren’t around–presumably they were working at their day jobs. Walking by, I was struck by the belongings of one person. They were carefully laid out under the bridge as … Continue reading

Among Warm Objects

“These wild objects, stemming from indecipherable pasts, are for us the equivalent of what the gods of antiquity were, the ‘spirits’ of the place. Like their divine ancestors, these objects play roles of actors in the city, not because of what they do or say but because their strangeness is silent, as well as their … Continue reading

Good Luck With Your New Car in Shenyang

During a few days in Shenyang I noticed a number of cars that had little pieces of red cloth tied on their tires. Actually, once I noticed the pieces of cloth I started seeing them everywhere. A local acquaintance explained to me that it was a local custom to tie a piece of red cloth … Continue reading

TARDIS Value: Blue Box as Totem and Fetish

There is a lot of Doctor Who going around these days. My teenage self—the closeted geek who stayed up late on Fridays and Saturdays to catch episodes on my local public TV channel—would be very happy to see the show’s resurgent global popularity. I even found an advertisement that used his image on the streets … Continue reading


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