Why are i-pods and mobile phones fashion accessories? Why do people spend thousands remodelling their perfectly functional kitchen? Why do people crave shoes or handbags? Is our desire for objects unhealthy, or irrational?

Objects have an inescapable hold over us, not just in consumer culture but increasingly in the disciplines that study social relations too. This book offers a systematic overview of the diverse ways of studying the material as culture. Surveying the field of material culture studies through an examination and synthesis of classical and contemporary scholarship on objects, commodities, consumption, and symbolization, this book: Introduces the key concepts and approaches in the study of objects and their meanings; Presents the full sweep of core theory – from Marxist and critical approaches to structuralism and semiotics – to evaluate the frameworks for approaching the material world; Shows how and why people use objects to perform identity, achieve social status, and narrativize life experiences; Analyzes everyday domains in which objects are important: social status, identity, social performance and narrativization; Shows why studying material culture is necessary for understanding the social.

This book will be essential reading for students and researchers in sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, consumer behaviour studies, design and fashion studies.

Objects and Distinction. The Aesthetic Field and Expressive Materiality

Objects and Distinction. The Aesthetic Field and Expressive Materiality

Objects and distinction. The aesthetic field and expressive materiality

Summary of Chapter Contents

This chapter looks at how objects come to acquire and represent status, aesthetic value and personal taste. It has four main sections which:

  • give an historical introduction to how objects are linked to social status
  • review the work of Immanuel Kant on how people judge beauty in objects
  • summarise the work of Bourdieu on taste and the social implications of aesthetic judgement
  • review the work of key modern theorists of fashion – Simmel, Veblen and Blumer – and their relevance to questions of social class, individualism, desire and collective belonging.

Introduction: Status and the Taste for ‘the Beautiful Thing’ in Consumer Societies

Historical accounts of consumption practice (McCracken, 1988; McKendrick et ...

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