This article explores indigenous Andean perspectives on the relationship between mining and mountains. It briefly elaborates on how, in Andean worlds, mountains are intentional agents that are crucial members of society. Paying central attention to the materiality of these beings, the article compares the different social logics at play in, on the one hand, contexts of underground mining and, on the other, those of the recent open-pit mines. Using ethnographic data from Cuzco and Ancash (Peru) as well as previous ethnographies of mining practices in Bolivia and Peru, the article analyses how underground mining involved indigenous workers and practices that engaged the mined earth-beings. In contrast, in recent open-pit mines, there are very few workers from the surrounding communities, and indigenous practices engaging earth-beings became invisible. Underground mining is assumed to damage and threaten the fertility of the mined earth-beings but it is not seen as endangering their existence. In contrast, recent open-pit mines are only made possible by destroying earth-beings and extracting metal from their corpses.
This article seeks to re-imagine the concept of abstraction as a material mechanism for art-making. Abstraction is traditionally divorced from the discipline of anthropology, which is rooted in social context and descriptive particulars. Within this debate, abstraction, as a mental capacity, is contrasted with contextual understanding and entails a removal from the life of the people studied. But, for the artist, this conclusion may be premature and abstraction is more accurately regarded as a constitutive function of art-making. The author draws explicitly on this proposition and proposes that abstraction affords artists a material means of transforming how they relate and re-imagine the world, offering them a means of separating the properties of things from the things themselves. Integral to these affordances is abstraction as an art historical construct. Thus abstraction is not the erasure of context, whether conceptual or material, but its imbrication. To illuminate this proposition, this article focuses on the working practice of one Icelandic artist, through which the author suggests that abstraction can be envisaged as a prism of open connections that lead from the artist into the world.
This article is a theoretical and ethnographic exploration of the possibility of ‘touching the past’. Drawing on fieldwork from Newfoundland, Canada, and in conversation with Gell’s Art and Agency (1998), it focuses on the process of abduction whereby, in their discovery and handling, pieces of stone become artefacts that index the presence of an absent other. It is argued that through this tactile process of becoming an artefactual index, the distinction between past and present is momentarily dissolved, enfolded into the fit between stone and hand, giving rise to the possibility of historical sensation and the feeling of pastness.
In this article, the authors examine how materiality can be understood as a co-creator and significant carrier of social processes. They focus on the ways children in large sibling groups relate to bedrooms and identify the logics at play when the organizing of children’s bedrooms and siblings are interwoven. Children have dreams and expectations of establishing a space by way of having their own room and stuff, and they implement this desire for ownership through specific strategies to obtain material presence and leave territorial marks, which afford them positioning and recognition within sibling relations and families. The authors’ analysis clearly shows that children gain material weight across households with varying material resources and different socio-cultural views on how to allocate these resources. It also shows that processes surrounding the material constitution of siblingships are embedded in a child-focused society with strong cultural norms about what constitutes a good life for children.
This article explores the work of fetish in practices of consumption at a charity shop in contemporary Margate (UK). Here fetish relates to a specific semiotic ideology (described by Keane in Christian Moderns: Freedom and Fetish in the Mission Encounter, 2007) that acknowledges the personality and history of objects. More specifically, fetish appears as the material property of old objects ‘with character’ to combine different remnants of the past and allow for or resist multiple meanings and stories. To argue that objects are fetishized in Margate is to say that in this English town we encounter a semiotic ideology that challenges the ‘moral narrative of modernity’ that claims individual freedom and agency.
Based on ethnographic research carried out in an Italian supermarket, this article discusses the role of European Pallet Association (EPAL) pallets as especially valued objects in the social economy of its warehouse. Pallet exchanges and the processes of value conversion they entail are framed in the context of the supermarket as a workplace where the connecting and individualizing elements of exchange relationships are analysed. Pallets travel around in a commodity context where the value of things is equated with their price. Yet, participation in pallet exchange allows for the creation of a community of practice between warehousemen and drivers, as well as enabling them to establish their distinctive roles and status as men whose work has to do with the ‘making’ of commodities.
How might a singular object, a herdsman’s lasso known as the ‘uurga’, facilitate a fresh understanding of cosmology and human–animal relationships in nomadic Mongolia? ‘Uurga shig’ re-evaluates the performance of an object as an agentive social participant and the role of drawing as an anthropologically relevant method, outlining the need for interdisciplinary exchange between the fields of participatory art and anthropology. With a starting point of Alfred Gell’s thesis of ‘Traps as artworks and artworks as traps’ (1996), the lasso presents an alternative point of view to the western ‘zoological framing’ criticized by Massumi (‘What animals teach us about politics’, 2014). Instead the uurga functions as a non-Euclidean drawing tool, a frame through which to better understand the fluid relationships underpinning human–animal codependency on the Mongolian steppe.
From the line on a page to the ‘drawing through’ of a thread in a needle and the ‘drawing in’ of a wild horse in nomadic Mongolia, the author explores the application of drawing as an intimate method for analyzing moving relationships. With a focus on the drawn line as a connecting device that lends itself to figure–ground reversal, she extends the application of drawing as a prosthetic technology, one that might be used to catalyze a perspectival shift into the worlds of other animals.
This article examines the discourse surrounding the collection of Cultural Revolution memorabilia in the contemporary People’s Republic of China. The author focuses on the emergence of three key discursive figures: the collector/curator, the collector/investor, and the collector as dupe. At issue in the construction of each of these figures is the unsettling force of consumer desire, its ethics and negotiation. In the case of the curator and investor, the author considers the mechanisms through which consumer desire is decentered in the name of historical responsibility and exchange value, respectively. These mechanisms of deferral are contrasted to the often nostalgic desire embodied by the dupe, but this figure and his or her consumer desire are in fact crucial to the discourse of collection as a whole. Indeed, despite claims to the contrary, the dupe bespeaks an enduring quest for a mode of interaction between person and thing outside the bounds of commodity exchange.
New archival and ethnographic evidence reveals that Inka style khipus were used in the Andean community of Santiago de Anchucaya to record contributions to communal labour obligations until the 1940s. Archival testimony from the last khipu specialist in Anchucaya, supplemented by interviews with his grandson, provides the first known expert explanation for how goods, labour obligations, and social groups were indicated on Inka style Andean khipus. This evidence, combined with the analysis of Anchucaya khipus in the Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Antropología y Historia Peruana, furnishes a local model for the relationship between the two most frequent colour patterns (colour banding and seriation) that occur in khipus. In this model, colour banding is associated with individual data whilst seriation is associated with aggregated data. The archival and ethnographic evidence also explains how labour and goods were categorized in uniquely Andean ways as they were represented on khipus.
The Mount Wuyi area of northern Fujian Province, China, is famous for having produced superior teas for over 1500 years, including rock tea, which is the focus of this article. Locals evaluate sites in the mountain area in terms of the material quality of their tea plants and tea. The skills and techniques of specialist tea workers, and not just the terrain, are also regarded as essential in producing quality teas. These two elements, human skill and environment, have combined over time as embodied cultural knowledge, including a special vocabulary to judge the taste and fragrance of teas. Recent government attempts to set up a national tea quality standard for commercial purposes, emphasizing human skill and technique over felicitous environment, have had to accommodate the cultural importance of the traditional embodied knowledge of the ecology and hierarchy of tea appreciation.
This article calls upon fieldwork carried out in Kraków in order to analyse charges of ‘luxury’ in Polish fur critique. It draws from commentary both from ‘card-carrying’ members of Polish animal rights organizations and comparatively off-the-cuff remarks of those reflecting on fur’s provocativeness, without participating in the animal rights movement. In Central and Eastern European socialist and postsocialist contexts alike, luxury has often held a dialectical relationship with ‘normality’. The article argues that the meaning of luxury that emerges in Polish fur critique can be aptly described as ‘an excess of the normal’. Power, with which fur is frequently associated, is conceptualized not only as residing in the hands of elites but in the ‘normal’ and normalizing material culture that fur embodies. The ‘visibility’ of fur as outdoor clothing is critical in this regard. In discussing fur’s luxuriousness, themes of gendered and generational power and of the shortcomings of ethical consumption as a mode of political resistance come to the fore.
This article introduces the notion of sustainability objects as a label for objects that come with a claim of promoting a more sustainable mode of living. The purpose is to show that organizations that develop such objects construct a performative definition of sustainability. A case study of the development of a facility for the pre-treatment of food-waste-based biogas and biofertilizers serves as an empirical example of the development of sustainability objects. The analysis demonstrates that this development and concomitant defining of sustainability have involved the contextualizing of biogas and biofertilizers, entangling them in nets of relationships and endowing them with an agency of their own. With sustainability objects embodying definitions of sustainability, their success or failure as objects derive from the success or failure of the performative definitions that they embody, and vice versa. Asking why sustainability objects gain or lose ground is therefore suggested as a way of understanding the character and evolution of sustainability transition.
For over 100 years, Kuna Indian women and girls have sewn and worn the mola blouse as part of their dress ensemble. On the front and back of the blouses are mola panels, conceived and created as a pair. The pair of mola panels may be nearly identical or different. The relationship between a pair of mola panels is discussed in terms of the impact on the designs of Kuna culture and ethnoaesthetic criteria, especially layering, filler techniques, symmetry and colour preferences, as well as sewing techniques and material usage. Aspects of Kuna sociality, cosmology and verbal oratory are explored. In most cases it is possible to establish a thematic relationship between the back and front mola panels of a mola blouse. An object-based material culture approach contributes to an enhanced understanding of the complexities of mola making, including the technical skills required to design and manipulate layers of cloth. The importance of understanding mola panels as twinned pairs is highlighted by evaluating individual panels in pairs based on the examination of mola collections from six museums. This research also provides practical information for museum curators and others to establish which individual mola panels in collections may constitute a pair, originating from the same mola blouse.
This article presents ‘the phenomenon of the phantom place’ and its occurrences. This phenomenon finds its equivalent in Merleau-Ponty’s analysis of the phantom limb, and manifests itself when a past place acquires such representational value in absentia that determines our perception of the present, tangible place. To demonstrate its occurrences and assess its importance, archaeological writing and practices are examined. First, through an examination of archaeological texts on shipwrecks, it is shown how the excavation site can be perceived as a spatiotemporal fusion of material remains (presences) and the absent functional place (the phantom) these represent. Second, the value of phantom places is shown through the investigation of a (re)constructed place; specifically a trireme. The latter case study demonstrates how the experience of places replicating past spatialities is largely affected by the obsolete functions these places served in the past. The case studies employed centre around a single spatiality, the ship. This phenomenon, however, is neither restricted to archaeologists nor specific places; it is integral to the way we perceive place.
Since the 1970s, an international market has been growing in the production and sale of fabric specifically woven for ‘babywearing’. These ‘wraps’, a simple piece of cloth for baby carrying, have a long tradition throughout the world but are increasingly marketed to ‘high-end’ collectors as well as ‘modern’ young parents. New releases of limited edition and boutique ranges create competition over highly desirable and often quite unattainable wraps that must be tempted out or awaited in the second-hand forums. The community describes the search for these desperately desired goods as the search for ‘unicorns’. But obtaining one’s unicorn requires others to part with material objects made incommensurable through the intimate, inter-embodied ‘skinship’ practice of wrapping and carrying a child. This article explores how the emotional entanglement of these second-hand goods is negotiated through an emerging exchange etiquette that attempts to protect the illusion that one is trading in incommensurable goods.
First Story Toronto – a community organization dedicated to the Indigenous histories of Toronto, Canada – is steward to a collection of items mostly made and collected during the 20th century. With origins in the Anglican Church Women, the collection reflects a time when policies and actions of the state and churches internalized colonial processes within Canada. Yet the donation of the ACW material to a Native woman and housing advocate in 1976 hints at the shifting political and cultural contexts of this collection. Native crafts were used by Indigenous women in the city in displays of both Indigenous sovereignty and multiculturalism. Recently, the collection has been taken up by another group of Indigenous women in the Memory, Meaning-Making and Collections project. Handling sessions with artefacts and ‘talking circles’, initially designed to research the role of objects in collective memory and life-history processes, have been appropriated by the participating seniors toward their own goals. The collection has become a source of continuing education, sparking the women to teach and learn beadwork and quillwork; compare life experiences among urban Indigenous people; question history-making processes; and visit museum stores to handle collections and learn with curators. The histories intersecting with this collection thus push back against a range of tropes, provide more nuanced insights into the lives and values of urban Indigenous women in Canada, and the ways collections are used in articulations of belonging among Indigenous peoples.
Since the late 1990s, unauthorized migrants attempting to cross the Sonoran Desert of Arizona have been relying on a unique set of material culture to evade Border Patrol, as well as prevent and treat injuries during the crossing process. Some media and academic attention has focused on the hundreds of migrants who die each year during desert border crossings, but little focus has been paid to the non-lethal injuries (e.g. blisters and dehydration) that hundreds of thousands of people sustain annually. Using a combination of ethnographic and archaeological data, the author argues that border-crossing artifacts both reflect and shape a way of being that is specific to the desert migration process. Expanding upon the archaeological concept of use wear, he demonstrates that modifications made to migrant goods provide evidence of border-crossing body techniques that are connected to widespread and routinized forms of corporeal suffering.