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Materiality in the Future of History: Things, Practices, and Politics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 December 2012


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7 From the large body of literature, see McKendrick, Neil, Brewer, John, and Plumb, J. H., The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England (Bloomington, IN, 1982)Google Scholar; Brewer, John and Porter, Roy, eds., Consumption and the World of Goods (London, 1993)Google Scholar; Weatherill, Lorna, Consumer Behaviour and Material Culture in Britain, 1660–1760, 2nd ed. (London, 1996)Google Scholar; Smith, Woodruff D., Consumption and the Making of Respectability, 1600–1800 (London, 2002)Google Scholar; Peck, Linda Levy, Consuming Splendor: Society and Culture in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge, 2005)Google Scholar; Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher, The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth (New York, 2001)Google Scholar; Vickery, Amanda and Styles, John, eds., Gender, Taste, and Material Culture in Britain and North America, 1700–1830 (New Haven, CT, 2006)Google Scholar; Ben-Amos, Ilana Krausman, The Culture of Giving: Informal Support and Gift-Exchange in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2008)Google Scholar; French, H. R., The Middle Sort of People in Provincial England, 1600–1750 (Oxford, 2007)Google Scholar; Martin, Ann Smart, Buying into the World of Goods: Early Consumers in Backcountry Virginia (Baltimore, 2008)Google Scholar. For a critique, see Grassby, Richard, “Material Culture and Cultural History,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 35, no. 4 (Spring 2005): 591603Google Scholar.

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9 Trentmann, Frank, “Crossing Divides: Globalization and Consumption in History,” in Handbook of Globalization Studies, ed. Bryan Turner (London, 2009), forthcomingGoogle Scholar.

10 Sheringham, Michael, Everyday Life: Theories and Practices from Surrealism to the Present (Oxford, 2006)Google Scholar. To identify such general trends, of course, does not mean that there are no individual traces in British studies, such as Samuel, Raphael, Theatres of Memory (London, 1996)Google Scholar; and Wrightson, Keith, Earthly Necessities: Economic Lives in Early Modern Britain, 1470–1750 (London, 2002)Google Scholar.

11 Examples are the Domestic Interiors project (Arts and Humanities Research Council [AHRC] and the Victoria and Albert Museum; and the Cultures of Consumption program (Economic and Social Research Council and AHRC;

12 Daston, Lorraine, Things That Talk (Chicago, 2000)Google Scholar. The ZKM Karlsruhe exhibit and publication (Latour and Weibel, Making Things Public) included Loraine Daston, Peter Galison, and Simon Schaffer.

13 Arjun Appadurai, “Materiality in the Future of Anthropology,” in van Binsbergen and Geschiere, Commodification, 55–62.

14 For a multidisciplinary bibliography, see “The Consumption Bibliography” on the Cultures of Consumption Web site,

15 Points of entry include Blaszczyk, Regina Lee, Imagining Consumers: Design and Innovation from Wedgwood to Corning (Baltimore, 2000)Google Scholar; Kriegel, Lara, Grand Designs: Labor, Empire, and the Museum in Victorian Culture (Durham, NC, 2007)Google Scholar; Armstrong, Isobel, Victorian Glassworlds: Glass Culture and the Imagination, 1830–1880 (Oxford, 2008)Google Scholar; Christopher Breward, Becky Conekin, and Cox, Caroline, eds., The Englishness of English Dress (Oxford, 2002)Google Scholar; David Gilbert, ed., “Shopping Routes: Networks of Fashion Consumption in London's West End, 1945–1979,” special issue, London Journal 31, no. 1 (June 2006); Annie Coombes, Reinventing Africa: Museum, Material Culture, and Popular Imagination in Late Victorian and Edwardian England (New Haven, CT, 1994); Barringer, Tim and Flynn, Tom, eds., Colonialism and the Object: Empire, Material Culture, and the Museum (London, 1998)Google Scholar.

16 The concept is that of Styles, John; see Styles, The Dress of the People: Everyday Fashion in Eighteenth-Century England (New Haven, CT, 2007)Google Scholar.

17 Turkle, Evocative Objects.

18 Pol-Droit, Roger, How Are Things? A Philosophical Experiment, trans. Theo Cuffe (London, 2005)Google Scholar.

19 Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher, “Hannah Barnard's Cupboard: Female Property and Identity in Eighteenth-Century New England,” in Through a Glass Darkly: Reflections on Personal Identity in Early America, ed. Ronald Hoffman, Mechal Sobel, and Fredrika J. Teute (Chapel Hill, NC, 1997), 238–73Google Scholar.

20 John Styles and Amanda Vickery, “Introduction,” in Vickery and Styles, Gender, Taste, and Material Culture, 23.

21 Braudel, Fernand, Civilization and Capitalism, 3 vols. (London, 1981–84)Google Scholar; Roche, Daniel, A History of Everyday Things: The Birth of Consumption in France, 1600–1800, trans. Brian Pearce (Cambridge, 2000)Google Scholar.

22 Smart Martin, Buying, 9, 242, chap. 5.

23 Amanda Vickery, “‘Neat and Not Too Showey’: Words and Wallpaper in Regency England,” in Vickery and Styles, Gender, Taste, and Material Culture, 201–24.

24 Styles, Dress of the People. That consumption had cultural and class-specific forms was already emphasized by Halbwachs, Maurice, L'Évolution des besoins dans les classes ouvrières (Paris, 1933)Google Scholar.

25 For a rebuttal, see Thomasson, Amie L., Ordinary Objects (Oxford, 2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

26 Evelyn Fox Keller, “Slime Mold,” in Turkle, Evocative Objects, 298–306.

27 Pol-Droit, Things, 52–53, 74.

28 Marx, Karl, Das Kapital (Hamburg, 1867), bk. 1, chap. 1, sec. 4Google Scholar.

29 Brown, Sense of Things, 14.

30 Heidegger, Martin, “Das Ding” (1950), in Vorträge und Aufsätze (Tübingen, 1954), 157–79Google Scholar, and Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie (Tübingen, 1927). The hand and handling of things play a prominent place in Heidegger's thought, as does the wearing of shoes in revealing their thingness (Schuhzeug). Another tradition is the social behaviorism of George Herbert Mead. See Mead, The Philosophy of the Act, ed. Charles Morris (Chicago, 1938); E. Doyle McCarthy, “Toward a Sociology of the Physical World: George Herbert Mead on Physical Objects,” Studies in Symbolic Interaction 5 (1984): 105–21.

31 Dant, Materiality and Society, chap. 6.

32 Latour, Bruno, “Where Are the Missing Masses? The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts,” in Shaping Technology/Building Society, ed. Bijker, Wiebe E. and Law, John (Cambridge, MA, 1992), 225–58, quote at 254, emphasis in originalGoogle Scholar. See also Latour, “When Things Strike Back.”

33 See the bibliography by John Law, “The Actor Network Resource: Thematic List of Publications,” Department of Sociology, Lancaster University, For discussion, see Simon Schaffer, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Bruno Latour,” Studies in His tory and Philosophy of Science 22, no. 1 (March 1991): 174–92. See also Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Oxford, 2005), esp. 87–120; Dant, Materiality and Society. We should also note the difficulty of integrating historical formations of power and culture in an analysis primarily concerned with reconstructing a network of actors and actants at a specific moment in time.

34 Latour, “Dingpolitik.”

35 For example, the economic sociologist Swedberg presents Adam Smith's work as a sharp break with older traditions in which the household had occupied a central place; see Richard Swedberg, “The Centrality of Materiality: Theorizing the Economy from Xenophon to Home Economics and Beyond,” Sociologica, no. 1 (2008), See also Daniel Miller's comment in the same issue ( There were, however, also other trends, such as Kames's recognition of the impact of material culture on the social sphere and, later, in popular political economy by Harriet Martineau.

36 Sombart, Werner, Luxus und Kapitalismus (Munich, 1912)Google Scholar.

37 Lamb, Jonathan, “The Crying of Lost Things,” ELH: English Literary History 71, no. 4 (Winter 2004): 949–67Google Scholar, quote at 953. Such myths of an uprising of everyday things against people also featured in older cultures; see Krickeberg, Walter, Märchen der Azteken und Inkaperuaner, Maya und Muisca (Jena, 1928)Google Scholar.

38 Christopher Flint, “Speaking Objects: The Circulation of Stories in Eighteenth-Century Prose Fiction,” PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, no. 113 (March 1998): 212–26.

39 Latour, “Dingpolitik.”

40 Why presume that things would necessarily want us to treat them more fairly? Perhaps, in the world of things, an altogether different value system rules from that of humans? Nor is it clear what fairness or rights would mean for things, how these would be adjudicated, and by whom or what.

41 Lamb, Jonathan, “Modern Metamorphoses and Disgraceful Tales,” Critical Inquiry 28, no. 1 (Autumn 2001): 133–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar

42 Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (London, 1765–69), bk. 2, chap. 1. The integration of law into historical studies of consumption remains rare. For exceptions, see Finn, Margot C., The Character of Credit: Personal Debt in English Culture, 1740–1914 (Cambridge, 2003)Google Scholar; Bronwen Morgan and Frank Trentmann, eds., “The Politics of Necessity,” special issue, Journal of Consumer Policy 29, no. 4 (December 2006).

43 Van Binsbergen, “Introduction,” in van Binsbergen and Geschiere, Commodification, 30–36.

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46 Brown, Sense of Things.

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53 See Malcolmson, Robert, Life and Labour in England, 1700–1780 (London, 1981)Google Scholar; Adrian Randall and Charlesworth, Andrew, eds., Markets, Market Culture and Popular Protest in Eighteenth-Century Britain and Ireland (Liverpool, 1996)Google Scholar.

54 Styles, Dress of the People.

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57 Conversely, shopping and other forms of purchase include not only “voluntary” features.

58 Styles, Dress of the People, 31.

59 Louise Crewe, Nicky Gregson, Second-Hand Cultures (Oxford, 2003)Google Scholar; Inge Maria Daniels, “Scooping, Raking, Beckoning Luck: Luck, Agency and the Interdependence of People and Things in Japan,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, no. 9 (December 2003): 619–38; Alison Clarke, “Mother Swapping: The Trafficking of Nearly New Children's Wear,” in Commercial Cultures: Economics, Practices, Spaces, ed. Peter Jackson, Michelle Lowe, Daniel Miller, and Frank Mort (Oxford, 2000); Belk, Russell W., Collecting in a Consumer Society (London, 2001)Google Scholar; Gelber, Steven M., Hobbies: Leisure and the Culture of Work in America (New York, 1999)Google Scholar; King, William Davies, Collections of Nothing (Chicago, 2008)Google Scholar; Ekerdt, David J. and Sergeant, Julie F., “Family Things: Attending the Household Disbandment of Older Adults,” Journal of Aging Studies 20, no. 3 (September 2006): 193205Google Scholar.

60 Schatzki, Theodore R., Knorr-Cetina, Karin, and von Savigny, Eike, eds., The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory (London, 2001)Google Scholar; Alan Warde, “Consumption and Theories of Practice,” Journal of Consumer Culture 5, no. 2 (July 2005): 131–53; Jukka Gronow and Alan Warde, eds., Ordinary Consumption (London, 2001); Elizabeth Shove and Mika Pantzar, “Consumers, Producers and Practices: Understanding the Invention and Reinvention of Nordic Walking,” Journal of Consumer Culture 5, no. 1 (January 2005): 43–64.

61 E. P. Thompson, “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present, no. 50 (February 1971): 76–136. For critiques, see Frank Trentmann, “Before ‘Fair Trade’: Empire, Free Trade, and the Moral Economies of Food in the Modern World,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 25, no. 6 (2007): 1079–1102.

62 See Brown, Sense of Things, chap. 2; Elizabeth Shove, Frank Trentmann, and Richard Wilk, eds., Time, Consumption, and Everyday Life (Oxford, 2009), forthcoming.

63 Lefebvre, Henri, Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life (London, 2004), 4041Google Scholar. See also Fernand Braudel: “I think mankind is more than waist-deep in daily routine. Countless inherited acts, accumulated pell-mell and repeated time after time to this very day, become habits that help us live, imprison us, and make decisions for us throughout our lives” (Afterthoughts on Material Civilization and Capitalism [Baltimore, 1977], 7).

64 Elizabeth Shove, Matthew Watson, Martin Hand, and Ingram, Jack, The Design of Everyday Life (Oxford, 2007)Google Scholar.

65 Molotch, Harvey, Where Stuff Comes From: How Toasters, Toilets, Cars, Computers, and Many Other Things Come to Be as They Are (New York, 2005)Google Scholar.

66 Shove, Elizabeth, Comfort, Cleanliness and Convenience: The Social Organisation of Normality (Oxford, 2003)Google Scholar.

67 Shove et al., Design of Everyday Life; Martin Hand and Elizabeth Shove, “Orchestrating Concepts: Kitchen Dynamics and Regime Change in Good Housekeeping and Ideal Home, 1922–2002,” Home Cultures 1, no. 3 (November 2004): 235–57.

68 Molotch, Stuff, 2.

69 Douglas, Mary, “Why Do People Want Goods?” in Understanding the Enterprise Culture: Themes in the Work of Mary Douglas, ed. Shaun Hargreaves Heap and Angus Ross (Edinburgh, 1992), 19–31Google Scholar.

70 Dewey, John, Human Nature and Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology (New York, 1922), 25, 67, 193, 196, 279Google Scholar. It is problematic to view choice and the consumer as recent products of “advanced liberal” governmentality. See esp. Rose, Nikolas, Powers of Freedom: Reframing Political Thought (Cambridge, 1999)Google Scholar. Also see Bevir, Mark and Trentmann, Frank, “Civic Choices: Retrieving Perspectives on Rationality, Consumption, and Citizenship,” in Citizenship and Consumption, ed. Kate Soper and Frank Trentmann (Basingstoke, 2007), 1933Google Scholar; Clarke, John, Newman, Janet E., Smith, Nick, Vidler, Elizabeth, and Westmarland, Louise, Creating Citizen-Consumers: Changing Publics and Changing Public Services (London, 2007)Google Scholar.

71 Rappaport, Erika D., Shopping for Pleasure: Women and the Making of London's West End (Princeton, NJ, 2000)Google Scholar; Cohen, Household Gods; Judith R. Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London (Chicago, 1992); Peter J. Gurney, “The Sublime of the Bazaar: A Moment in the Making of a Consumer Culture in Mid-Nineteenth Century England,” Journal of Social History 40, no. 2 (Winter 2006): 385–405. For comparisons, see Geoffrey Crossick and Serge Jaumain, eds., Cathedrals of Consumption: The European Department Store, 1850–1939 (Aldershot, 1999).

72 Trentmann, Frank, Free Trade Nation: Commerce, Consumption, and Civil Society in Modern Britain (Oxford, 2008)Google Scholar.

73 Epstein, James, Radical Expression: Political Language, Ritual, and Symbol in England, 1790–1850 (Oxford, 1994)Google Scholar; Boorstin, Daniel, The Americans: The Democratic Experience (New York, 1973)Google Scholar; Breen, T. H.,The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence (New York, 2004)Google Scholar; Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1962; repr., Cambridge, 1989). See also Cowan, Brian, The Social Life of Coffee (New Haven, CT, 2005)Google Scholar; Lisa Tickner, The Spectacle of Women (London, 1987), chaps. 2–3; Trentmann, Free Trade Nation, chap. 2.; James Thompson, “Pictorial Lies? Posters and Politics in Britain, 1880–1914,” Past and Present, no. 197 (November 2007): 177–210.

74 Bruno Latour, “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam: From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern,” in Things, ed. Bill Brown (Chicago, 2004), 151–73, quote at 161.

75 Heidegger, Martin, Discourse on Thinking (New York, 1966), 54Google Scholar.

76 Latour, “Dingpolitik.”

77 Joyce, Patrick, Visions of the People: Industrial England and the Question of Class, 1848–1914 (Cambridge, 1991)Google Scholar, and Democratic Subjects: The Self and the Social in Nineteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 1994); Vernon, James, Politics and the People: A Study in English Political Culture, c. 1815–1867 (Cambridge, 1993)Google Scholar; Vernon, James, ed., Re-reading the Constitution: New Narratives in the Political History of England's Long Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1996)Google Scholar.

78 Joyce, Patrick, The Rule of Freedom: Liberalism and the Modern City (London, 2003)Google Scholar; Chris Otter, “Making Liberalism Durable: Vision and Civility in the Late Victorian City,” Social History 27, no. 1 (January 2002): 1–15; Tom Crook, “Power, Privacy and Pleasure: Liberalism and the Modern Cubicle,” Cultural Studies 21, no. 4/5 (July 2007): 549–69; Thomas Osborne, “Security and Vitality: Drains, Liberalism and Power in the Nineteenth Century,” in Foucault and Political Reason, ed. Andrew Barry, Thomas Osborne, and Nikolas Rose (Chicago, 1996), 99–121; James Vernon, “The Ethics of Hunger and the Assembly of Society: The Techno-Politics of the School Meal in Modern Britain,” American Historical Review 110, no. 3 (June 2005): 693–725. See also Mitchell, Timothy, Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity (Berkeley, CA, 2002)Google Scholar.

79 Joyce, Rule of Freedom, 7.

80 Rose, Nikolas, Powers of Freedom: Reframing Political Thought (Cambridge, 1999)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

81 David Edgerton, “Creole Technologies and Global Histories: Rethinking How Things Travel in Space and Time,” Journal of History of Science and Technology, no. 1 (Summer 2007),; Daniel Miller, “Turning Callon the Right Way Up,” Economy and Society 31, no. 2 (May 2002): 218–33.

82 Well put, e.g., by Joyce, Rule of Freedom, 72.

83 ibid., 67.

84 ibid., 66.

85 Crook, “Power, Privacy and Pleasure,” 549–69.

86 Joyce, Rule of Freedom, 70.

87 ibid., 71.

88 See Broich, John, “Engineering the Empire: British Water Supply Systems and Colonial Societies, 1850–1900,” Journal of British Studies 46, no. 2 (April 2007): 346–65Google Scholar; Arnold, David, Science, Technology, and Medicine in Colonial India, 1760–1947 (Cambridge, 2000)Google Scholar.

89 Hamlin, Christopher, “Muddling in Bumbledom: On the Enormity of Large Sanitary Improvements in Four British Towns, 1855–1885,” Victorian Studies 32, no. 1 (Autumn 1988): 5583Google Scholar, and “Public Sphere to Public Health: The Transformation of ‘Nuisance,’” in Medicine, Health and the Public Sphere in Britain, 1600–2000, ed. Steve Sturdy (London, 2002), 189–204.

90 See Trentmann, Frank and Taylor, Vanessa, “From Users to Consumers: Water Politics in Nineteenth-Century London,” in The Making of the Consumer, ed. Frank Trentmann (Oxford, 2006), 53–79Google Scholar.

91 Problems with interconnectivity continued in the twentieth century; see Vanessa Taylor, Heather Chappells, Will Medd, and Frank Trentmann, “Drought Is Normal: The Socio-Technical Evolution of Drought and Water Demand in England and Wales, 1893–2006,” Journal of Historical Geography (forthcoming).

92 Interview nos. 28, 33, and 386, “Family Life and Work Experience before 1918,” UK Data Archive, University of Essex. Crook's own work on the cubicles shows that, in practice, such privatized spaces often existed next to circular, shared pissoirs and were vulnerable to breakdown or transgressive behavior (Crook, “Power, Privacy and Pleasure”).

93 See Taylor and Trentmann, “Liquid Politics.”

94 Lara Kriegel, “Culture and the Copy: Calico, Capitalism, and Design Copyright in Early Victorian Britain,” Journal of British Studies 43, no. 2 (April 2004): 233–65.

95 de Certeau, Michel, The Practice of Everyday Life (1974; repr., Berkeley, CA, 1984), xiv-xvGoogle Scholar; Henri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life: Foundations for a Sociology of the Everyday, Volume II (1961; repr., London, 2002), and Critique of Everyday Life: From Modernity to Modernism, Volume III (1981; repr., London, 2005).

96 Bas van Vliet, Heather Chappells, and Shove, Elizabeth, Infrastructures of Consumption: Environmental Innovation in the Utility Industries (London, 2005)Google Scholar.

97 Latour, Reassembling the Social; Perrow, Charles, Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies (Princeton, NJ, 1999)Google Scholar.

98 Frank Trentmann, “Disruption Is Normal: Blackouts, Breakdowns and the Elasticity of Everyday Life,” in Shove, Trentmann, and Wilk, Time, Consumption, and Everyday Life.

99 Brown, Sense of Things, 74–80.

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