chapter  10
The materiality of cultural construction: David Morgan
Pages 2

WHAT DO I MEAN BY MATERIAL CULTURE? If culture is the full range of thoughts, feelings, objects, words, and practices that human beings use to construct and maintain the life-worlds in which they exist, material culture is any aspect of that world-making activity that happens in material form. That means things, but it also includes the feelings, values, fears, and obsessions that inform one’s understanding and use of things. But that’s not all. As I understand it, the study of material culture gives special attention to the scrutiny of practices, that is, what people do with things. As a fi eld of inquiry, material culture assumes that meaning does not inhere in things, but is activated by them. Meaning is a complex process of interaction in which people, objects, environments, histories, words, and ideas take part. To be sure, some objects seem to function only as denotations of codes. Like traffi c signs: once you know the code, the signifi er is devoid of interest. The sign tells you to stop or go, nothing more. But most things aren’t so ancillary to meaningmaking. They enter into it much more integrally, messily. Most objects acquire their signifi cance through engagement with people and an object user’s interaction with other people and objects.