Stuff and Materiality in Society 3,4,5

In week 3 we discussed Consumerism, Consuming and Production – moving from Mass to Local. We looked into the different categories of value that objects carry.

Week 4 was about Taste and Cool – two relative terms that have no universal or true/false meaning when it comes to objects.

Week 5  was about whether or not Things Make us – as opposed to us making them.

We took a look at the 20th century shift from Mass Production to Mass Consumption, and therefore, the birth of Advertising. When I think about it, I sometimes kind of hate what I do because I am not a huge fan of the consumer culture. People buy things they don’t need tempted by the fascinating packaging and ads (created by us, graphic designers, with an aim)  barely ever understanding why they connect with them in such a magical way. It is an illusion aiming to boost sales, but it’s such an amazing illusion. I love it and hate it at the same time. However, being a part of our modern society requires interaction with consumer goods in order for the individual to connect to other people with similar likes, or to emphasize the distinction with them.

Objects have Use Value, Exchange Value and Sign Value. Use Value refers to the quality and functionality, Exchange Value refers more to the labour gone into the production of the object (effort, time and work put in). Sign Value have those objects, which give prestige and social status to the owner rather than use value.

As an exercise we were asked to think of an object from our subject are and apply Use Value, Exchange Value, and Sign Value. What I chose is a handmade artist book that has a story in it (i just imagined this book actually) SO it is a beautifully crafted book, one of its kind because it was hand drawn, and has a meaningful story. It was created for a friend.

Use Value: Its use value is the story in it because it has a moral and would be beneficial to the reader.

Exchange Value: High, because it is also a transitional object, specifically designed, required much effort, time, planning and is filled with desire to make the other person happy.

Sign Value: None because nobody would know about that so it would not serve the purpose of boosting social status.


Week 4 was about Taste and Cool. What does that mean?

Who decides what’s Cool?! The person defines this for himself, according to his own beliefs and experiences. “developed as a sense of emotional detachment –a ‘behavioural attitude’ identified in African men in the USduring the time of slavery (18thC), as a defense mechanism when under stress  (Botz-Bornstein, 2011: 1)” Cool changes constantly!

As opposed, taste is learned through the shard cultural values of a community – social class, education, cultural background play a huge role here.


We were asked if “Taste” was an outdated concept. I was surprised by this question, because I strongly prefer “Taste” to “Cool”. Cool is so transient, impulsive and pretentious, it just tries to fit in and it is not a conscious decision – as opposed to taste, which is full of confidence and it is somehow eternal, it is acceptance. Probably I am the one who is old-fashioned.

In week 5 we asked the question : “What if actually things make us?”. This question I found really challenging and kept my interest alive for a long time after the session had finished. In the deep discussion that we had, most of us had different views on this topic – this made it evident that each person has a different definition of self, and a different relationship to objects as well – some using them as tools to express themselves, others to hide things about themselves,  other people see objects just as their functionality and so on.

We reviewed work by Miller (2010) who looks at examples of clothing and analysing the idea that material objects (clothes) help construct people’s identities. He investigates how belittling clothing and considering it as shallow and empty could mean not seeing the richness of people who use the objects to build their identities. Furthermore, Miller examines the idea that the “self” is always visible on the surface rather than hidden within the body, as opposed to other cultures that believe the “real self” lies inside of them.

“He argues against the idea of things “representing” us, instead questioning who the “us” is that is being represented.”

I find all this really interesting and it makes me ask myself so many questions, yet unanswered. Personally I know that objects can have an influence upon us, for instance wearing clothes that you like and feel good in can boost your confidence, make you feel better about yourself. But isn’t all of this too external, too shallow, I believe that confidence is self-acceptance so no matter what clothes you wear or what objects you possess, you should feel confident because this is not what makes you you. It is your experiences, your interests, your passions, you are what you repeatedly DO. “Ontology” is the psychology of being. Depth ontology is the belief that what we truly are is located deep inside ourselves.  It is so easy to lose these material things, to damage them, does that mean that you lose your personality as well? If a person has the same clothes and objects as me, does that mean that we are similar people? I don’t think so. If I decide to wear clothes that I usually would’t wear until the end of my days, would that make people see somebody else in me? Or would it slowly change me? On the one hand, this would give off a false impression about me, but on the other it would be the main expression of the fact I do not want to give signals about my personality and true likes. So it would still represent me in a way.

The Sari reading that we also took a look at, examined the traditional Indian clothing for women called Sari. It is a single piece of cloth that wraps the whole body in a specific way and has a long piece hanging in front of the woman, which has an extreme functionality in her everyday life. So the Sari has many features, some of which are the following:

  • Expressing femininity – Only women wear this, and this is what the majority of women wear. So it is a distinctive sign of being a woman.
  • Showing social status – Given that everyone wears almost the same thing, it would be easy for people to recognise what is more expensive and of a more high quality. Thus Sari exhibits wealth.
  • Extension of the wearer – 3rd hand – The piece hanging in front of the woman is widely used in her everyday activities, she is so accustomed to its presence that she uses it without being constantly aware of it. For example it could be used in the kitchen when something hot needs to be touched, to absorb liquids, to carry a baby, and so on.
  • It could be dangerous! In some cases its design could menace the wearer’s health. It is really hard to undress and it wraps the whole body tightly in a single piece, so if set on fire it could play the role of an accessory to murder. It is interesting how something that serves you the whole time could be also a tool to harm you.
  • Constricts movement – Its tightness does not allow freedom of movement, so it controls the woman in her actions.

It is so amazing how a single piece of clothing could have such a massive impact on your existence, having so many positive sides, but also the power to kill you.



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