Recent years have seen an increasing interest in materiality in social research. Some might say that materiality is now back on the agenda of social research. The challenges of bringing materiality back have spurred lively debates about material agency, most of which, however, are leveled at the largely dematerialized theories of the social in the social sciences, for example, in material culture studies (Appadurai 1986; Miller 1998) as well as science and technology studies (Latour 1988; Law/Mol 1995). Since the turn of the century, a marked shift towards the material has emerged (cf. Hicks 2010), ranging from questions concerning nature (Grundmann/Stehr 2000) and everyday objects (Molotch 2003; Costall/Dreier 2006; Miller 2010) to issues of cultural theory (Reckwitz 2002), post-phenomenology (Verbeek 2005), ethnography (Henare et al. 2007), distributed cognition (Hutchins 1995), and materiality in general (Dant 2005; Miller 2005; Knappett/Malafouris 2008). A perspective on materiality is now being developed in diverse fields such as archaeology (Meskell 2005), economic sociology (Pinch/Swedberg 2008), political science (Bennett 2010; Coole/Frost 2010), and organization studies (Carlile et al. 2013). Yet the status of the material remains debated in the evolving fields of various “new” materialisms (cf. Lemke 2015).
Stefan Böschen, Jochen Gläser, Martin Meister and Cornelius Schubert
Spatialities and Materialities of ‘Gypsiness’
Andreea Racleș and Ana Ivasiuc
As one of the most stereotyped minorities, the Roma are particularly ‘good to think’ in relation to constructions of Europeanness. In the production of ‘Gypsiness’, the body, the space, and the materiality of the dwelling are linked through smell as signifiers of a racial and cultural inferiority that does not ‘belong’ in and to Europe. Drawing on research projects carried out in the outskirts of Rome and in a small Romanian town, our contribution relies on a juxtaposed ethnography of constructions of ‘Gypsiness’ in relation to the spatial, sensorial and material inscriptions of the body. The article will examine the relationship between space and the social production of smell, discussing how spaces inhabited by Roma play a role in ‘doing’ Europeanness in a contrastive mode.
Ehren Helmut Pflugfelder
Several recent surveys report a gap between how men and women feel about autonomous vehicles. While such binaries may have limited usefulness, female respondents rank autonomous technology as less trustworthy and are less likely than men to report feeling safe in an autonomous car. This comment frames such results within the articles for this special section on autonomous vehicles, showing how reported gender divisions are resultant from discursive formations that frame user experience and individual performed experiences. These discursive-material dynamics generate persuasive configurations of power that thoughtful research and action in autonomous vehicle development could help mitigate. After summarizing survey diff erences, this comment off ers a brief commentary on how they might be addressed, focusing on material rhetoric and vehicle design.
A. Lorraine Kaljund
Ethnographic studies of legal materiality and the bureaucratic mundanities of law often juxtapose their richly empirical approach to the material assemblages of law with the ‘grand talk’ and conceptual abstractions of law. This article considers the intersection of formal legal discourse and the mundanity of bureaucratic practice through an examination of two judicial opinions concerning the legal significance of the Bates number, a sequential digit inscribed onto documents produced in US pretrial discovery. Through this analysis, the article both illustrates the Bates stamp’s role in the material constitution of law, and offers a reminder that the stories law tells about its own materiality can offer insights into, and enact and extend, the sociolegal agency of bureaucratic tools.
Collective responses to shrinking water access among farmers in Arequipa, Peru
Astrid Oberborbeck Andersen
This article examines what economic growth and state versions of progress have done to small and medium-scale farmers in an urban setting, in Arequipa in southern Peru. The general reorganization of production, resources, and labor in the Peruvian economy has generated a discursive move to reposition small and medium-scale farmers as backward. This article analyzes how farmers struggle to find their place within a neoliberal urban ecology where different conceptions of what constitutes progress in contemporary Peru influence the landscape. Using an analytical lens that takes material and organizational infrastructures and practices into account, and situates these in specific historical processes, the article argues that farmers within the urban landscape of Arequipa struggle to reclaim land and water, and reassert a status that they experience to be losing. Such a historical focus on material and organizational infrastructural arrangements, it is argued, can open up for understanding how local and beyond-local processes tangle in complex ways and are productive of new subjectivities; how relations are reconfigured in neoliberal landscapes of progress and dispossession. Such an approach makes evident how state and nonstate actors invest affects, interests, and desires differently within a given landscape.
An Argument from the Aesthetic Philosophy of Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten
Within museum studies, there has been a recent interest in engaging with objects and their material effects as something other than vehicles for human cultural meaning. This article contributes to this interest by offering a philosophical argument for the value of close sensory engagement with physical things, an argument found in the works of the eighteenth-century German philosopher Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten (1714–1762), who is famous for fathering the modern philosophical discourse on aesthetics. Baumgarten outlines what he terms sensate thinking, defined as an analogue to rational thinking, and insists that this form of thinking can be analyzed and sharpened according to its own rules. I discuss how Baumgarten’s aesthetics might be useful for how the curator approaches objects in exhibitions and for understanding how visitors’ sensory engagement with the objects can be important beyond the deciphering of historical narratives and conceptual meanings.
Overcoming the Quantity-Quality Divide in Economic Anthropology
Sandy Ross, Mario Schmidt and Ville Koskinen
In anthropology, sociology, and the humanities, money’s quantity is usually conceptualized as objectifying, creating abstract indexes of value, and as representing and enforcing abstraction, economic or otherwise. It is this link between quantity and abstraction that is partly responsible for questionable dichotomies opposing money’s numerical quantities and its qualities. Contributors to this special issue interrogate these dichotomies by exploring material and qualitative aspects of quantities in the history of economic thought, through British jewelers, blood money payments in Germanic law codes, and the everyday use of money in Russia, Kenya, and Cuba and among Brazilian Gypsies. Our introduction frames these engagements by presenting phenomena that blur differences between quality and quantity: part-whole relations, recursivity, set partitioning and infinities, and hysteresis and elastic thresholds.
A Definition Beyond Materiality and Quantity
This article seeks a definition of money by bringing the approaches of Spengler, Plato, Aristotle, and Keynes into dialogue. All four promote alternative views of the ontology of money as anchored either in supra-individual thought or in actual behavior, scrutinizing its relationship with mathematics. This discussion leads to an understanding of money as originating in human action and as a numerical tool that can only be understood from its ends in use. The essence of money is therefore ethical. The article concludes with a novel combination of Aristotle’s and Keynes’s ideas: the crucial element of money is learning good money practices in order to form society. This can be achieved by harmonizing money’s material part as mere actuality with money’s mathematical part as potentiality.
Sue Frohlick, Kristin Lozanski, Amy Speier and Mimi Sheller
What mobilizes people to take up reproductive options, directions, and trajectories in ways that generate the possibilities and practices of mobilities? People’s desires for procreation or to resolve fertility challenges or partake in sperm donation, egg freezing, or surrogacy; the need for abortion services; and forced evacuation for childbirth care all involve movement. Reproductive aspirations, norms, and regulations move people’s bodies, as well as related technologies and bioproducts. At the same time, these corporeal, material, in/tangible mobilities of bodies, things, and ideas are also generative of reproductive imaginaries and practices. Reproduction is mobile and movement affects reproduction. Building from an interdisciplinary workshop on reproductive mobilities in Kelowna, Canada, this article aims to push the mobilities framework toward the edges of feminist, affect, queer, decolonizing, materialist, and nonrepresentational theories in thinking through both reproduction and movement.
Natália da Silva Perez
Derek Ryan’s Virginia Woolf and the Materiality of Theory is an exploration of “Woolf’s writing alongside Deleuze’s philosophy and new materialist theories of ‘sex’, ‘animal’ and ‘life’.” What might at first glance sound like yet another exegetical effort to elucidate new meanings in Woolf’s writing—this time using new materialist approaches—is in fact a claim towards an understanding of Woolf’s literary practice as itself a form of theorizing. In Ryan’s intriguing study, Woolf emerges as a precursor of, and inspiration for, contemporary philosophical and critical approaches that privilege matter and material relations as productive venues for “nonanthropocentric conceptualizations” of the world (9).