This article considers a curiosity-driven approach to curating focused on material culture that visitors encounter in physical spaces. Drawing on research into historical curiosity cabinets, it explores how a contemporary notion of curiosity has been put into practice in the new breed of culturally enlightened museums exploring interdisciplinary approaches to medicine, health, life, and art. Based on an inaugural professorial address at Copenhagen University, it reflects on exhibition projects there and at the Wellcome Collection in London. Museums are institutional machines that generate social understanding from material things. Their physical spaces influence how we learn, think, and feel in public; their material collections feed our comprehension, imagination, and emotions; and induce attentive behavior in curators and visitors.
Curating between Medicine, Life and Art
Adam Drazin and Simon Roberts
Ethnographic work conducted by the Digital Health Group, Intel Ireland, explores the questions of how concepts of health and independence relate to peoples' lives in later life. This paper serves to present artistic approaches to the design of the material culture in elderly homes in Ireland, and aims to highlight and discuss the merits and problems of such approaches. Through writing 'in miniature' about specific experiences and homes, we propose that it is possible to develop explorations of material objects in the home which, rather than presenting material contexts as terminal 'conclusions' to the research process, use them as provoking and questioning resources for engaged dialogical encounters with informants.
Material Culture of the Middle East, Its Intangible Dimensions and New Museums
Janet Blake and Danila Mayer
In this issue of Anthropology of the Middle East, we present contributions that deal with museums, museology and their approaches to the new social situations through which they must navigate. Cutting a swathe very generously around the Mediterranean and the Middle East – from Tunis to Qatar, Turkey and, as an extension, to Austria – we bring together articles that look closely into some acute issues of today: the transformation from colonial to post-colonial and its reverberant impacts, from national to post-national and transnational societies both in Europe and the Middle East, and to the stringencies of material culture, cultural heritage and ‘meaningful objects’, and how to preserve, to analyse and to exhibit them. All contributors dedicate their works published here to the social, cultural and economic changes affecting societies and communities, and to the demands that increasing diversity presents as challenges to cultural institutions and their personnel.
Materiality and the Morality of Atheist Materialism
Jacob Copeman and Johannes Quack
Atheists are not the only people who donate their bodies, yet the practice is strikingly prevalent in a variety of atheist circles. We concentrate here on the Indian case, exploring body donation as a key instance of the material culture of atheism. Recent efforts to reinvigorate study of the material culture of religion are to be welcomed, but they should be extended to non-religion in order to address the irony that sees scholars representing materialism as an abstract doctrine and, hence, as immaterial. Body donation holds value for Indian atheists as a bridge between 'positive' and 'negative' modes of atheist thought and action. It also provides a ready-made solution for atheist activists keen to circumvent the cadaver-centered death rituals they find so redundant.
Performance Characteristics among the Balengou
Ngambouk V. Pemunta
This article examines the 'gendered field' of kaolinite clay production and its integration into the local socio-cultural universe of the Balengou of the Western region of Cameroon. Kaolinite clay is produced and ingested mainly by women, especially during pregnancy so as to ensure that their children are born 'clean'. Used as a herbal additive, the clay is also believed to be imbued with sacred qualities and has a symbolic role in various communal rituals. Although geophagy—the practice of eating earth—is associated with harmful health effects, the various affordances offered by kaolinite clay as a valuable object of material culture constitute a specific entanglement of nature and culture. This study makes a modest contribution to the literature on the 'politics of value' and on the relationality of human/non-human interactions.
Today, the insight that material objects are an important part of social life is widely recognized in the social and cultural sciences. But how exactly do things affect the microlevel of social interaction? And by which methodological means can their significance for it be explored? Based on a study of Catholic liturgy, an ethnographic approach is developed that allows for systematic investigations into the role material objects play in social situations. Using Erving Goffman's frame analysis as a theoretical tool, it assumes that things are constitutive of social situations while in turn helping participants make sense of these situations. Conversely, the impact of things is considered closely tied to their particular situational involvement. In order to explore the connections between materiality, meaning, and use, I suggest investigating a number of closely related aspects: the contribution of things to the specifics of the situation in question; the bodily practices in which they are involved; the physical environment in which they are embedded; the physical qualities they possess; and the social definitions tied to them.
Developing a Museum-based Anthropology Education Resource forPre-university Students
Paul Basu and Simon Coleman
In its 2002-3 Strategic Review, the Royal Anthropological Institute reasserted the importance of the public communication of anthropology for the future of the discipline. Two significant venues for public engagement activity were identified: museums and pre-university education contexts. We present an account of the development and piloting of an anthropology teaching and learning resource that bridges these two arenas. Complementing efforts to introduce an anthropology A-Level, the Culture, Identity, Difference resource uses museum collections as a way of introducing anthropological perspectives on topics such as belief, ethnicity, gender and power to enhance students' studies across a range of different A-Level subjects. We reflect on some of the lessons learnt during the process, including the value of developing resources that can be used flexibly and creatively by teachers and students, and the need to approach the museum as a space of encounter, exploration and experimentation rather than as a didactic educational venue.
Material things and phenomena have come to vie with belief and thought as worthy subjects of inquiry in the interdisciplinary study of religion. Yet, to the extent that we are justified in speaking of a “material turn”, no consensus has arisen about what materiality is or does. This article offers a preliminary sketch of the diverse terrain of material religion studies, delineating three dominant approaches to religious materiality as well as an emerging alternative. It argues that the dominant approaches—respectively characterized by an emphasis on symbolism, material disciplines, and phenomenological experience—continue to privilege the human subject while material things themselves struggle to come into sharp focus. That is, they remain anthropocentric and beholden to the biases against materiality deeply entrenched in the study of religion. Such biases may be negotiated more successfully via the emerging alternative “new materialism”.
A Review of Manawatū Journeys
Te Manawa: Museum of Art, Science and History Palmerston North, New Zealand http://www.temanawa.co.nz/ 10am–5pm daily including weekends Free general admission
Encounters with Money and Memory in Post-communist, Accession-era Romania
This article approaches money as the object of a particular type of remembrance work occurring in present-day, post-communist Bucharest. Since the 1989 revolution, the Romanian leu has changed numerous times in appearance and value. Piecing together observations from over a decade of fieldwork in Bucharest, I evaluate everyday behaviours and conversations surrounding these changes, and examine how the leu has been implicated in subjective, highly charged encounters closely bound to the workings of memory. The leu's fluctuating terminology, along with its material and imagerial variations over time have triggered poignant associations and recollections that often remain unspoken, embedded in unseen realms of the mind. By emphasising the leu's role as an everyday artefact and its connections to processes of 'communicative' memory, I point to the present-day climate in Bucharest as one where perceptions of the leu's multiple forms and manifestations reveal strong ambivalences towards current accession-era values, as well as deep uncertainties about Romania's 'European' future.