You are here

Understanding Material Culture

Understanding Material Culture

  • Ian Woodward - Syddansk Universitet, Denmark, Institute of Marketing and Management, University of Southern Denmark

May 2007 | 200 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd
"In his interdisciplinary review of material culture, Ian Woodward goes beyond synthesis to offer a theoretically innovative reconstruction of the field. It is filled with gems of conceptual insight and empirical discovery. A wonderful book."
- Jeffrey C. Alexander, Yale University

"A well-grounded and accessible survey of the burgeoning field of material culture studies for students in sociology and consumption studies. While situating the field within the history of intellectual thought in the broader social sciences, it offers detailed and accessible case studies. These are supplemented by very useful directions for further in-depth reading, making it an excellent undergraduate course companion."
- Victor Buchli, University College London

Why are i-pods and mobile phones fashion accessories? Why do people spend thousands remodelling their perfectly functional kitchen? Why do people crave shoes or handbags? Is our desire for objects unhealthy, or irrational?

Objects have an inescapable hold over us, not just in consumer culture but increasingly in the disciplines that study social relations too. This book offers a systematic overview of the diverse ways of studying the material as culture. Surveying the field of material culture studies through an examination and synthesis of classical and contemporary scholarship on objects, commodities, consumption, and symbolization, this book:

  • introduces the key concepts and approaches in the study of objects and their meanings
  • presents the full sweep of core theory - from Marxist and critical approaches to structuralism and semiotics
  • shows how and why people use objects to perform identity, achieve social status, and narrativize life experiences
  • analyzes everyday domains in which objects are important
  • shows why studying material culture is necessary for understanding the social.

This book will be essential reading for students and researchers in sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, consumer behaviour studies, design and fashion studies.

The Material as Culture. Definitions, Perspectives, Approaches
Studying Material Culture. Origins and Premises
The Deceptive, Suspicious Object. Marxist and Critical Approaches
The Object as Symbolic Code. Structural and Semiotic Approaches
The Material Representing the Cultural Universe. Objects, Symbols and Cultural Categories
Objects and Distinction. The Aesthetic Field and Expressive Materiality
Material Culture and Identity. Objects and the Self
Material Culture, Narratives, and Social Performance. Objects in Contexts
Objects and Meaning in Consumer Culture


This book deserves its niche, both as a textbook covering long standing debates and discussions, but also as an entry point to a particular perspective. It comes about as close as anything I have seen to a genuine standard textbook that tries to transcend particular disciplines.

Material World

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter One PDF

Chapter Two PDF

For instructors

Please contact your Academic Consultant to check inspection copy availability for your course.

Select a Purchasing Option

ISBN: 9780761942269
ISBN: 9780761942252

SAGE Knowledge is the premier social sciences platform for SAGE and CQ Press book, reference and video content.

The platform allows researchers to cross-search and seamlessly access a wide breadth of must-have SAGE book and reference content from one source.