Using Material Culture to Unlock the Hidden Language of ‘Stuff’


Written By: Jim Mott

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‘The Mind is a Metaphor for the world of objects’  – Pierre Bourdieu


Material Culture is the recognition that not everything is expressed or accessible through language and words. Some things are difficult or even impossible to articulate, other things are just unpleasant to talk about. By taking a closer look at the ‘stuff’ we have in our lives we can compliment or even bypass language altogether to uncover meaning in fresh and interesting ways.

Material Culture is the recognition that a blackberry phone can be a rebellion against the mainstream, a jar of lemon curd can be a memory of the seaside and the stitching on a jacket can be an articulation of exclusivity and success.

Material Culture reveals the hidden relationships between objects, environments and individuals that drive behaviour and which are often missed by more conventional research techniques.

In particular Material Culture offers a window to:

– Explore how products exist in the wilds of the global market place. Where does the category ‘live’ and how is it articulated on the streets and in the shops where everyday people go about their business?

– Map the role individual products play within the worlds of stuff that fill our homes and places of work. What are the stories we tell ourselves through our stuff?  What are the things we hide and what are the things we display?

– Understand the emotional connections and functional purposes that the ‘stuff’ in our lives provides. What are the things that are vital to our sense of identity and wellbeing?

For an example of how we’ve applied Material Culture to help our clients click here.

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