Material culture  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

In the social sciences, material culture is a term that refers to the relationship between artifacts and social relations. Studying a culture's relationship to materiality is a lens through which social and cultural attitudes can be discussed. It is also a term used by historians, sometimes described under the variant term material history, where it means the study of ancient objects in order to understand how a particular culture was organised and functioned over time.

People's relationship to and perception of objects are socially and culturally dependent. The perceived importance of our material heritage was expressed in 1976 by a UNESCO panel that claimed "cultural property is a basic element of people’s identity and ‘being depends on having’ (Rowlands, 2002: 127)" Although protecting cultural heritage can help to empower minorities, preoccupations with official monuments can also silence diverse histories.

This discourse has its roots in museums, but there has been "a shift from such favored objects of theory as Stonehenge and Kula valuables to consumables like tomato soup" This shift is also made visible by the number of books that explore our engagement with the physical world through specific objects; Pencils, zippers, toilets, tulips, etc.

Critical discourse surrounding contemporary material culture has become an important aspect of design education because it offers designers new perspectives on how their practice affects society and the environment. Discussions about material culture have offered critiques of consumerism and throw-away culture. New approaches to materiality can be seen through ideas such as Cradle to Cradle Design and Appropriate technology.

Archaeologists study the material culture of past societies, and study past societies through their material culture remains.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Material culture" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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