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Abstract and Figures

In Central Slovakia, homes "grow" and get cluttered with age. Cabinets and closets are used to house this profusion of possessions. However, their very role as containers for precious and meaningful objects—such as expensive cut glass or family heirlooms—gives them a poetic and symbolic weight that belies their modest appearance. Based on anthropological fieldwork, this article investigates how practices of collection, storage, and display of particular genres of domestic objects create spaces of intimacy in the home that work to perpetuate a sense of family history amongst middle-aged Slovaks in and around the provincial town of Banská Bystrica. Inspired by the historiography of Walter Benjamin, as well as his biographical writings, the focus of the study lies on the relation between memory and material culture in the home. Rather than relying on narratives of consumption and aesthetic choice recently popular amongst anthropologists studying domestic decor, it forms an attempt to reengage with literature that looks to the home as a site for the poetic imagination in order to grasp sentiments that are rarely verbalized.
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HOME CULTURES DOI 10.2752/174063107X247332287
© BERG 2007
PP 287–310
ABSTRACT In Central Slovakia,
homes “grow” and get cluttered with
age. Cabinets and closets are used to
house this profusion of possessions.
However, their very role as containers
for precious and meaningful objects—
such as expensive cut glass or family
heirlooms—gives them a poetic and
symbolic weight that belies their modest
appearance. Based on anthropological
fieldwork, this article investigates how
practices of collection, storage, and
display of particular genres of domestic
objects create spaces of intimacy in the
home that work to perpetuate a sense
of family history amongst middle-aged
Slovaks in and around the provincial
town of Banská Bystrica. Inspired by the
historiography of Walter Benjamin, as well
as his biographical writings, the focus
of the study lies on the relation between
memory and material culture in the home.
Rather than relying on narratives of consumption
and aesthetic choice recently popular amongst
anthropologists studying domestic decor, it forms
an attempt to reengage with literature that looks
to the home as a site for the poetic imagination
in order to grasp sentiments that are rarely
KEYWORDS: Decor, Kinship, Cosmology, Walter Benjamin
Janet Carsten (2004) has remarked that “kinship is made
in houses” (Carsten 35: 2004). In this article, however, I
argue that in Central Slovakia it is collections of fine china
and glassware displayed in living-room cabinets, and household
linens kept in linen closets and wardrobes that not only “make the
home,” but even “make kinship.” In other words, I aim to show how
these collections encapsulate culturally specific notions of person-
hood and family. The household, then, is seen as the “objectification
of a relationship” (Lévi-Strauss in Bloch 1995: 71) in so far as it
contains these collections. In shor t, as they are inherited or gifted
as part of a marriage trousseau, these movables embody lineage
for their owners by materially and visually binding them to previous
generations. Just as Daniel Miller posits the work of collective,
domestic consumption as akin to ritual sacrifice (Miller 1998), I
adopt the notion that intergenerational transmission generates the
awareness of kinship as “cosmological;” that is, as transcending
the time and space of the everyday and yet providing a certain form
of order and meaning to the life of the individual.
This study is based on a year-long period of fieldwork in Banská
Bystrica, Central Slovakia, between July 2003 and September
2004. The majority of the material was collected through informal
conversations held during repeated visits to the homes of forty
respondents. These conversations centered on various pieces of
furniture and decorative objects in the home, as well as recent
refurbishments undertaken in the home. Twenty recorded in-depth,
semi-structured interviews were conducted with homemakers,
supplemented by photographs taken with their permission. The
respondents were primarily female, had vocational training or a
higher degree, and the majority were between the ages of 45 and
The study of the contemporary domestic interior has recently
enjoyed increasing popularity amongst anthropologists and
sociologists, evident in a rising number of publications exploring
the subject (e.g. Chapman and Hockey 1999; Cieraad 1999;
Jackson and Moores 1995; Miller 1988, 2001). The discovery
of the interior as ethnographic object is partly a consequence
of the gradual acceptance of the study of material culture, and
consumption in particular, into the anthropological mainstream.
Pioneering work by sociologists and psychologists on domestic
decor and personal objects (e.g. Bourdieu 1984; Csikszentmihalyi
and Rochberg-Halton 1981), has now been supplemented by large
number of detailed ethnographically based studies of how social,
moral, and aesthetic identities are created and maintained through
the acquisition, arrangement, maintenance, and divestment of
domestic furnishings and personal objects (e.g. Cieraad 1999;
Clarke 2001; Drazin 2001; Marcoux 2001a, b; Veenis 1999). As
the site of consumption practices, such research has revealed the
contemporary home to be a space of contention, where practices of
consumption, decoration, and DIY are implicated in the negotiation
of gendered identity, as well as kin and social relations (Cieraad
2002; Miller 1998; Pink 2004). This has brought nuance to the
conventional view of the domestic interior as the result of class-
based tastes or the personal expression of the lady of the house.
Indeed, recent work on those who occupy a marginal role within the
family home or are forced to live within an institutional framework
show how crucial personal objects are to the maintenance of
personal identity in surroundings that represent the agency of
others (Búriková 2006; Parrot 2005).
This research can be seen as drawing partially on this tradition,
in that it takes respondent’s narratives about their domestic
interiors and the objects they value as intrinsic to their construc-
tion and maintenance of self-identity. In these narratives, display
cabinets and old-fashioned linen closets or wardrobes act as
“epiphany-objects” (Woodward 2001), in that they serve as props
for speaking about significant life-changing events. It has been
argued that furniture, above all other domestic objects, creates
a sense of “home” (Seeley et al. 1956). Indeed, for the women
and couples I interviewed, the furniture had been the first major
investment that had gone into their homes. Now in their middle
age, most of my respondents had been married and set up their
households in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Their choice of
furnishings was severely restricted by the uncertainties of the
socialist shortage economy. Previous anthropological studies have
stressed the manner in which furniture embodies the negotiated
nature of collective domestic consumption (Miller 1998; Reimer
and Leslie 2004). My Slovak respondents, however, told me of the
lack of choice, long waiting lists, and struggle to obtain appropriate
furnishings they experienced when setting up their home, rather
than the need to reconcile differing tastes.2
This difference illustrates some of the theoretical and method-
ological problems of working primarily with narrative material. As
Rachel Hurdley (2006) points out, the preference of in-depth inter-
views with a heavy emphasis on narrative content amongst social
scientists studying the home contains a hidden presupposition
about the nature of subjectivity and identity writ large. Identity
formation in late modern society is taken to be an ongoing, reflexive
project in which actions, events, and choices are ordered into a
coherent, socially acceptable narrative of individuality (e.g. Giddens
1991; Slater 1997; Rose 1990, 1996a, b). Implicitly, consumer
choice becomes understood as a vital ingredient in identity forma-
tion, thus providing the connection between home decoration and
the self found in studies of domestic consumption. However, when
choice does not figure prominently in narratives—such as those
presented in this article—can one still read the interior as a mode
of self-expression? Secondly, it must be acknowledged that people
are not generally compelled by others to supply detailed narratives
about their choice of furnishings, decorative objects, and family
heirlooms. Such narratives arise within the specific context of the
interview and must be seen as an interactive performance between
the researcher and the interviewee (Hurdley 2006). While interviews
remain the principle tool open to ethnographers researching the
domestic interior, the narratives that emerge should be used to
understand what stories respondents are telling themselves
about themselves and the information they are transmitting to
others through non-verbalized techniques, such as the creation of
elaborate displays.
According to Walter Benjamin such techniques became par ticu-
larly important with increasing separation of home and work the
nineteenth century (Benjamin 1999a). The bourgeois interior be-
came the etui” of the private individual (Benjamin 1999a: 20), a
private universe composed of an assemblage of domestic objects
and private accessories carefully collected, stored and displayed.
Not only was Benjamin’s bourgeois homemaker an incarnate col-
lector (Steinberg 1996), he lived in an environment where every
move left impressions on covers, plush furnishings, and velour. To
live in such a home was to leave traces “moulded into the interior”
(Benjamin 1999a: 20) and the life and doings of an individual could
be unraveled through the apprehension of these impressions akin
to the investigations of a detective. In this article, I take on the role
of the detective in the households of my respondents, by investigat-
ing how practices of storage and display, the hiding and making
visible together create spaces of intimacy and the imagination.
Although Benjamin’s writings about the nineteenth-century bour-
geois home have made popular reading for scholars of the domestic
interior (e.g. Bresnahan 2003; Rice 2004, 2005), the appropriation
of Benjamin’s writings on dwelling and the material culture of the
home has often been piecemeal. Rather than placing these texts
within the wider context of Benjamin’s theories of memory, history,
and material culture, anthropologists, design historians, and others
have tended to deal with them in a manner that isolates them from
the larger body of Benjamin’s works. However, as seen in works
such as the “Berlin Chronicle” (1978), Berlin Childhood (2006),
and the unfinished The Arcades Project (1999a), Benjamin regarded
not only memory, but also history, as materialized in objects
and spatialized in the topography of the urban environment. For
Benjamin, the bourgeois collector and the historical materialist
shared the same practical methodology in their pursuits (Steinberg
1996). Just as the life of the individual was evident in its material
remains, Benjamin’s attempts to construct a novel historical
materialism were based on the premise that the historian adopts
an archaeological method, piecing together an understanding of
the past through studying the historical object-world in conjunction
with a Marxist understanding of the historical process. Indeed, the
notion of involuntary memory as a momentary “awakening” formed
the basis for Benjamin’s model of historiographic insight—the
“dialectical image” (Pensky 1996).
In short, I wish here to investigate what a wider appreciation
of Benjamin’s writings can bring to the anthropological study of
the home. Making use of the poetic strength in a wide range of
Benjamin’s writings in order to analyze the material, this article
seeks to set up a creative dialogue between the ethnographic
material and Benjamin’s ideas, in particular with regards to issues
remembrance, memory, and material culture. The transmission or
gifting of collections of linens and fine china from one generation
to the next contains an undeniable element of commemoration
of family heritage and memorization of individual family members
alike. While there has been no lack of ethnographic studies show-
ing how people attach memories to personal possessions that are
used, kept, and displayed in the home (e.g. Csikszentmihalyi and
Rochberg-Halton 1981; Hurdley 2006; Marcoux 2001a, b), this
article goes beyond merely asserting the fact that domestic objects
are mementoes. While relying partly on the individual testimony
of my Slovak respondents to elicit this connection, my theoretical
interest lies in how this individual testimony comes to be possible
at all: of interest is not only what they remember, but how they
remember and the relation between the two. The attempt to grant
visual and topographical analysis an equal part in this study of the
home using Benjamin’s work, can thus be seen as following the
trend of recent writings by historians and anthropologists shedding
light on non-discursive practices of memorization (e.g. Comaroff
and Comaroff 1992; Connerton 1989; Shaw 2002).
It [the flat] is sor t of messed up and combined, but . . . you
know everyone builds, from their youth they build up, well you
know from your parents [case], it is your nest, everyone sticks
this and that on it, it grows . . .
Hana Majerová, Banská Bystrica
Before I asked her to describe her home to me, I had visited Hana
Majerová’s neat one-bedroomed apartment on the outskirts of
Banská Bystrica, Slovakia, on several occasions. Color coordinated
in beige and green, it was clear that Hana had put a lot of thought
into the decorating of her living room, yet, upon entering the room I
was always struck by its period feel—neither the wallpaper nor the
furnishings had been changed since the early 1970s when she had
moved in. Hana’s apartment was not unique in this respect: the
majority of the homes I frequented during my year-long fieldwork in
Banská Bystrica were furnished in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s,
and even retained wallpapering that appeared to be several decades
old. Redecoration, it seemed, was not a matter of priority amongst
the homemakers I spoke to in Central Slovakia. While many had
modernized their homes by installing new kitchen units, bathrooms,
and thermal windows, it was less common to find homes in which
had been redecorated through the purchase of new furnishings,
wallpaper of a contemporary design or the repainting of a room
into a new color.3 Yet, women like Hana Majerová quite evidently
put effort into the decor of their homes, expressed interest in
maintaining an aesthetically pleasing interior, and clearly felt there
was a deep-seated connection between the home, the self, and the
What struck me about Hana’s description of her home was her
use of the verb pribúdat’, which means to expand or grow through
the accumulation of material. According to her, the interior of
the home was supposed to evoke feelings of sentimentality and
intimacy, emotions that had little to do with practicality or a con-
certed effort to create stylistic unity. Like Hana, the majority of the
women I interviewed about their homes presented their home as
“quite ordinary,” saying that things had simply “grown” (pribúdli) in
a haphazard fashion over the years. Yet, all also protested at my
request for an interview explaining that their home did not repres-
ent an “average Slovak household” for precisely the same reason.
Commonly, women pointed out that most of the pictures, textiles,
and decorative items displayed in the home were gifts from friends
and family. The decor of their homes was thus the outcome of the
unique constellation of social relations within which they and their
family were situated.4
“Homeyness” (McCracken 1989), then, was intimately connected
to a particular aesthetics of accumulation. A cozy, cluttered appear-
ance dominated the homes I visited in Banská Bystrica. It was
created not only by the jumble of plants, plastic flowers, decorative
objects, and mementoes that were displayed in living rooms and
kitchens, but also the tendency to cover all wooden surfaces in the
house with decorative textiles made by the female members of the
family. Tablecloths were regarded as obligatory in many households
and cloths colorfully embroidered with folk motifs or edged with
lace were draped across the coffee tables. Smaller furniture covers
were placed on television sets and under potted plants, as well as
porcelain figurines, vases, and other decorative items displayed in
the living room: textiles added “warmth” to the home, I was told.
Indeed, if a home lacked this layer cake approach in its decor, it
was said to have an “empty” aesthetic.
With their notions that homes “grew” over time and their pur-
suit of “warmth” through the accumulation of decorative objects
and textiles, my respondents and their homes seem to fit the
Benjaminian model of nineteenth-century domesticity. Indeed, for
Walter Benjamin the stuff of dwelling lay not simply in the collection
of and care for a profusion of objects, but in the divestment of their
commodity status and use-value in favor of a “connoisseur’s value”
(Benjamin 1999a: 19). This “connoisseur’s value” was not unlike
that bestowed upon a coveted object by a collector for whom each
object appeared to be an “encyclopaedia of knowledge of the epoch,
the landscape, the industry and the owner from which it comes”
(1999a: 205). Indeed, by freeing objects from the “drudgery of being
useful,” the bourgeois individual evoked “a world that is . . . distant
and long gone” (1999a: 19); a fragmentary collection of archaic
matter that not only recorded the private life of the individual, but
also formed a natural history of dwelling.4 Yet, objects only attained
this fossilized state cour tesy of their arrangement within the home:
just as the bourgeois home enveloped the individual, Benjamin
described the tendency to “devise” boxes, coverlets, and cases
for the storage of every item. At the apex of this mania stood the
imposing figure of the household cabinet, from which emanated a
“divine order . . . as if from the holy tabernacle” (Benjamin 2006:
In Central Slovakia, too, the cabinet reigned supreme: it was
here that the apparent contingency of a “growing” decor was
made an expression of “homeyness” by being framed as a loosely
connected whole. Mario Praz traces the origins of the buffet and
display cabinet to the early eighteenth century in the “confluence
of bourgeois and patrician tastes,” lending rooms a “more intimate
character” (Praz 1981: 56). Indeed, cabinets and buffets for the
display of china and other valuables were common in eighteenth
century homes of the Austro-Hungarian bourgeoisie. Through the
course of the nineteenth century, their use was taken up in rural
homes as well. In peasant homes, however, they were used to house
and display religious paraphernalia, linking the domestic with the
divine (Mitterauer 2000). Perhaps it was this very connection, as
well as its patrician air, that led socialist aesthetic reformers to
advocate the replacement of the old-fashioned, heavy, freestanding
display cabinet with more modernist designs of furniture (Makovicky
2007). However, even these designs left space for the obligator y
display of the family’s fine glass and porcelain. In the homes I
visited, the space behind these glass doors was governed by a
strict order; fine porcelain plates and cut-glass (‘crystal’) platters
were displayed on stands in an upright position, and coffee cups
sat neatly in rows on their saucers, ready to be taken out and
used (Figure 1). In some homes, these display cases had a mirror
backing that reflected vases and wine glasses, creating a dazzling
array of shining surfaces that seemed to fill an infinite space. In
many households “crystal” bowls, platters and decanters appeared
to serve a purely decorative and representational role, rarely being
removed from their places.6
Rather than simply being representative, however, I found that
these displays were constitutive of home. In the case of Jana
Horváthová, a retired nurse who had divorced her husband shortly
before I met her, the purchase of a display cabinet became key to
constructing a new life for herself. Forced out of the home she had
shared with her former husband, Jana bought and redecorated a
modest one-bedroomed flat. She recounted how she had searched
long for living-room furniture that suited her taste and budget. Her
son urged her to purchase a simple set of bookshelves, instead
of investing in the more traditional living-room furniture known as
a stena (literally—“wall”), complete with glass- and wood-fronted
cabinets. Jana was horrified by the suggestion, as she said,
“Should I wake up every morning thinking I live in an office?” She
purchased a stena, a portion of which is glass fronted, which she
filled with gifts of glasses for wine and spirits from her friends and
her sons (Figure 2). The cabinet held only a few objects from what
Jana spiritedly calls her “former life.” Rather, it was in this space,
that Jana could not only reinvent herself, but also display the social
and kin relations she reaffirmed and built after severing her ties
with her husband.
Svetlana Boym describes the elaborate and eclectic displays
found in the buffets and cabinets of Soviet era communal apart-
ments, as “still lives” expressing the interior life of the individual. In
the cramped quar ters and the enforced sociality of the communal
apartment, the shelves behind the glass cabinet doors afforded the
residents a space for the material expression of self-identity. As
such, Boym writes, the eclectic mix of decorative objects, books, and
photos were not a biography in the sense of providing a narrative,
Figure 1
A cabinet in the living room of a
Banská Bystrica home.
Figure 2
Jana’s glass-fronted cabinet
exhibiting the gifts she had
received from family and
but rather reflected “a conception of time as habit, repetition, and
long-duration” (Boym 1994: 154). Jana’s new display cabinet, then,
can be seen as an attempt to re-create a sense of continuity in a
situation of domestic and emotional rupture. The display cabinet,
however, was not simply a display of her personal and social life;
it was the mode of its reconstitution. By providing the contents of
the cabinet her family and friends contributed not only to her new
home, they reconfirmed their ties as never having been severed in
the first place.
The ordered display of Jana’s cabinet, however, betrayed very
little about her personality or the people from whom she received
these objects. The wine glasses, vases, and the porcelain coffee
set may have been valuable, yet they did not hold clues to Jana’s
hobbies, her taste in literature or even her status as newly single.
In constructing the display, it seemed to have been more important
to Jana that it conformed to a generic type. Indeed, whether the
result of the mass production of standard models under the
socialist planned economy, or the enduring popularity of certain
designs, the displays I found in the majority of the homes that I
visited were characterized by a certain degree of conformity. Many
women recounted that these collections were the result of stag-
gered purchases that lasted several years: expensive items such
as cut-glass champagne glasses and expensive coffee sets were
purchased item by item. A full display cabinet required thought,
effort and patience, as well as a regular income. Thus, while the
items on display reflected the social connections of a family, their
nature and set-up were clearly modeled according to unarticulated
social conventions of domesticity. As such, their display formed an
acceptable facade of propriety in the family home.7
However, even as such a demonstration of domestic propriety,
the display cabinet and its contents appeared to own considerable
symbolic powers. This was clearly illustrated by a tale of displace-
ment and reconstruction told to me one winter afternoon, when I
was sitting in the kitchen of retired accountant Klára Pivovarová.
Klára had been born to parents actively engaged in the Banská
Bystrica religious community. As a consequence, the family was
expelled from the city to a remote village in Eastern Slovakia.8
They were allowed to take only few possessions; yet, her parents
chose to transport the family display cabinet and the fine glass
it contained and to forego more practical items. They thus began
their new life in the village by building it around the display cabinet.
Indeed, the cabinet occupied a prominent position in Klára’s own
living room.
As in Jana’s case, the story of Klára’s display cabinet and its
collections revolved around an effort to create a sense of continuity.
Her story shows how the collections of cut glass and fine china are
meant to outlast the duration of one home as lived-in space and go
on to create and inhabit another: the effort to procure, preserve,
and pass on these objects serves to reproduce the household over
time symbolically, as well as materially. The cabinet and its displayed
collection of china and cut glass not only created a sense of home;
they created this sense through their association with family and
family genealogy. The slightly outdated and rarely (or never) used
items of the display cabinet were the moveable property that had
survived not only changing fashions, but also generational change
and family crises. Despite their ostentatious appearance, then, the
display cabinets and their sparkling collections were less aimed at
impressing guests and more a space for the commemoration of
family ties and social relations—past, present, and future.
While Klára’s cabinet was full of the archaeological remains
of family life, Jana appropriated a “new” past for herself by
using the illusion of fossilization or, as Boym would have it, of
“repetition and long duration,” that ordering and display afforded
her. Collecting has been portrayed as intimately connected to
the imagined—that which lies outside of time and space as we
encounter it in the everyday. Here, however, the shift in temporal
experience was as much an effect of the creation of a particular
topography. The dazzling reflection of crystal and china against a
mirror backing that gave the impression of great depth and the
deliberate grouping of similar objects behind glass doors obscured
the singular object in favor of an overall impression of unending,
repetitious abundance. Perhaps Walter Benjamin was not far off the
mark when he poetically described the buffet of his parents’ early-
twentieth-century home as bearing “a well-deserved resemblance
to a sacred mountain sheltering a temple” and its contents a
“show of treasures such as might surround an idol” (Benjamin
2006: 157). In contemporary Slovakia, there was something—if
not quiet religious—then transcendental about the displays,
their preservation, transmission, and genealogical significance.9
Daniel Miller (1998) has written on the “cosmological” aspect
of the household: as the metaphor for the kindred or even the
embodiment of lineage, the house “helps constitute something
which cannot be easily objectified, in this case a sense of
transcendent identity to which individuals belong and devote their
lives” (Miller 1998: 133). For my respondents, however, it seemed
to be the display cabinet and its contents, and not necessarily the
house per se, which took on the role as metaphor: the relation
between the individual and lineage as “transcendent identity”
was made through the collection, storage, and display of artifacts
in the space behind the glass doors.10 Indeed, in some homes
this connection was made more explicit by the habit of propping
pictures of deceased family members, wedding pictures, and other
family photos against the glasses and china so that they were
visible through the glass doors.
The display cabinet, then, holds more than the personal mem-
ories of a housewife connected to her collection of china. While
some items may indeed hold specific memories for the receiver,
the display cabinet does not get its prominent position by housing
a collection of memories, but by mediating a generalized sense
of past to the individual. Furthermore, the relation between the
past and the present is topographical, rather than simply temporal:
while the displays may at times be used as props for the verbal
narration of family history, in everyday life they bring the past into
the present through the permanent presence of their displays—in
the living rooms of my respondents the past and present come
to occupy the same dimension. The display cabinet is “past be-
come space,” a phrase Walter Benjamin used to describe the Paris
arcades (Benjamin in Pensky 1996). Indeed, the tightly packed
ornamental displays of dated cut glass and china reflected mani-
fold in the mirror backing share a striking resemblance to the
elaborate displays of discarded and forgotten commodities in the
dark and enigmatic space of the arcades. According to Benjamin,
the arcades could be seen as the interieur of the bourgeois home
turned inside out, ‘a space where the exterior and the interior meet,
where the public and private literally found their common ground”
(Teyssot 2005: 92). The cabinet too, can be seen as being both a
facade and interior in one: not only does it combine a display of
propriety in a representative space in the home with an intimate
show of family history, but it is a threshold space between the
mundane goings on of everyday domestic life and a dimension of
kinship which lies somewhere beyond it.
If the display cabinet represents the family in a generic, public
manner, the linen closet or wardrobe is a repository of the most
intimate objects of family history. Behind the solid doors textiles
old and new, wedding gifts, heirlooms, handicrafts and mementoes
such as outgrown baby-sized bedding, share the same dark space,
neatly folded into uniform piles (Figure 3). In his poetics of dwelling,
Gaston Bachelard describes wardrobes as “models of intimacy”
(Bachelard 1964: 78), where “the past, the present and the future
are condensed” (Bachelard 1964: 84). In the closet disparate
elements and textiles from various sources come together in one
collection; the past doings, present concerns, and future aspira-
tions of the family are quite literally neatly stacked on shelves edged
with lace. Bachelard, however, accords the wardrobe further poetic
strength by arguing that the order within “is not merely geometrical;
it can also remember family history” (Bachelard 1964: 79).
Conducting interviews with women I found that the ordered piles
in their wardrobes “remember family history” was true in the most
literal of senses. One of the women who kindly let me study her
Figure 3
An old-fashioned linen closet in
the bedroom of a rural home,
Central Slovakia.
home and her collection of textiles was a teacher in her mid-forties,
Milena Kovácˇová. She lived in a ground-floor flat in a prefabricated
socialist block with her husband and a teenage daughter. In many
ways, Milena’s home was characteristic of most others I saw in
Banská Bystrica: the furnishings were overwhelmingly from the
time she and her husband were married, functionalist socialist
designs in white and a light wood, tastefully laid out. The floors
were laminate parquet and covered in rugs in abstract designs.
Their daughter’s room was also furnished in the early 1980s. The
only exception was the master bedroom, which was the smallest
and messiest room: it was dominated not by the double bed, but a
huge antique wardrobe and linen closet.
It was from this closet that Milena’s family history emerged.
It was immediately clear that Milena was not from a rural back-
ground: instead of hand-woven linen cloth, colorfully embroidered
and items of folk dress, Milena brought out the fine linens of a
bourgeois lady. The massive wardrobe, beautifully carved, held
finely embroidered linens, monogrammed sheets, fine, almost
transparent, handkerchiefs edged with handmade lace. Though
some of these items were par t of Milena’s trousseau, the finest
were textiles from those of her mother and grandmother. As the
textiles were taken off the shelves of the closet, Milena told me
the story of her family—a great grandfather who had arrived from
France in the late nineteenth centur y and consequently settled in
southern Slovakia marrying an ethnic Hungarian. The family ran
a prosperous business for several generations. However, at the
advent of socialism, it was confiscated by the state and her family
found themselves not only impoverished, but labeled potentially
troublesome by the new regime. Curiously, Milena’s father chose
to become a French teacher and translator (and thus seemed to
celebrate, rather than reject, his troubling bourgeois past). Laugh-
ing, Milena said that her father must have inherited some of the
“French” in him, as he had always put great weight on dress.
Bringing the collection of lace and fine textiles out of the ward-
robe and into the light, Milena made otherwise invisible aspects
of her self and her family visible. Simultaneously, the collection
represented a form of stasis that had sur vived the turbulence
of socialist and post-socialist changes in the family fortune.
Yet, even as regime change provided the frame for a narrative
about Milena’s family, in the story itself historical time seemed
to collapse in favor of an idea of an enduring family spirit, such
as when Milena spoke of her father as retaining something essen-
tially “French” in his personality. The textiles that emerged from
Milena’s wardrobe can thus be seen as an embodiment of her
genealogy, providing her with a sense of “transcendent identity”
(Miller 1998). In this way they were more than simply a material
“family tree,” they allowed Milena to make sense of her own
choices and the characteristics of her kin in terms of the family’s
The manner in which the items in Milena’s linen closet elicited a
narration of family history raises some interesting questions about
the relationship between collecting and remembering. Returning
to Walter Benjamin, we see that he made an implicit connection
between the two activities: “Collecting is a form of practical memor y”
(Benjamin 1999a: 205). A great influence on Benjamin’s approach
to remembrance was Marcel Proust’s notion of memoire involontaire,
a sudden flash of recognition or correspondence between present
and past experiences produced through a sensuous impulse. While
voluntary memory formed “a registry providing the object with a
classificatory number behind which it disappears,” a “productive
disorder” characterizes the work of involuntary memory and the
practice of the collector (Benjamin 1999a: 211). Indeed, as “a
being with tactile instincts” (1999a: 206), the collector approaches
objects by extracting them from their original context and integrating
them into a system of constructed likenesses and associations.
The collection, in fact, is an “expressly devised historical system”
striving towards completeness (Benjamin 1999a: 205). Benjamin,
in other words, saw no contradiction between deliberate collection
and evocative experience as long as the approach to the objects
remains immediate, tactile, and—to use his own word—“innocent.
Unlike in Proust’s exposition of memoire involontaire, then, there
is no assumption that the sudden “awakening” of the individual
through spontaneous recollection is a singular event.
The manner in which Milena’s collections of linens and other
household textiles elicited a narration of family history is testimony
to the their evocative power. Yet, as in the case of the display
cabinet, the contents of the closet are more than a collection of
personal mementoes, but a set of objects—heirlooms, gifts, and
purchased items—in which practical, representational, and senti-
mental values are inextricably intertwined. As a collection, the
contents of the linen closet contains a certain type of knowledge
about Milena’s family which is not only documented by the nature
of the material, but is also literally felt to be true as each piece is
taken out, handled, and used. Indeed, I found that an awareness of
the eventual commemorative function of a textile was an inbuilt in
the collecting process in order to make sure that the knowledge of
family history and of the genealogical past persists with every new
generation. This was particularly clear when women spoke about
the collection of trousseaux—their own and those they collected
for their children.
While Milena found a sense of rootedness in the heritage of
family heirlooms, many of the elderly women I interviewed were
oriented towards the future, rather than the past. In particular,
the contributions of grandparents to the trousseaux of their
grandchildren appeared to be an effort on the part of the elderly to
“ancestralize” (Marcoux 2001a, b) themselves. Paulína Oravská, a
retired factor manager, collected three impressive trousseaux for
her children. The most important component of the trousseaux,
namely the duvets and pillows, however, were a contribution by her
mother-in-law, who had become seriously ill more than a decade
ago and feared she would live to see the day her grandchildren
were married. Paulína’s mother-in-law was not simply attempting
to ensure that her grandsons would remember her, but doing this
through a medium that would (hopefully) ensure the continuation of
the family line into the future. Clearly, not only was the tendency to
make sense of one’s life in terms of genealogy particularly strong
amongst the elderly, but the choice of commemorative object was
far from random. By choosing to donate the duvets and pillows
to her grandchildren’s trousseaux, Paulína’s mother-in-law did not
seem concerned with choosing a unique object that would serve
to commemorate her life or her achievements. Rather, she chose
objects from within a cultural tradition already pregnant with
The story of Paulína’s own trousseau sheds further light on this
cultural tradition. Taking long afternoon coffees in her kitchen, I
would always encourage Paulína to tell me about her childhood and
youth, which was spent in a village some 70 kilometers east of
the city. The tales she told me of rural life during her childhood in
the 1950s and early 1960s often seemed to me to come straight
from an ethnological monograph. One afternoon, she described
how the family had grown and processed their own linen, spinning
and weaving the fibers at home. She told me that her mother had
been weaving cloth for her trousseau—and those of her three other
siblings—from the time of their infancy. Once she started working
as a manager at a large textile mill, Paulína herself had supplied
her mother with cotton yarn for the loom. It was while working that
Paulína met a young engineer and was married in Banská Bystrica,
moving in with her parents-in-law with a large trousseau of bed
linen, duvets, pillows, towels, and dishcloths. After the wedding
feast, Paulína arranged the duvets and pillows on the top of her
wardrobes and they were visible to passers by through the windows
of the bedroom she shared with her husband.
In traditional peasant society, the trousseau was representative
of the economic and social standing of the bride’s family.11 Indeed,
although women legally stood to inherit family land on equal foot-
ing with their male kin, in practice kin disinherited them after mar-
riage, their trousseau being regarded as sufficient compensation.
A custom introduced in order to avoid the continuous division of
family land over generations, this meant that the trousseau came
to represent a woman’s genealogical connection to the property
and land of her family (Botíková et al. 1997).12 Although this gap
between legal practice and customary law had been closed by the
time Paulína was married, her parents still insisted on keeping
the custom of driving to her new home in a horse-drawn cart with
the trousseau piled up in full view of all the curious guests and
neighbors. Paulína, however, had an additional reason to exhibit her
trousseau at the time of her marriage. It was one of the very few
items that had been saved from her family home when it was lost
in a large fire that engulfed the village in 1961:
They led the livestock from the stable and then they went on
to carry things from the house . . . Well, we had the duvets in
the attic, under the roof. At that time we had a tar roof, so
the feathers all burned up. They couldn’t save that. But, what
was prepared, what was in the wardrobe, they brought that
out and my mother’s chest, they brought that out. And where
the trousseau was—that was also a large chest with some
drawers—where all the woven things were . . . [was saved]
(Paulína Oravská, Banská Bystrica).
The case of Paulína’s trousseau and its chest carried out of the
burning house mirrors that of Klára Pivovarová’s story of her parents’
display cabinet in that the textiles provided material and symbolic
continuity between the old, wooden house and the new bricks and
mortar of the home Paulína’s parents built after the fire. In the light
of the fact that these textiles were spun and woven domestically,
and then carefully collected and stored for decades, they were
an accumulation of many years of labor on the part of Paulína’s
mother and other female members of her family. Yet, their value
transcended their status as an objectification of labor; these linens
were seen as essential for the reproduction of the family. As the
marital bed was meant, quite literally, to facilitate the conception
of the next generation, Paulína and her siblings would have been at
a material and social disadvantage had the trousseaux been lost
to the fire. Thus, the trousseau can be seen as creating a sense
of temporal continuity that mirrors the continuous reproduction of
the descent line by being at the center of the creation of the next
generation of kin and the next generation of homes.
In the case of the linen closet, then, collecting a remembering
are intimately related not so much because each item is witness
to an event or a person, but because the collection itself blurs
the boundaries between the past, present, and future. Indeed,
collecting itself has been described as an activity which “displaces
real time” (Baudrillard 1994: 16) and mediates between the
visible and the invisible, which is understood as both spatially and
temporally distant: “in a time of its own, or outside the passing of
time” (Pomian 1990: 24). As with the apparently transcendental
qualities of the display cabinet, it is genealogy that is imagined
as “in a time of its own. Genealogy becomes cosmological, an
aspect of life which transcends the time and space of the everyday,
yet which is an ongoing part of it through the cumulative produc-
tion, collection, and use of these textiles in intimate, as well as
social, domestic situations. The contents of the closet are not so
much a documentation of family history as an ongoing project of
accumulation which is rooted in and carrying with it an accrued
genealogical past, but directed at a future born by kin. Removing
items from the dark recesses of the closet causes an occasional
“awakening” to the reality of past happenings and future hopes
and their mutual entanglement through genealogical ties. In this
case—as in Benjamin’s writings—remembrance happens not
simply through the conscious creation of an association between
an object and an event (or a person), but as the past breaks through
the surface of the present to reveal meaningful continuities.
Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s
passion borders on the chaos of memories. [. . .] For what
else is the collection but a disorder to which habit has
accommodated itself to such an extent that it can appear
as order?
Benjamin 1999b: 61–2
Following Walter Benjamin, I have in this article approached the
homes of my informants as a detective of the interior, giving just as
much credit to the visual, spatial, and material components of their
home as to the narratives they supplied about their belongings.
While they appear somewhat cluttered and fussy in comparison
to the sleek interiors in IKEA catalogs and interior decorating mag-
azines, these homes illustrate the intimacy of “ordered disorder”
that Benjamin attributes to any collection. My respondents did
indeed see their interiors as personal collections of objects and
of memories, a space that was created by the members of the
family sticking “this and that on,” as Hana Majerová described it.
Yet, describing their homes as simultaneously “quite ordinary” and
but not “typical,” it seemed that they themselves were aware of the
fact that their homes were not simply an idiosyncratic expression
of their identity, but were constructed through habits and with mat-
erials over which they had little control. It is the exposition of these
habits—collection, ordering, display, and storage—that appears to
be central to understanding how clutter becomes cosmology in the
homes of middle-aged men and women in Central Slovakia.
Such habits create material traces, and it is these traces in
the form of collections of fine china, cut glass, textiles, and the
furniture that housed them, which have been the focus of this
article. In the first section, I showed how the glass-fronted cabinet
not only contains the contingency of a “growing” home, but has
retained some of the ritual and symbolic impor tance it once held in
urban and peasant homes. Using the stories of my informants and
visual analogy, I showed how the display cabinet and its contents
are the locus of multiple layers of meaning for their owners. The
display speaks both of family propriety and domesticity, as well as
the commemoration of past generations by mediating a general-
ized sense of past through the topological ordering of objects. This
multiplicity of meaning is what gives the cabinet its quality of being
“façade and interior” at once: what appears to be an innocuous
act of domestic decoration with expensive but mass-produced com-
modities, turns out to be an attempt to preserve or even manipulate
the genealogical past in an effor t to create a sense of continuity
across geographical, temporal, and social divides. In contrast, the
linen closet and wardrobe operate less as a “façade” turned to-
wards the world outside the parameters of kin. Indeed, in many
cases, the contents of the linen closets and the items composing
a trousseau were domestically produced themselves. If a home can
be said to “grow,” it is the trousseau that provides the seed. Thus,
every new generation and every new home can be seen as built
not only upon the actions and material foundations of the previous
generations, but to some extent built with them as well.
Despite these differences, what unites the closet and the cabinet
are the manner in which their interiors (whether visible or invisible
from the outside) are “past become space” (Benjamin in Pensky
1996) and convey a sense of time as “habit, repetition, and long-
duration” (Boym 1994) reinforcing the sense of continuity already
attached to the objects housed within by virtue of their association
with genealogy. Using the writings of Benjamin, I have aimed to
show the effect of transcendence is the result of the simultaneous
practices of long-term collection and ordering of these objects: the
manipulation of space through storing, stacking, ordering objects
and putting them on visual display (in the cabinet, or in the case of
the trousseau, after the wedding), is also a manipulation of time.
This was equally true for Paulína and her mother-in-law’s efforts
to equip the youngest generation of the family with trousseaux for
their future homes, and the divorcée Jana’s creation of a “new” past
for herself using brand-new china and wine glasses given to her by
friends and relatives. Thus, these practices of interior decor can be
seen to express a particular form of temporal consciousness that
stresses the need to create a sense of continuity that transcends
the insecurities and changes marking an individual life.
In my analysis, I followed Benjamin’s suggestion that collecting
and remembering were intimately connected; the need to accumulate
and store objects not grounded in a compulsion to systematize,
but in a certain intimacy between the collector and their artifacts.
Listening to my respondents speak about their homes, and espec-
ially about their cabinets, closets, and their contents, it became clear
that they acted quite literally as curators of the collections that held
their own memories and family histories. While the cut glass and
fine linens stored in the closets and cabinets of homes in Central
Slovakia could act as “biographical objects” (Hoskins 1998) or
“stand in” for persons deceased or absent (Marcoux 2001b), their
evocative power did not seem to stem primarily from the subjective
meanings or associations that women had assigned them and which
they narrated when pointing them out. Rather, meaning was created
through practices of collection, storage, and display of objects new
and old: the strict symmetry of the display cabinet or the starching,
folding, and stacking of linens in the closets were mechanisms for
creating relationships between objects that made them meaningful
to the individual. Additionally, before they attained the status of
commemorative object or personal memento, objects already
embody associations with a local cultural tradition of domestic
life and kinship relations. Too narrow a focus on singular objects
as narrative props obscures the fact that commemoration often
happens through the use of socially acceptable genres of objects,
such as in the case of the duvets bought by Paulína’s mother-in-law
for her grandchildren’s trousseaux. In short, in the homes I studied
in Central Slovakia memorization was practical and non-discursive;
it lay in the doing, rather than the saying.
I would like to thank Gen Fujii and Kristin Veel for their comments
on earlier versions of this article, as well as the two referees from
the journal.
1. The youngest respondent was twenty-six, the oldest eighty-five
years of age. In three cases, husbands and wives were interviewed
as a couple. Throughout these interviews it was emphasized
that husbands took care of refurbishments and DIY projects,
and their wives were responsible for the decoration of the home.
Husbands said they deferred to their wives choices when it
came to questions of aesthetics, however, this did not preclude
them from contributing to the interior of the home through for
example the construction of furnishings or paintwork. Out of
twenty interviews, four respondents were single women (two
widows, a divorcée, and a single mother).
2. Fieldwork showed that the matter of coherence in taste and
style was more important for younger respondents (those in
their early thirties or younger), than for older respondents. The
relative lack of emphasis on matters of style or choice in my
material reflects the fact that the majority of my respondents did
not enjoy the same consumer choice when they were establishing
their homes.
3. I found no evidence that post-socialist economic hardship alone
could account for the reluctance to redecorate. Both Fehérváry
(2002) and Veenis (1999) report heavy investment into new
furnishing and interiors, as well as kitchen units and bathrooms,
in Hungary and former East Germany. Müller (2006) also writes
of the eagerness of East Germans to invest in new consumer
goods and interiors after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
4. Interestingly, women rarely presented their homes as their
personal aesthetic project. Much scholarship has been devoted
to tracing the influence of nineteenth-century bourgeois concepts
of domesticity and femininity that cast the role of women as the
creators of domestic comfort through the tasteful arrangement
of furnishings, textiles, and decorative objects (e.g. Forty 1986;
Robinson 1996; Sparke 1985; Thiersten 1996). In this case,
however, while women saw themselves as responsible for
maintaining the household in practical and aesthetic terms, the
decor appeared to be an object of the agency of others beyond
its walls.
5. Benjamin is not alone in regarding the cabinet as the epitome of
the bourgeois psyche (see, for example, Apter 1989; Bachelard
6. These objects to some extent represent a form of “piggy bank,
in that they can be liquidized through sale or pawning when the
family runs into economic crises. Pawnshops, of which there are
an increasing number in Banská Bystrica, are replete not only
with electronic equipment, but also with “crystal” objects.
7. Displays of fine china and cut glass are easy prey for a Veblen-
esque interpretation that holds them to be the aesthetic result
of social aspiration (e.g. Veblen 1924; Bourdieu 1984; Sparke
1995). In Slovakia, however, those with the most impressive
collections were often teachers who traditionally received cut-
glass platters and vases from their graduating classes. Thus,
while some women aspired to owning large collections and
all maintained that a certain amount of quality crockery was
necessary for the entertaining guests, their purpose seemed to
be a demonstration of propriety, rather than wealth.
8. The forced evacuation of families from the entrepreneurial bour-
geoisie, those with church associations, or ties to the former
political elite was par t of the widespread purges of the 1950s.
Forced evacuation, however, was relatively rare. More commonly,
families suffered because of demotions and the confiscation of
their properties.
9. The religious metaphor, however, may not lie far below the
surface. A few of my older informants used the old-fashioned
term kredenz when talking about their buffets or the display
cabinets where they housed their china. The word, now
obsolete in English, is used to denote a particular Renaissance
form side table or sideboard. However, it remains in use in the
Anglican and Roman Catholic Church, referring to a small table
where bread and wine are placed before consecration.
10. I am not tr ying to argue that there is no connection between
genealogy and the house, but simply that in the material I
collected this connection seemed to be built through the
collection and transmission of movables, rather than an asso-
ciation with the structure of the dwelling itself. Daniel Miller
(1994, 1998) has argued that with the onset of modernity,
the connection between property (the house and/or land)
and family has come to be re-created through the process of
consumption, rather than there being an implicit or automatic
connection between dwelling and descent group. In the case
of Central Slovakia, the material was gathered in a predomin-
antly urban and suburban area, thus muting any connections
between kin and land that may have been present in more rural
areas. In addition, Banská Bystrica—like many Slovak cities—
is marked by socialist urbanization that more than quadrupled
the population in the span of a few decades from the mid-
1960s. About half of my informants had migrated to the city in
the 1960s and 1970s.
11. “Traditional” in this context covers the period of the nineteenth
and early twentieth century that has been well documented in
Slovak ethnological literature. Customarily, the trousseau was
driven or carried through the village in full view as the bride and
groom moved to the house of the groom’s parents, where they
were to reside. Here, there was often a display of the entire
trousseau, which could be viewed, discussed, and evaluated by
visitors and guests at the wedding feast. While many mothers
and grandmothers still purchase items for the trousseaux for
their daughters in contemporary Slovakia, today only close
friends and maybe an odd neighbor inspect the collection.
12. Women also inherited a special category of items called “the
maternal” (materina). This included not only their mother’s
possessions, but half of what she had acquired with her
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Culture 6(2): 115–36.
... Through clutter in the home, we are located in history. Makovicky (2007) relates the acquisition of 'stuff' to Walter Benjamin's notions of historicity in objects. The faded and plush interiors remembered by Benjamin in Central Europe were for him things which bore the marks and hints of very personalised routines and practices. ...
The cultural consideration of the material world increasingly involves not only recognition of material things in their diversity, many different things, but also ideas and concepts which frame the material world as a whole through particular paradigms. Stuff provides us with one of these sweeping paradigmatic interpretations of material culture, both a popular discourse and a set of academic frameworks. Stuff is about proliferating consumer goods, about domesticity, about the substances things are made from, about the overwhelming artificiality and human-made quality of the material world, and about sustainability. When using the term stuff, we are talking about those moments when the material world is important for its quantity, not only its qualities, and when we perceive the normative state of the material world as artifactual, and human-made rather than normatively natural.
... This author suggests that 'behind the doors, closets are also active, generative spaces where media are made, where imaginaries and anxieties are formulated, where knowledges and subjectivities are born and transformed ' (2017: 2). The analogy with the archive leads us to consider stored things as sources that allow us to understand a family history and reinforce a temporal consciousness or a spatialised memory (Makovicky 2007). ...
Exploring some of the ways in which repair practices and perceptions of brokenness vary culturally, Repair, Brokenness, Breakthrough argues that repair is both a process and also a consequence which is sought out—an attempt to extend the life of things as well as an answer to failures, gaps, wrongdoings, and leftovers. This volume develops an open-ended combination of empirical and theoretical questions including: What does it mean to claim that something is broken? At what point is something broken repairable? What are the social relationships that take place around repair? And how much tolerance for failure do our societies have?
This article examines (im)material digital labor essential to the production of closet decluttering videos on YouTube by analyzing two case studies: Leighannsays and Bestdressed. I highlight three interconnected forms of tidying labor, that is, home, data, and waste management, mobilized for influencer work and cultural platform economy. Wardrobe clean-out videos capitalize on both corporeal and affective aspects of housework and content production in the construction and maintenance of the digital self. They also assemble management labor to organize material articles in domestic space, produce/manage multimedia, and construct/amplify digital existence. The essay also discusses the (im)material labor required by the personal and outsourced handling of the disposed’s hereafters as goods and trash outside of the home. Unpacking how closet decluttering video production nests together (im)material tidying labor associated with disparate sectors from home-based platform cultural production to public management of household waste shed lights on imbricated operations of the influencer ecosystem.
Disassembling a house does not only mean making an inventory of the things we own to fit them into boxes and move them. It also means undoing familiarity with a specific domestic space. By delving into this situation, this text analyzes how the experience of moving deconstructs the everyday life of the domestic and activates our senses around new questions. Ultimately, deconstructing the domestic does not mean destroying it, but rather dismantling it to rethink and reorganize it.
Autobiographical narratives can embed in ‘things’, and the way objects degrade can be used as a way to conceptualise an understanding of the role of memory in storytelling. This piece is an auto-ethnographic essay that hinges around a series of blank art postcards collected by my mother in the early 1980s. These objects provide a way of engaging with the mechanisms of memory through considering the various narratives attached to them, and as material manifestations of the ways we record, remember and forget experiences. This is explored through considering the postcards as a reproduction of the original artworks they depict, as a souvenir of a particular experience, and also as physical objects in their own right. It draws on Walter Benjamin’s writings on materiality and storytelling, Susan Stewart’s writings on nostalgia and the souvenir, as well as anthropological and art historical understandings of materials and their processes of degradation
p align="left">Este artículo pone sobre la mesa diferentes reflexiones sobre el Ático Beistegui de Le Corbusier, con objeto de construir un enfoque nuevo sobre las decisiones proyectuales. Cinco epígrafes plantean una serie de disyuntivas encadenadas, relacionadas con diversas aportaciones de autores que se han aproximado al significado de la obra de Le Corbusier en su contexto socioeconómico y político-cultural. Estas disyuntivas se refieren a su visión sobre el papel de la arquitectura ante la transformación del medio habitado bajo el avance tecnológico tras la revolución industrial y como parte de las nuevas técnicas de regulación política de la sociedad de masas enfocada al consumo, ahora basadas en la unión de la cultura y los medios. Con este trasfondo implícito, se contrastan las aportaciones de relevantes autores del s. XX con otras más recientes y dos puntos de vista: la experimentación trans-escalar de Le Corbusier con el montaje y su significado para el propio Beistegui. decorador, coleccionista y ciudadano del globo, que no duda en intervenir en el diseño. La idea de que la reinvención de las técnicas de proyecto responde a una voluntad de control se abre a otra posibilidad: la búsqueda de acuerdos parciales y provisionales, en medio de las contradicciones e incertidumbres de un presente en transición.</p
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Decluttering discourses position clutter as meaningless things as well as, seemingly paradoxically, morally problematic – as signs of laziness or an individual failure to organise the house. This article addresses the lack of academic research on the topic and challenges the mischaracterisation of clutter as meaningless by drawing from ethnographically informed research into clutter in people’s homes in Manchester. The article is situated in, and contributes to, the sociology of ordinary consumption, the unmarked and unnoticed, and materiality. I draw from the theoretical work of Mary Douglas and Michael Thompson that outlines the vibrancy and potential of the unnoticed materials and matter of everyday life. I centre materiality in thinking about the material vibrancy of clutter and draw from Jane Bennett’s notion of assemblages to think through the capacity of clutter to become morally potent. The article makes four main arguments; first, I challenge ideas that clutter is trivial as it includes both meaningless and meaningful things. Second, I argue that clutter is a way people negotiate, reinforce and manage social relationships. Third, I argue moralising discourses around materialism and decluttering interact with existing everyday moralities around consumption, finances and family life which are brought to bear when people deal with their clutter. Fourth, through its materiality, clutter forces people to engage with moral discourse of wastefulness, usefulness, materialism, and everyday familial norms.
This article discusses the Airbnb phenomena and its position within the sharing economy. Through an autoethnographic lens, I examine my experience, of living in someone’s else’s home – in their stuff – and how I made it my own place. Place theory is used here to underpin the discussion of human experience when settling in a new city, a new home, and establishing routines and rituals. Finding place in Tel Aviv, Israel, emerged when the immediate surrounds of my short-term accommodation, the public spaces just beyond my building, and the people who filled the alley ways and local market, became familiar.
This paper draws upon research undertaken to understand the role of self-storage in the lives and losses of those who use it. For many renting self-storage is a temporary solution at a time of stress and/or transformation in their lives, including family bereavement. This paper will demonstrate how self-storage affects practices of mourning and remembrance, in particular by distancing and delaying engagement with memories and emotions during the process of divesting the effects of the deceased. In a similar way to avoiding places because of their associations with lost loved ones (Maddrell, 2016), self-storage acts as a space to safely store triggering possessions away from the place/moment/relations of bereavement. This paper shows how putting evocative objects in storage spaces out of sight and out of mind allows them to be re-encountered in a new context, often at a later date and under less desperate terms. Spatial, emotional and temporal distance acts to change the relationship felt towards objects and can make their sorting, passing on and disposal easier. By drawing on the experiences of six self-storage users, this paper argues that the self-storage unit is a place of reconciliation: a space to mourn, remember, and eventually move on.
Conference Paper
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Philosophical assumptions influence empirical design. For example, physical shape is typically described in terms of 'positive form and 'negative space.' Here, a third type of shape is proposed, called "phantom volume," comprised of the geometrically-predictable forms delineated by movements of a product, its parts, accessories, the user's body, and the cone of vision. Phantom volumes are critical to product function, because things cannot be used if access is blocked. This observation suggests that domestic "clutter" may be defined as the physical effect created when the phantom volume of one object is obstructed by the positive form of another-proposing a mechanical origin for psychological frustrations. The concept is illustrated with 3D renderings of a domestic coffee maker, revealing unexpectedly large and irregular phantom volumes. The quantitative 3D methodology might offer future applications in planning, research, or student assignments.
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The Meaning of Things explores the meanings of household possessions for three generation families in the Chicago area, and the place of materialism in American culture. Now regarded as a keystone in material culture studies, Halton's first book is based on his dissertation and coauthored with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. First published by Cambridge University Press in 1981, it has been translated into German, Italian, Japanese, and Hungarian. The Meaning of Things is a study of the significance of material possessions in contemporary urban life, and of the ways people carve meaning out of their domestic environment. Drawing on a survey of eighty families in Chicago who were interviewed on the subject of their feelings about common household objects, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Eugene Rochberg-Halton provide a unique perspective on materialism, American culture, and the self. They begin by reviewing what social scientists and philosophers have said about the transactions between people and things. In the model of 'personhood' that the authors develop, goal-directed action and the cultivation of meaning through signs assume central importance. They then relate theoretical issues to the results of their survey. An important finding is the distinction between objects valued for action and those valued for contemplation. The authors compare families who have warm emotional attachments to their homes with those in which a common set of positive meanings is lacking, and interpret the different patterns of involvement. They then trace the cultivation of meaning in case studies of four families. Finally, the authors address what they describe as the current crisis of environmental and material exploitation, and suggest that human capacities for the creation and redirection of meaning offer the only hope for survival. A wide range of scholars - urban and family sociologists, clinical, developmental and environmental psychologists, cultural anthropologists and philosophers, and many general readers - will find this book stimulating and compelling. Translations: Il significato degli oggetti. Italian translation. Rome: Edizione Kappa, 1986. Der Sinn der Dinge. German translation. Munich: Psychologie Verlags Union, 1989. Japanese translation 2007. Targyaink tukreben. Hungarian translation, 2011.
Introduction / Andrew Barry, Thomas Osborne, Nikolas Rose -- Liberal government and techniques of the self / Graham Burchell -- Governing "advanced" liberal democracies / Nikolas Rose -- Liberalism, socialism and democracy : variations on a governmental theme / Barry Hindess -- The promise of liberalism and the performance of freedom / Vikki Bell -- Security and vitality : drains, liberalism and power in the nineteenth century / Thomas Osborne -- Lines of communication
This thesis explores how the production, circulation and consumption of handmade lace is implicated in the creation of a moral economy of practice which is productive of culturally specific subjectivities. Fieldwork was undertaken in Banska Bystrica, Central Slovakia, and two villages in the surrounding hills. Spania Dolina and Stare Hory, where lace making has been a cottage industry since the 16th century. The ethnography of craftwork casts light on the wider relation between material culture, morality and praxis in post-socialist experience. The research suggests that there exists an * ethics of production* (following Foucault 1986, 1988, 1990, 1992) amongst lace makers and their clients in Central Slovakia, according to which individuals understand themselves as subjects, work upon themselves in a transformative way and pass judgement on the actions and intentions of others. Further more, by making use of Nancy Munn's (1977, 1986) notion of the qualisign. It is suggested that a particular moral aesthetic is reproduced through these judgements. This moral aesthetic posits the productive activity of the individual as having a visible and material outcome. By acting as the material manifestation of the social value of an individual's practice, lace artefacts and other forms of material culture become the props for speaking about the self and others. This study of craftwork in a post-socialist consumer society underlines the continuing importance of the notion of production in the creation of social value in Central Slovakia. In addition, it uncovers a continuous tension between the market economy to which lace makers are bound as producers and consumers, and the obligations of the moral economy to which they belong by virtue of kin and social relations. Finally, it shows how this tension is played out in relations between individuals and interest groups and how, by recasting issues of ethics into matters of aesthetic judgement, men and women in Slovakia are able to speak about matters of social and moral contention in a subterranean way.
This innovative book takes a look at the anthropology of kinship and the comparative study of relatedness. Kinship has historically been central to the discipline of anthropology but what sort of future does it have? What is the impact of recent studies of reproductive technologies, of gender, and of the social construction of science in the West? What significance does public anxiety about the family, or new family forms in the West have for anthropology's analytic strategies? The study of kinship has rested on a distinction between the 'biological' and the 'social'. But recent technological developments have made this distinction no longer self-evident. What does this imply about the comparison of kinship institutions cross-culturally? Janet Carsten gives an approachable view of the past, present, and future of kinship in anthropology, which will be of interest not just to anthropologists but to social scientists generally.