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The Meaning of Things

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Abstract

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.
... There has been substantial amount of research into the ways that processes of identity-making, belonging and remembrance are produced and mediated through domestic objects and material practices. Anthropology scholars have regarded home as a primordial site within material culture studies (Buchli 2010;Cieraad 2006;Csikszentmihalyi and Halton 1981;Hurdley 2006Hurdley , 2013Miller 2001b;Pink 2004), which has significantly informed social science scholars, including cultural geographers looking at home and migration (Ahmed 1999;Blunt 2004;Datta 2006Datta , 2008McMillan 2009;Rose 2003;Walsh 2006Walsh , 2011Walsh , 2012Walsh , 2014. Artists and photographers have also extensively explored dwellings, domestic life and material culture, the scope of which exceeds this chapter. ...
Thesis
This practice-related doctoral research comparatively investigates the relationship between food and religious material practices of several faith communities in Ealing, a suburb in West London. These include a Synagogue, a Sri Lankan Hindu Temple, a mosque, a Sikh Gurdwara, an Anglican church, a multicultural Roman Catholic church and an ethnically diverse Pentecostal church. The research is centred around the development of an arts project, Spiritual Flavours, which comprises a photographic series, a twenty-eight-minute film and a recipe photobook. Whilst the photographic series uses a formal approach to explore the spatial arrangements of commensality within religious buildings, the photobook and the film focus on personal narratives, bringing together a diverse range of intimate experiences of food and spirituality across both domestic and worship spaces. The film also produces a rhythmic and multi-sensory experience by creating visual and sonic synchronies and asynchronies across the three main protagonists through the use of the split-screen technique and the creative mixing of sounds of cooking and prayer. With a very interdisciplinary approach, drawing from visual cultures, cultural studies, and social sciences, the thesis analyses the kinds of knowledge that each of these visual elements produce individually and combined. Here, it specifically draws on literatures on material religion, on food, memory and the senses, and on performativity, to explore the centrality of food in everyday religious practices in ways that are inseparable from the material practices involved in the creative process itself. This forms the basis for further analysis of the way the project produces ‘multifaith’ understandings of culinary religious practices as sensory, affective and embodied (spiritual) practices; as well how these intersect with other personal and socio-cultural dimensions, such as experiences of migration, identity, home and community. This research also develops an original exploration of the opportunities and challenges of visual practice as research practice. It contributes to understandings of participatory creative methodologies in how its outputs produce new multi-faith relationships and disseminate research knowledge that is accountable and meaningful to the participants and communities involved, as well as wider audience.
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Conference Paper
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Preprint
Books, baseball cards, ceramic figurines, art, iPhones, clothing, cars, music, dolls, comic books, furniture and even nature iteself. If you're like most people, at some point in your life you've found yourself indulging in a love affair with some thing that brings you immense joy, comfort, or fulfillment. Why is it that we so often feel intense passion for objects? What does this tendency tell us about our lives, nature, habits, and experience? In The Things We Love, Dr. Aaron Ahuvia reveals some astonishing discoveries from psychology, neuroscience, and marketing that prove we are far less “rational” than we think when it comes to our possessions and hobbies. Instead, we have intense relationships with the things we love, and these relationships are driven by influences deep within our culture and our biology. Some of our passions are sudden, obsessive, and fleeting. Some are devoted and lifelong affairs. Others turn dark: we become hoarders, or find ourselves wanting to destroy certain objects rather than let anyone else own them. As technology improves, and becomes increasingly addictive, might our lives become so dominated by our emotional ties to things that we lose interest in other people? Packed with fascinating case studies, science, and takeaways for living in a modern world saturated with advertisements and material desires, The Things We Love offers a truly original and insightful look into how and why we come to love inanimate objects — and how understanding these relationships can enrich and improve our lives. Along the way, it provides fresh perspective on one of the oldest topics of all, the nature of love itself.
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Materialism has been recognized as an important variable in postmodern societies; however, most of the studies on this concept have focused on the adult population. The aim of the present study is to determine the possible association between materialism and life satisfaction, and the possible mediating role of attitudes towards money and peer influence in this association, in a sample of Chilean adolescents. A sample of 1325 Chilean secondary school students completed a questionnaire measuring materialism, attitudes in regards with money, susceptibility to peer influence, and satisfaction with life. First, a confirmatory factor analysis was conducted to validate the scalers. Secondly, a theoretical model was tested using Hayes (2013) SPSS macro, PROCESS. The theoretical model included materialism as the predictor variable, satisfaction with life as the predicted variable, and attitudes towards money and susceptibility to peer influence as mediator variables. Results indicate that materialistic attitudes regarding money strengthens a negative relation between materialism and satisfaction with life. This tendency is not observed in susceptibility to peer influence despite being positively associated with materialism and attitudes regarding money. These findings suggest that the variables materialism and attitudes regarding money play a relevant role in the life satisfaction of Chilean adolescents.
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Full-text available
Cultural built heritage (CBH) is one of the most important cultural assets that affect the quality of life (QoL) in cities, and it is especially significant in small and medium-sized towns that lack some other advantages of larger urban centres. However, in quality of life studies, CBH is often neglected or treated superficially. This is probably due to the lack of a universal method developed to study their mutual interdependence based on a set of proven, objective indicators. This paper presents the authors’ attempt to fill this methodological gap by developing a set of indicators that would make it possible to assess the relationship between QoL and CBH. The study focused on historic small and medium-sized towns, located peripherally on the borderlands between Poland and Germany, since it was considered that especially for such towns, the architectural and urban heritage can appear as a crucial factor in improving the quality of life. To develop a comprehensive understanding of the mutual relationship between the phenomenon of QoL and CBH, a triangulation of research methods has been adopted: first, a literature review, where indicators were sought; second, semi-structured interviews and workshops with selected experts; and third, focus-group studies in 10 pilot locations. The analysis yielded quantitative and qualitative indicators in each set, allowing for the measurement of the mutual relationship between QoL and CBH. The set offered a total of 20 indicators developed specifically for small and medium-sized towns, and despite certain limitations, it can be considered universal and can also be applied to other urban centres. Furthermore, the study identified the five distinct spheres in which the relationship between QoL and CBH can be observed and analysed. This typology can be used as a background for deeper studies at specific sites, regardless of their size and location.
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