Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Things

So I'm finishing off a workshop proposal and going through my notes on remembering, forgetting, materiality and cultural value. I've gone back over Nietzsche's active forgetting, Ricoeur on memory, history and forgetting, and Auge on oblivion. Excellent stuff. I also glanced back over some of the essays in Appadurai's The Social Life of Things and Mary Douglas' The World of Goods, as well as Michael Thompson's Rubbish Theory: The Creation and Destruction of Value, and his more recent article Time's Square: Deriving Cultural Theory from Rubbish Theory (which builds on the work of Douglas). Not entirely my cup of tea, but useful.

I also checked out Organization's Special Issue on the Rise of Objects in the Study of Organizations, which has some good work by John Law and Vicky Singleton on objects as regions, networks, fluids and fire ("objects as patterns of discontinuity between absence and presence") and an interesting account by Lucy Suchman on how how values of the "new" operate in technological design culture.

Bruno Latour has recently attempted to move from objects to things, and I like all sorts of, um, things, about his dingpolitik, but the Making Things Public exhibition catalog is a brutal read. It just goes on and on, and despite having essays grouped into sections, it's almost impossible to determine the ideas which one could apply in one's own work. So I've just got the library to order What Things Do: Philosophical Reflections on Technology, Agency, and Design by Peter-Paul Verbeek to see if it might be more useful.

But there's something about Thompson's work that is sticking with me. As Will Straw puts it in The Thingishness of Things:

"Michael Thompson noted that the central problem in the analysis of objects was the disjunction between economic decay and physical decay. Long after objects have ceased to hold any significant economic value, long after they have stopped being signifiers of social desire, they continue to exist as physical artifacts...Here, an analysis of cultural artifacts almost of necessity becomes an ecological analysis, in the broadest sense of the term. The accumulation of artifacts for which there is no longer any observable social desire invites us to deal with the question of how we deal with cultural waste..."

This becomes particularly interesting when I think about pervasive computing, and especially those spatial annotation projects that seek to capture collective memories. Persistence is a funny thing...

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You seriously promised not to write! But its great that the promise got broken. Persistence rocks.

23:42  
Blogger Anne said...

inconsistency rocks ;)

02:10  
Anonymous e-tat said...

Displacement rolls!

07:52  
Blogger jaceee said...

Was just thinking about Law -- he's sharp and original -- when I started reading this posting, as I was reviewing "Notes on the Theory of the Actor Network: Ordering, Strategy and Heterogeneity" http://www.comp.lancs.ac.uk/sociology/papers/Law-Notes-on-ANT.pdf last night for my own pre-thesis work. I like the way he frames objects as elements of a dynamic network, but isn't materialism somehow an extremely retro base to build upon? I would posit the next step is to go with Heraclitus' "all is flow" and forget about these piles of things, except for the energies that are concentrated in their transitory presence...

19:49  
Blogger Anne said...

jacee -

"isn't materialism somehow an extremely retro base to build upon?"

No way! ;) Flow is always already related to sedentariness and obduracy, and it can only ever contain things, including materials, that occasionally pile up...

03:04  

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