Research Cluster 1: Representation, Material Culture and Society

Inspired by the problematic nature of social scientific and humanistic categories such as art, symbolic, ideational, material, technological, social... this research axis seeks to create scientific and intellectual synergies around the investigation of the ancient world and of historical and contemporary cultures.

One of the great human innovations was the material rendering or objectivation of concepts, forms, emotions, social relations. However, materiality implies cultural production involving, minimally: (a) selection and procurement of raw materials, (b) transformation of these into conventional forms via a set of techniques and relations of production, and (c) the exchange/display/use of the finished objects. Each of these operational stages is of course played out in a particular social and cultural, not to mention physical, environment. Since Marcel Mauss, we have understood that body movements, including technical actions are deeply seated in cultural learning. Bourdieu's emphasis on habitual practice merely underscores the fact, providing wonderful examples such as touch-­-typing, driving a car and playing the piano.

Such operational chains in the construction of material culture leave studiable traces in the archaeological, ethnographic and historical record and raise for related disciplines the distinct possibility of studying, literally, the construction of meaning and its socio-­-spatial distribution. The teasing out of these culturally learned, habitual actions is part and parcel of contemporary archaeological and material cultural analysis. Thus, we are more and more able to respond directly to the important sociological question of how "subjective meanings become objective facticities". All objects, and not merely those that we artificially privilege as "art" objects, can thus be viewed as cultural representations. Questions of cultural context, meaning, mind, metaphor, value, gesture, technique, praxis, agency, habitus, identity... to name just a few of the usual suspects, will be fair game for application and critical examination by UMI 3199 participants.

The premise of this research area is that materiality matters! With ethnographic insight, it is apparent that in modern human societies not all materials are equal when it comes to constructing meaning and expressing social-­-, personal-­- and exchange-­-value. Concrete examples of intellectual synergy within Axis 1 might be the collaborative investigation of the material construction and communication of identity through clothing, personal ornamentation, food practices or systems of exchange in one or more cultural, historical or prehistoric contexts.

It is anticipated that numerous French and American scholars will find a home in this axis, which leaves intellectual space for representatives of a broad range of disciplines from philosophers, to historians and art historians, to anthropologists, archaeologists, artists -­- and even perceptual psychologists and material scientists.