Living with Things

Danny Miller, UCL
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A new book has just been published by Nicky Gregson, Professor of Human Geography at Sheffield University, well known through her previous publications such as Second Hand Worlds. The latest book is called Living with Things (Seankingston.co.uk). I admit to a bias, since I am the editor of the series this appears in, and indeed I would use the opportunity to encourage people to send manuscripts. We are certainly interested in material culture books with an anthropological inflection. Living with Things reports a fascinating ethnography of a former coal-mining village in North-East England, seen largely through the internal relationships between the long term lives of objects in the home and the long term occupancy of the homes.
Two main aspects of these relationships emerge through the writing. The first is the idea of accommodating, the way things have to be shifted around and reordered in relations to events such as moving in, doing up the place or having children. With the further implication that, without such events, things often remain stable occupants of home for very considerable periods. But then there is just as much on the internal circulation of objects within the home that may eventually lead to their being thrown out or otherwise disposed of. So here exchange appears mainly as a study of the internal dynamics of households. I confess this is very much my kind of ethnography with considerable attention to the long term trajectories of objects such as toys and appliances. It is the kind of ethnography which shows why material culture is often an ideal conduit for conveying how essential, ordinary, mundane and therefore often quite overlooked practices are central to the normative form of everyday life. Which, after all, these days is increasingly a matter of what happens within the private home.