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MatteRealities: Historical Trajectories and Conceptual Futures for Material Culture Studies

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Ingrid Gessner, Miriam Nandi, and Juliane Schwarz-Bierschenk


“No ideas but in things!” William Carlos Williams’s leitmotif for the modernist epic Paterson seems to anticipate the current renewal of academic attention to the materialities of culture: as heritage, as commodities, as sensation; they circulate in processes of cognition and mediation, they transcend temporal and spatial distantiations. Things figure in narration and performance, in our everyday life practices, in political activism. They build knowledge of ourselves and others, influence the ways in which interact with our fellow human beings, and in which we express or control our feelings. They combine the apparently concrete and the fleetingly abstract. Overall, things make us do things.
MatteRealities intends to contextualize and put into a historical perspective matters of culture, while also mapping conceptual futures for the study of material culture. By using the overarching label Material Culture Studies, the special issue provides a common roof under which the increasingly sophisticated articulations of investigation into and reflection on the objects, things, or materialities of culture cohabit and interact. The contributions present a coupling of case studies and theoretical reflection which provide a future orientation for doing cultural studies—taking seriously the network imagery of culture and thus possibly resolving the still extant binaries in a trialectics and trialogics of MatteRealities.