Comfort of Things / Edition 1

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The diversity of contemporary London is extraordinary, and begs to be better understood. Never before have so many people from such diverse backgrounds been free to mix and not to mix in close proximity to each other. But increasingly people's lives take place behind the closed doors of private houses. How can we gain an insight into what those lives are like today? Not television characters, not celebrities, but real people. How could one ever come to know perfect strangers?
Danny Miller attempts to achieve this goal in this brilliant exposéof a street in modern London. He leads us behind closed doors to thirty people who live there, showing their intimate lives, their aspirations and frustrations, their tragedies and accomplishments. He places the focus upon the things that really matter to the people he meets, which quite often turn out to be material things, the house, the dog, the music, the Christmas decorations. He creates a gallery of portraits, some comic, some tragic, some cubist, some impressionist, some bleak and some exuberant.
We find that a random street in modern London contains the most extraordinary stories. Mass murderers and saints, the most charmed Christmas since Fanny and Alexander and the story of how a CD collection helped someone overcome heroin. Through this sensitive reading of the ordinary lives of ordinary people, Miller uncovers the orders and forms through which people make sense of their lives today. He shows just how much is to be gained when we stop lamenting what we think we used to be, and instead concentrate on what we are becoming now. He reveals above all the sadness of lives and the comfort of things.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Miller's moving a stout defence of that pejorativenotion: 'only sentimental value.'He builds up a tapestry of thevariety of ways in which people use things to express themselvesand make meaning in their lives. The nondescript, the ordinary canbe invested with great value."
The Guardian

"An outstanding piece of work: a fine example of modernanthropological fieldwork, a powerful corrective to the banalnotion that materialism is synonymous with excessive individualismand, perhaps above all, an informed, sensitive, and whollysympathetic guide to the human diversity to be found through thekeyholes of our capital city."
Laurie Taylor, The Independent

"A wonderful and unusual antidote to the fear that humanity andindividuality is losing its battle with modern consumerism. In hisbook, even the most trivial product of consumerism can be renderedalmost magical by its owners."
Financial Times

"This book sums up how far social anthropology has progressedsince Henry Mayhew wrote about the skull shapes of costermongers inthe 19th century."
New Statesman

"A set of delicately drawn pen portraits of lives in a single,unnamed South London street ... this is a book quite out of theordinary. While you read these pages, this is the street where youlive."
Times Literary Supplement

"[I]t would be an injustice to Daniel Miller and to theexquisite text he has crafted to describe The Comfort ofThings as anything less than beautifully written ... Thisparticular book opens up a variety of avenues for exploration, andserves as a reminder of what sociologists can learn from such richanthropological research."
British Journal of Sociology

"This is social anthropology at its finest."
Steven Carroll, The Age

"This is the very best kind of micro-ethnography. Miller writesbetter - and with more insight and compassion - than mostnovelists. This book will profoundly change the way you look atyour friends' and neighbours' homes and possessions - and indeedyour own."
Kate Fox, Social Issues Research Centre and author ofWatching the English

"I am so impressed by Danny Miller's book. It is so keenly feltand beautifully written, it provides as deep a view of modernLondoners as early anthropologists tried to provide of residents ofmore distant and exotic zones. Miller has produced a marvelouslypersonal and creative work, provoking us to wonder at theextraordinary attachments of ordinary people. This is a great andlasting achievement."
Sharon Zukin, Brooklyn College

"Through shoe leather fieldwork, human empathy, and unflinchingreadiness to discern, Daniel Miller shows the central role ofmaterial culture in contemporary urban life. An instantclassic."
Mitchell Duneier, Princeton University

"An artful antidote to continually demonised consumerism."
Crafts Magazine

"A timely reminder that investing possessions with meaning isproof of humanity rather than inhumanity."

"In this remarkable book Daniel Miller provides an illuminatingportrait of people's relations to the ordinary objects thatsurround them. The result is a surprising meditation on how we allmaintain order in our daily lives."
Viviana Zelizer, Princeton University

"This book offers a bold and creative model for how we might goabout the work of theorising and abstracting, trying to tell moreor less convincing stories about the 'relationships which flowconstantly between people and things'."
Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780745644042
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 7/14/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 300
  • Sales rank: 801,265
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Miller is Professor of Material Culture at University College London.

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Table of Contents



Portrait 1 Empty.

Portrait 2 Full.

Portrait 3 A Porous Vessel.

Portrait 4 Starry Green Plastic Ducks.

Portrait 5 Learning Love.

Portrait 6 The Aboriginal Laptop.

Portrait 7 Home and Homeland.

Portrait 8 Tattoo.

Portrait 9 Haunted.

Portrait 10 Talk to the Dog.

Portrait 11 Tales from the Publicans.

Portrait 12 Making a Living.

Portrait 13 McDonald's Truly Happy Meals.

Portrait 14 The Exhibitionist.

Portrait 15 Re-Birth.

Portrait 16 Strength of Character.

Portrait 17 Heroin.

Portrait 18 Shi.

Portrait 19 Brazil 2 England 2.

Portrait 20 A Thousand Places to See before You Die.

Portrait 21 Rosebud.

Portrait 22 The Orientalist.

Portrait 23 Sepia.

Portrait 24 An Unscripted Life.

Portrait 25 Oh Sod It!.

Portrait 26 José and José's Wife.

Portrait 27 Wrestling.

Portrait 28 The Carpenter.

Portrait 29 Things That Bright Up the Place.

Portrait 30 Home Truths.

Epilogue: If This is Modern Life – Then What is That?.

Appendix: The Study

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