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Reading Matter: Multidisciplinary Perspectives On Material Culture

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Overview

To be civilized involves, among other things, making, using, and buying objects. Although speculation on the significance of objects often tends to be casual, there are professionals—anthropologists, historians, semioticians, Marxists, sociologists, and psychologists—who analyze material culture in a systematic way and attempt to elicit from it reliable information about people, societies, and cultures. One reason that analyzing objects has been problematical for scholars is the lack of a sound methodology governing multidisciplinary research. Reading Matter addresses this problem by defining a comprehensive set of methodological approaches that can be used to analyze and interpret material culture and relate it to personality and society.

Berger offers discussions of the main concepts found in semiotic, historical, anthropological, psychoanalytic, Marxist, and sociological analysis. He provides practical descriptions of the working methods of each discipline and demarcates their special areas of investigation. Berger's lively discussions include a wealth of illustrative examples that help to clarify the complex and often difficult theories that underlie interpretations of material culture. In the second part of his analysis, Berger uses these disciplines to investigate one subject—fashion and an important aspect of fashion, blue jeans, and what the author calls the "denimization" phenomenon. Here he shows how different methods of "reading" material culture end up with different perspectives on things—even when they are dealing with the same topic.

The author's focus is on the material culture of post-literate societies and cultures, both contemporary and historical. This comparative approach enables the reader to trace the evolution of objects from past to present or to see how American artifacts spread to different cultures, acquiring a wholly new meaning in the process. Reading Matter is an important contribution to the study of popular culture and social history. It will be of interest to sociologists, anthropologists, and cultural historians.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780887384356
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/1/1991
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 145

Meet the Author

Arthur Asa Berger is professor emeritus of broadcast and electronic communication arts at San Francisco State University. He is the author of numerous articles, book reviews, and books on media, popular culture, humor, and tourism, and he is the series editor of Transaction’s Communication and Mass Culture and Humor series.

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Table of Contents

Preface 1
Introduction 7
Pt. 1 Analyzing Material Culture 15
1 Semiotic Analysis of Material Culture 17
2 Material Culture and History 27
3 Anthropological Perspectives on Material Culture 37
4 Psychoanalytic Analysis of Material Culture 49
5 Marxist Analysis of Material Culture 63
6 Sociological Perspectives on Material Culture 73
Pt. 2 Perspectives on Fashion 85
7 The Semiotics of Fashion 87
8 Myth, Ritual, and Fashion 95
9 The Psychology of Fashion 103
10 The Social Dimensions of Fashion 113
11 Ideological Aspects of Fashion 123
Conclusion: The Ghost in the Machine 131
References 137
Name Index 141
Subject Index 143
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