Sociology Material Culture and Commodity Culture Essay Example

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Sociology Material Culture and Commodity Culture

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02, 06, 2011

Material Culture and Commodity Culture

Material culture is a factor of the society that is observed when geographical production of certain goods give insight to the ways in which social interactions ascribe meanings to material things without changing their basic nature. In the late eighteenth and nineteenth century, Merish (1985) compares consumption to womanhood in Sentimental Materialism. In his book, Merish implies that consumption revolves around a woman’s wealth and taste, her race, morality, class, and civic values. Merish however points out that consumption had contrasting outcomes, in as much as the accomplishment of cultural material circumstances facilitated the civic agency of a woman, it also encouraged stereotypes of domestic women. Female consumption also complemented male production (Merish 1985).

In day to day life, human beings encounter different kind of material things, some of which they use and others they don’t require, this is referred to as material culture. Scholars perceived objects as markers of aesthetic and cultural value, demonstrating a specific person’s taste, preferences, and choices. The material things are referred to as cultural because as time goes by, they tend to lose conventional beauty and fashion, and distinct between the pre-industrial period objects and the objects made now in the industrialized error (Bjørnar and Roland 1990).

Most of the material objects that are existence in the day to day life are in most cases a newer model of things that existed previously in the per-industrial error thus they are just made more effective and comprehensive.

Structurism and postmodernism

Structurism is a language theory used in the study of cultural non-linguistic forms and was developed in France in the 1950’s. This approach originated from the works of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1913) who revolutionalized language understanding. He brought out the difference between language and speech and before he established his work, people based their study of language and how it worked by tracing previous uses of words. Language is essential in that it is a system of difference, a sign by itself and creates mental pictures. Other than structuralism, several theoretical frameworks has had more impact on thinking on social and historical sciences in the twentieth century and this has led to the development of new segments of study such as media and culture. Structuralists focus on analyzing the culture of language as per the rules of social livelihood. (Woodward 1998).

Semiology or semiotics on the other hand is the study of how signs work and how they are used and Tilley and Lévi-Strauss (1990) points out that we should consider language as a pair of inter-related objects that is both the vocabulary and sentence. According to him, sign language brings together sound-image and concept. Baudrillard (1996) is recognized as one of the authors of postmodernism and post-structuralism (Tilley and Lévi-Strauss 1990). He points out that when products move from the level of function (considering use value and exchange value) to the level of significance (considering sign value), they gain social meaning. He borrowed Saussure’s structural linguistic in his study of ideologies, fashion, images and media (Baudrillard 1996).

Postmodern philosophy

Postmodernism on the other hand is an inherent contrast to modernism, and is characterized by global cultural narrative or meta-narrative. Modernism and postmodernism are based on cultural views and beliefs.

Some authors however did not support the philosophical term «subjectivity» and «objectivity» and pointed out that each refers to the other. Ultimately, he did not completely reject the idea but implied that people embrace it from a different perspective. He however contributed to the development and enrichment of historicity and culture and advocated for a temporary and immanent understanding of them. The first step in response to blandness, hostility, and Utopianism was architecture and it was founded and developed by people like Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, and Philip Johnson as they pursued the achievement of perfectionism. Music and literature then followed suit and were developed in the United States between 1970 and 1972 respectively (Bjørnar and Roland 1990).

As Europeans bring new artifacts into the markets, it is considered as a disintegration of indigenous culture, this differing from economical forms to means of transaction which over time has been very distinctive in the non-western, tribal countries (Thomas 2005).


Mythology is the study of a special kind of speech called myth. Myth is a form of speech and language requires a specified system of communication so as to become a myth. Language of man as a product is however the only one that is not mythical, as it dwells not on preservation of image but transformation of reality (Hawkes 2003).

Material Culture as Society informant

In his novel material and culture, Dickens portrays such items as elements such as food, goods, furniture, dress, attire, collectibles, and ornamentation as semiological commodities. Dickens also illustrates the way class and economic progress make contrast to people’s status in the society and other than raising the social status, possessions are being used to determine self-perception and also raise self-esteem. Dickens points out that people in the nineteenth century are obsessed and fascinated by material possessions and this is shown by their desires and choices of commodities in the leading market economy, thus commodity culture emerge here Dickens also says how commodity culture insinuates and triggers desire and anxiety (Dickens 1968).

Reference List

Baudrillard, J 1996, The system of objects, Stanford University Press, Stanford.

Bjørnar, O and Roland, B 1990, Material Culture, AMC, New York.

Dickens, C 1968, Material Culture as Society Informant: Prisons in Little Dorrit, Routledge, London:

Hawkes, T 2003, Structuralism and Semiotics, Routledge, London.

Merish, L 1985, Sentimental materialism: gender, commodity culture, and nineteenth-century, Duke University press, New York.

Thomas, N 2005, Entangled objects: exchange, material culture, and colonialism in the Pacifi, Willey, London.

Tilley, C and Lévi-Strauss, C 1990, Structuralism and Beyond in
Material Culture, Willey, New York.

Woodward, I 1998, Understanding material culture, Routledge, London.