Material Culture Studies: Objectification, agency and intangibility

Mikkel Bille

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Material culture studies have in recent decades taken a more central role in anthropological thinking, but not just in terms of an interest in exploring individual objects, material qualities, patterns, or symbols of things. The goal is also to understand how human lives fundamentally unfold through material culture. This chapter explores technology through the broad variety of approaches captured under the heading ‘material culture studies’, to see how things are entangled in the values, meanings, and practices of human lives. It briefly outlines discussions about objectification, agency, and materiality to highlight how even the most mundane aspects of human life, such as light, have central bearing on human worlds. Lighting and lighting are, on the one hand, intangible but, on the other, have a profound effect on how the world appears. As a technology, lighting has shaped human societies by extending the day and carrying strong symbolic values, but also through embracing other objects in its material qualities. Humans adjust and manipulate such qualities to present spaces in particular ways that make sense in local contexts. To understand technologies one also needs to understand how their material qualities constitute the self and society.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPalgrave Handbook of the Anthropology of Technology
EditorsMaja Højer Bruun, Ayo Wahlberg, Rachel Douglas-Jones, Cathrine Hasse, Klaus Hoeyer, Dorthe Brogård Kristensen, Brit Ross Winthereik
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Publication date2022
ISBN (Print)978-981-16-7083-1
ISBN (Electronic)978-981-16-7084-8
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Agency
  • Lighting
  • Materiality
  • Material culture
  • Objectification

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