This was an anthropological experiment I did for the methodologies module on the Material and Visual Culture MA at UCL in 2010. The project now forms the basis for a regular lecture on innovative research methods delivered to Design and Visual Culture undergraduate students at Nottingham Trent University.
Four small plastic toys were released into the world and their journeys were photographically recorded by participants and logged through the social networking site Facebook (to visit the Facebook group click here). Photos were then compiled into a hard-back book with an accompanying essay which drew comparisons between modern exchange practices in the West and Bronislaw Malinowski’s study of the Kula exchange.
The experiment was inspired by Arjun Appadurai’s book ‘The Social Life of Things’ and Igor Kopytoff’s essay ‘The Cultural Biography of Things’. It sought to prove (sucessfully) that Appadurai’s so called ‘tournaments of value’ and Kopytoff’s ‘exchange spheres’ are indeed possible in late capitalist societies and not merely restricted to non-monetized societies like the Trobriand Islands. By following the objects’ biographies through the Facebook page, the experiment gave an effective insight into how material objects accumulate social and sentimental value.
To read the book please click here.
- Appadurai, Arjun, 1986, Introduction: Commodities and the Politics of Value in Appadurai, Arjun (ed), 1986, The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
- Kopytoff, Igor, 1986, The Cultural Biography of Things in Appadurai, Arjun (ed), 1986, The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.