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Methods@Manchester

Material Culture

Sophie Woodward, Morgan Centre/Sociology

There has been an increasing interest in materiality and material culture within the social sciences in recent years; this poses challenges to the dominance of word-based methods (such as straightforward interviews) within social science methodological approaches.

The study of material culture raises questions as to what methods can help to understand the non-verbal. What role can interviews have within this and what other methods can be utilised? There is not straightforward ‘answer’ to these dilemmas, but there are a range of methods that have been adopted by researchers to move towards understanding the material relationships that people have to objects.

This talk will highlight 3 approaches; firstly, it will explore the object based interviews (which operate in some ways akin to photo-elicitation) to consider verbal accounts that are elicited by interacting with a chosen object. Secondly, it will outline how ethnographic methods can be used to observe material practices in context and thirdly, it will explore whether interdisciplinary collaboration with materials ‘experts’ can be useful.

People at Manchester 

There are a number of academics working with the school of anthropology and archaeology who work in this area. 

Relevant projects

Key references 

  • Gregson, N. (2007). Living with things: ridding, accommodation, dwelling. Sean Kingston Publishing, Oxford. 
  • Journal of Material Culture

PDF slides

Download PDF slides of the presentation 'What is Material Culture'.