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School of Social Sciences

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BAEcon Economics
Learn how the social sciences can help you to understand today's world.

BAEcon Economics / Course details

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
Materiality and Representation

Unit code SOAN20852
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Anthropology
Available as a free choice unit? Yes



This course will introduce students to the ways in which objects and materials shape human worlds. We will discuss some of the key preoccupations and philosophical questions concerning objects and materials, and explore the anthropological debates that address such issues as the social life of things, the vitality of matter, and the affective force of material forms and substances.  We will also consider the ways in which expressive arts and rituals use material forms and bodies as communicative media. The course will combine lectures and workshops - including a museum visit and a film screening. We will consider the qualities of materials such as texture and colour, and the ways in which material forms can move, unsettle or excite. We will address the material dimensions of key contemporary issues such as environmental change, toxicity and pollution, the built environment, and practices such as collecting, hoarding, and display. We will think about infrastructures and the ways in which material and informational forms combine, and we will also discuss the internet of things, virtual worlds, and spectral figures. ¿¿


  • To introduce students to a range of key anthropological approaches to materiality, sensoriality and visuality.
  • To introduce students to key theoretical approaches, including semiotics and phenomenology.
  • To introduce students to the challenges of representation.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this unit, successful students will:

  • Understand a range of concepts employed in anthropological approaches to human sensory perception of and engagement with matter and things;
  • Become familiar with ethnographic analysis and the use of theory in the anthropology of materials, of the senses and of display;
  • Acquire insight into how anthropology contributes to an understanding of how objects and materials shape human worlds;
  • Become aware of the importance of cultural and historical variation in human perception of material forms;
  • Engage in a critical analysis of material displays 

Teaching and learning methods

Lecture, seminar, workshops.

In addition to the lecture/seminar format, the course will also involve three workshops.  The workshops will encourage students to apply and experiment with theory presented in lectures and seminars.

Assessment methods


  1. Assessed Essay of 3000 words. Weighting within unit:  70%
  2. A short blog, using images and 500 words based on the course workshops. The blog will build from group discussions of the museum visit, the film screening and a personal accounts of the collection and display of material forms. Weighting within unit: 20%
  3. Short class exercises drawing on seminar discussions of key concepts. Weighting within unit: 10%

Feedback methods

The School of Social Sciences is committed to providing timely and appropriate feedback to students on their academic progress and achievement, thereby enabling students to reflect on their progress and plan their academic and skills development effectively. Students are reminded that feedback is necessarily responsive: only when a student has done a certain amount of work and approaches us with it at the appropriate fora is it possible for us to feed back on the student’s work. The main forms of feedback for Materiality and Representation are verbal feedback in seminar groups on readings and discussion topics, and written feedback on key concept notes on workshop blogs and assessed essays.

Recommended reading


Appadurai, Arjun (ed). 1986. The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective. Cambridge University Press.


Harvey, Penny et. al. 2013. Objects and Materials: A Routledge Companion. Routledge.


Harvey, Penny, Casper Bruun Jensen and Atsuro Morita. 2016. Infrastructures and Social Complexity. Routledge.¿

Howes, David (ed). 2005. Empire of the senses: the sensual culture reader. Berg.


Ingold, Tim. 2000. The Perception of the Environment : Essays in livelihood, dwelling and skill. Routledge.


Stoler, Ann. 2013.  Imperial Debris. Duke University Press.


Stella, Paul. 1989. The Taste of Ethnographic Things. University of Pennsylvania Press.


Taussig, Michael. 2003. My Cocaine Museum. University of Chicago Press


Tilley, Christopher. 2004. The materiality of stone: explorations in landscape phenomenology. Oxford and New York: Berg.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Tutorials 9
Independent study hours
Independent study 171

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Penelope Harvey Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Length of Course: 12 weeks

Mandatory course for BA in Archaeology and Anthropology

Tuesday 16.00-18.00

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