Global Consumer Culture From Marx to McDonalds

Final Paper DUE: 9 AM, Tuesday May 5, in my office.

Final Paper Assignment


One half of your grade will be based on an independent research. This should be in the 15-page 5-6,000 word range. If you are working on your own field research design right now, you can write something furthering your project (a proposal, a survey of theory, a literature review) which relates directly to material culture/consumption issues. Follow the format guidelines in your syllabus.

Otherwise I want you to write a paper that focuses on a particular commodity which is widely consumed in some part of the world. You can pick something as mundane as a kind of shoes, or as unfamiliar as the black caterpillars eaten in Burkina Faso. Then you will take either a temporal or a spatial approach to the context of the item - tracking its consumption history, or the way consumption links particular people and groups. Then you will analyze the context of consumption from one or more of the theoretical perspectives we will be learning in the class.

Attached to this sheet you will find a 2-page article I wrote about reclining chairs. It is more superficial than the kind of paper I am asking you for, but it should give you an idea of the kind of thing I am looking for. I want you to look around you, pick something that forms the furnishings of the material world, and explore its social, spatial, and temporal connections. Anthropology is about context; the anthropological approach to material culture traces those contexts. They can be composed of social relationships (kinship, exchange, class), symbolic meanings (metaphor, synecdoche, taxonomy), or temporal connection. Think about how your chosen object ties people together, acquires or loses meaning, or traces a path through history. You might read Kopytoff's famous essay about "the social life of things" from the Appadurai collection of the same title.

A really effective paper might discuss the way objects, like clothes, acquire new meanings as they move between different contexts. Karen Hansen's work on used clothes in Zambia are a good example of this approach. You could also show how particular things resist reinterpretation, and maintain their status regardless of their context (some public monuments fit this category).

I encourage you to be experimental, open, and eclectic in this paper. Visit the business and SPEA libraries to read the trade magazines! (If you can think of a commodity, there is probably a magazine devoted to it.) Do some participant observation or interviews.