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Material culture: an inquiry into the meanings of artefacts

By Timothy James Peter Holt


The main purpose of the following inquiry is to emphasise the importance of a phenomenon long neglected by the majority of the human sciences, the artefact; each one of us, no matter what age, sex or culture, is in contact with artefacts every moment of our lives yet despite this they have received scant attention. The study begins by outlining a definition of the artefact, highlighting those characteristics which, in combination, ensure its centrality to social life before, through a discussion of Popper's ideas, proceeding to see how material culture can be conceptualised as meaningful. In order to understand how meaning becomes attached to the artefact the notion of objectification will be analysed and, consequently, so shall the importance of both the type of activity and the physical nature of the materials involved in the artefact's production. Picking up on the theme of materiality this aspect of material culture will be shown to pose major problems to any interpretation of the artefact along semiological lines; language and material culture are evinced to possess fundamentally distinct characteristics which make comparisons between them far from straightforward. These differences will be analysed further, concentrating specifically on the role of context in the establishment of meaning. This leads on to the proposal that our understanding of artefacts can occur on three levels; three forms of knowledge are thus described of which a linguistically formulated type constitutes just one kind. The penultimate chapter tackles the ways in which artefacts affect us, how they are active elements in our relationships with them; therefore, a dialectical position is postulated in which both artefacts and agents take part. Finally, the study concludes by stressing some of its wider implications and suggests a few of the practical situations to which it can be applied

Topics: B1, HM
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