Immaterial Culture?

The definition of Material CultureI’ve recently written some posts, e.g., here, and here, along with an essay or two about the troubles I have with scholars who now study this thing they call material religion; my difficulty is the philosophically idealist stance that yet persists despite their supposed focus upon the empirical, the tangible. For, sooner or later, the other shoe will drop and you’ll see that the artifact they’re quite literally saying they’re looking at and touching or hearing, maybe even sniffing or tasting, is assumed by them to “embody” or “manifest” some prior, ahistorical, and thus ethereal thing; sure, they might no longer call it “the sacred” but you’ll usually find it called “meaning” instead; their work makes it plain that if it is studied at this one empirical site carefully enough then you’ll be able to infer things about it that transcend that particular instantiation.

Just as something is claimed to be “an example of French culture,” for instance. Continue reading “Immaterial Culture?”

Bayart on the Imaginaire


“In short, the ambivalence inherent in the very notion of the imaginaire and its complex relationship with the order of materiality compels us to relinquish a certain use of the concept that is nonetheless widespread. We should not take literally expressions such as ‘social imaginaire‘ or ‘historical imaginaire‘. They are convenient, but they suggest that a given social (or historical) imaginaire is a totality, endowed with a range of relatively coherent and restricted meanings. This might lead us to attribute to the imaginaire powers that we have just denied culture, and to confer on it the ability to over-determine political practice. When all is said and done, the concept of the imaginaire, understood in this way, is no more than a pedantic version of the concept of culture.” (227-8)edgepluschange

That’s Not How I Imagined It

newyorkercartoonMy recent post, on an old Canadian beer commercial called “The Rant,” along with a query a while back from someone on Facebook, got me to thinking about why scholars these days are so excited about studying so-called virtual communities (from Second Life, which used to be cool, to a host of other online identities and platforms which, for the time being at least, are thought to be cool). Thinking about the audience pictured in that commercial from my earlier post — seated in what looks like an old movie theater and all listening to a disgruntled Canadian on stage go on about how he is wrongly stereotyped by Americans — we all know (right?) that it is populated by stand-ins who are quite literally standing in for the people to whom the commercial was directed: those in the TV audience who used the occasion to further identify themselves as misunderstood beer-drinking Canadians. Continue reading “That’s Not How I Imagined It”