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BAEcon Accounting and Finance

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Materiality and Representation

Course unit fact file
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 engage with different conceptual frameworks that have been developed in anthropology and philosophy to think about sensory perception of the material world and about relations between humans, their stuff, and their built environments and infrastructures. We will discuss politics and poetics of identity and belonging in which things, materials, and built structures play active roles. The course will combine lectures and workshops, including a museum visit and a film screening. We will study a mix of theory, ethnographic examples, and case studies. Students will be encouraged to reflect on and experiment with the ways in which things, their material properties, and their existence in time (as they age, decay, emerge, are made and remade) affect humans both practically and emotionally, working on memory, skills, fears, and desires. By exploring museum artefacts (including ethnographic objects, natural history specimens, and modern works of art) as special things that are thought to hold special meaning in their power to communicate and represent, students will be introduced to problems and limits of representation and to the human tendency to abstract from material realities.




  • To introduce students to a range of key anthropological approaches to materiality, sensorial experience, and visuality
  • To introduce students to semiotics and phenomenology
  • To introduce students to problems of representation in anthropology
  • To introduce students to strategies of representation in contexts of display

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

Lectures, seminars, 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

  • Assessed essay of 3000 words: 80%
  • Workshop-based assessment: 20%

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 workshop reflections and assessed essays.

Recommended reading

Anusas, Mike, and Cristián Simonetti, eds. 2020. Surfaces: Transformations of Body, Materials and Earth. London: Routledge.

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

Chatterjee, Helen J. 2008. Touch in museums: policy and practice in object handling. Oxford: Berg.

Edwards, Elizabeth, Chris Gosden, Ruth B. Phillips, eds. 2006. Sensible Objects: Colonialism, Museums and Material Culture. Oxford: Berg.

Grasseni, Cristina, ed. 2007. Skilled Visions: Between Apprenticeship and Standards. Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books.

Harris, Mark, ed. 2007. Ways of Knowing: New Approaches in the Anthropology of Experience and Learning. Oxford  and New York: Berghahn Books.

Harvey, Penny et al. 2015. Objects and Materials: A Routledge Companion. London: Routledge.

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

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

Kalshoven, Petra Tjitske. 2012. Crafting ‘the Indian’: Knowledge, Desire, and Play in Indianist Reenactment. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books.

Karp, Ivan and Steven D. Lavine, eds. 1991. Exhibiting Cultures. The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Messeri, Lisa. 2016. Placing Outer Space: An Earthly Ethnography of Other Worlds. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

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

Study hours

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

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Petra Tjitske Kalshoven Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Length of Course: 12 weeks

Mandatory course for BA in Archaeology and Anthropology

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