Material culture is a term originally used by archeologists to represent “the vast universe of objects used by mankind to cope with the physical world, to facilitate social intercourse, and to benefit our state of mind” (James Deetz). Material culture studies is now an accepted and thriving discipline that considers every aspect of the ways people imagine, create, use, and interpret their physical environment. Material culture studies are diverse and range from traditional formal analyses of artifacts to more contemporary focuses such as gender, consumption, perception, and social self-definition.
Americans have long been a materialistic people…To me, it means that
Americans have invested goods with powerful meanings. Goods matter
to them. Owning things, living with things, longing for things years ago
became normal and accepted parts of American life. Studying Americans’
lives, then, necessarily means studying Americans’ things.
How does one extract information about culture or interpret information encoded in mute objects? The analysis of objects proceeds through three stages from description, to deduction, to speculation.
1. Description - is the recording of the internal evidence of the object itself.
2. Deduction - requires interpreting the interaction between the object and the perceiver.
3. Speculation - involves framing hypotheses and questions that lead out from the object
to external evidence for testing and resolution.
Objects made or modified by man reflect the values, beliefs, ideas, attitudes,
and assumptions of the larger society to which they belonged.