My Life With Things, Dr. Elizabeth Chin looks at how consumption resonates with personal and social meaning.
Elizabeth centers the book on diary entries that focus on everyday items—kitchen cabinet knobs, shoes, a piano—and uses them to intimately examine the ways consumption resonates with personal and social meaning: from writing love haikus about her favorite nail polish and discussing the racial implications of her tooth cap, to revealing how she used shopping to cope with a miscarriage and contemplating how her young daughter came to think that she needed Lunesta.
We asked Elizabeth what motivated her to write her newest book. This is what she had to say:
"I have never had a lot of patience for the stuffier side of academic life. With this book, I wanted to write something that was accessible and personal, yet equally guided by my training as an anthropologist. I went about as personal as it can get, deciding to do an autoethnography of my own consumer life. There were many things that spurred me to take this approach, probably the the most influential being my feeling that a great deal of academic critiques of consumption amounts to academics casting judgement onto just about everybody else, without admitting they are caught up in it themselves. It would be easy to call it hypocrisy and move on. What I wanted to do, though, was to document, through myself, the huge range and complexity of every day consumption. Part of my goal here was to expose how compelling stuff is, which I suppose helps to explain why it’s hard to get rid of once it starts piling up. I also wanted to do more that dismiss consumption as surfacey and against true human connection. Yes, it’s that. But it is not ONLY that.
Along the way I found myself reflecting quite a bit on the life of Karl Marx and his family, so the book also includes sections where I try to figure out what his consumer like was like. It was a mess. Equally fascinating was the opportunity to cast his historical moment, against our own, to take stock of how different these moments are, and to contemplate the force and breadth of change on the planet at these two turning points.
It was a scary and exhausting book to write. The long period of self-observation was frequently quite painful and unpleasant. I learned things about myself that perhaps I would rather not know."
My Life With Things is available at Duke University Press.
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