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Living in a material world: a qualitative exploration of social and generational attitudes to material culture

Faculty of Social Sciences

About the Project

People’s lives take place within, and are mediated by, material culture. Examples of material culture (otherwise known as ‘things, ‘objects’, ‘stuff’) can include jewellery, clothes and furniture; material items that we can collect, wear, display, use, discard and gift to others. Social scientists have demonstrated the significance of material culture in how it reflects and also constructs our identities (Miller 2010). A number of studies have researched people’s use of and interactions with objects at transition points and different stages of the life course, to understand how identities are performed and shaped by things (Newson 2018; Lovatt 2018; Marcoux 2001).
This PhD project will explore what influences people’s uses of and attitudes towards material culture, and whether/how such usages and attitudes change over time. Influences are likely to include inherited family practices, life changes such as parenthood, socio-economic circumstances, and environmental concerns. The findings of the project will i) help to contribute sociological knowledge on understanding what influences, enables or constrains people from enacting their identities through materials, and ii) provide insights into how socio-historical events, practices, markets and discourses such as rationing, upcycling, planned obsolescence, experiencing ‘lockdown’ during the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change activism affects different generations over time.
The methodology will be qualitative, using individual biographical interviews and dyadic interviews with different generations of family members.


Lovatt, M. 2018. Becoming at home in residential care for older people: a material culture perspective. Sociology of Health and Illness, 40, 366–378.

Marcoux, J-S. 2001. The 'Casser Maison' Ritual : Constructing the Self by Emptying the Home, Journal of Material Culture, 6, 2, 213-235.

Miller, D. 2010. Stuff. Polity Press, Cambridge.
Newson Carey. 2017. Co-Constructed Space and The Power of Presents, Home Cultures, 14:3, 279-306, DOI: 10.1080/17406315.2018.1507795

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