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The Empire of Things

Regimes of Value and Material Culture

Edited by Fred R. Myers

Representing a new wave of thinking about material culture studies-a topic long overdue for reevaluation-the essays in this volume take a fresh look at the relationship between material culture and exchange theory and illuminate the changing patterns of cultural flow in an increasingly global economy and the cultural differences registered in “regimes of value.” The Empire of Things includes an extensive interview with the late Annette B.Weiner, whose work on exchange theory still inspires contemporary material culture studies.

The contributors deconstruct the traditional opposition between “gift” and “commodity” and between supposedly; “alienable” and “inalienable” objects in ceremonies of exchange-whether on the island of Sumba or among middle-class shoppers in North London. They show how objects can become symbols of national identity, in cases ranging from artworks in Australia to lost body parts of past Mexican presidents.They reveal how the movement of objects through different contexts, across borders, or through art exhibitions exposes contradictions and shifting meanings for different constituencies.

2002. 368 pp., 20 black-and-white illustrations, references, index, 6 x 9

Contributors: Annie E. Coombes, Webb Keane, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Claudio Lomnitz, Daniel Miller, Fred R. Myers, Christopher B. Steiner, Nicholas Thomas, Annette B. Weiner

Download an excerpt.

“…[T]hese chapters are a delight. They address important topics….[and] show the ways that objects are implicated in the processes these topics entail….[T]hey are a good read.”
—Dr. James G. Carrier, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute


“Every paper in this collection is an artfully written, thought-provoking gem….[The book] does a marvelous job of interweaving some of the most absorbing conversations going on in anthropology today.”
—Dr. Kenneth M. George, University of Wisconsin, Madison


“[T]his volume is essential and generally exciting reading for any scholar of material culture seeking to understand where the cutting complexities of the discipline lie.”
—E. Moore Quinn, Museum Anthropology Vol. 26, no. 1


“…The Empire of Things provides a comparative basis for critiquing theories on aesthetics and cultural representation, the potency of symbolic transformation, and above all, the power of objects.

In The Empire of Things, the chapters by Annie Coombes and Fred Myers which discuss issues of artistic and cultural autonomy, universalism, authenticity, value, taste, and ‘corruption’ (art tainted by technology and always vulnerable to the gravitational ‘pull’ of a more sophisticated art world) are particularly valuable reading for students puzzling over these contradictions.

This approach, incorporating both art and performance, is …a major emphasis in the edited volume, The Empire of Things: Regimes of Value and Material Culture.”
—Suzanne P. MacAulay, Transformations: The Journal of inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy, Fall 2007


“This is without doubt a thought-provoking book for students of politics and international affairs… The Empire of Things is an elegant and timely reminder of the importance of being able to explain how people actually use and exchange ‘things’ in today’s society…This is a book to savour, not devour.”
—Dr. Patrick Chabal, International Affairs Vol. 78, no. 3 (July 2002)

  1. Introduction: The Empire of Things
    Fred R. Myers
  2. Money is No Object: Materiality, Desire, and Modernity in an Indonesian Society
    Webb Keane
  3. Alienable Gifts and Inalienable Commodities
    Daniel Miller
  4. Elusive Property: The Personification of Mexican National Sovereignty
    Claudio Lomnitz
  5. Appropriation/Appreciation: Settler Modernism in Australia and New Zealand
    Nicholas Thomas
  6. The Wizards of Oz: Nation, State, and the Production of Aboriginal Fine Art
    Fred R. Myers
  7. Rights of Passage: On the Liminal Identity of Art in the Border Zone
    Christopher B. Steiner
  8. The Object of Translation: Notes on “Art” and Autonomy in a Postcolonial Context
    Annie E. Coombes
  9. Reflections
    Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett
  10. Art and Material Culture: A Conversation with Annette Weiner
    Fred R. Myers and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblet
There are no working papers for this book at the present time.

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