This course focuses on how consumers use material things to negotiate desire, difference and power:  We will examine the concrete politics and imagination invested in seemingly commonplace things ranging from Barbies to subcultural fashion to household garbage.  The course revolves around how a broadly defined archaeology of the modern material world can contextualize everyday goods as symbolically contested vehicles for desire.  Rather than see commodities as flat reflections of pre-existing identities or dominant economic organizations, the course examines how objects provide insight into who we wish to be and who we are.  The class champions a critical, self-reflective perspective on cultural and subcultural difference, and we will stress how archaeology's systematic analytical techniques provide a mechanism to probe the technological, social, and ideological meaning in the apparently meaningless minutia that surrounds us everyday.

Course links

There is a separate web page with directions for each exercise and another page with the term paper guidelines.  Those pages include the details of each assignment, so please review them closely when completing the assignments.  This syllabus includes deadlines for all assignments and test dates, and it is your responsibility to know when assignments are due and tests are scheduled.  If any errors are made on this syllabus, they will be corrected and those changes will be placed on Canvas and announced in class.  

You will complete two exercises analyzing contemporary material culture. These will be worth 50% of the course grade (25% each).  The major project for the semester will be a term paper worth 30% of the course grade.  Each student will lead the class discussion on one course reading worth 10% of the course grade.  Attendance will be worth 10% of the course grade.

The first exercise will be an "archaeological" analysis of a genuine contemporary garbage deposit. You will make a detailed record of your own garbage for seven consecutive days and turn that in on February 13th.  These records will be distributed anonymously to other students in the class, and you will then analyze a classmates' refuse sample (25% final grade).  The final analysis of another student's refuse sample is due on March 6.

The second exercise (25%) will be an analysis of a contemporary collection.  Collecting creates the illusion of adequate representation of the world, but that representation can come in the form of matchbook covers, snowglobes, banana magnets, and any number of serialized assemblages.  You will prepare a paper that analyzes a single collection, outlines how it conforms to or departs from our working definition of a "good" collection (e.g., public, pedagogical, etc.), and examines the ways in which it is a reflection of the world or an indication of how the collector wishes the world could be.  The analysis is due on March 27.

At some point in the semester, each student will present a selection of the readings assigned in the same night (10% of your final grade).  The readings page will include all readings and indicates the class members who will present those readings.  You must prepare a Powerpoint on the reading to present in class.  You should expect to direct the class' discussion of the reading:  your review should minimally be about 10-15 minutes.  You absolutely must pose at least three questions for the class at the end of the presentation.  Anybody whose presentation is too short, fails to include questions for discussion, or is otherwise disorganized or unprepared will not receive the full credit for the assignment.  You can volunteer to present any reading of your choosing on a first-come, first-serve basis; any students who do not sign up by the second class will be assigned a reading.  Anybody who does not attend on the night of their reading will receive no credit unless they have a substantial excuse.

During the semester you will produce a term paper that interprets some object, material space, or class of modern material objects using the concepts and examples examined in class (30%). You will be required to provide a proposal for your term paper subject by February 20.  Students who do not turn in a paper proposal by February 20th will automatically lose a letter grade from their paper's final grade.  I reserve the right to reject any unapproved topic:  please do not skip the proposal.

Graduate students' term papers must be a minimum of 20 pages in length.  Graduate student papers will be expected to include a rigorous range of resources including peer-reviewed literature and in many cases some original research.  You are encouraged to develop a project that fits your own research interests or preparation for your thesis or another project.  You are required to meet with me to discuss your topic and structure an appropriate paper.  Graduate students are expect to complete all remaining course assignments as they outlined in the syllabus.

Participation in class discussion and attendance at lecture are key to comprehension, especially since we cover so much material in each weekly class meeting and we meet just 14 times.  Students who miss no class meetings will receive 10% of the course grade.  After that absence the grade will fall by two points for each subsequent absence.  For instance, if you missed one class you will receive 8 points; if you miss two you receive 6 points; if you miss three you receive 4 points; if you miss four you receive two points; and if you miss five or more classes you receive no points.  Please do not plan to leave at the break or I reserve the right to record you as absent.   

Excused absences do not count toward your attendance grade if they are documented illnesses (i.e., a physician's note, not simply sniffles in the next class or sounding really crappy on the phone). I am sympathetic to the things in life that you cannot control--work schedules, sick family, a broken-down car, everyday malaise--but I reserve the right to excuse absences on a case-by-case basis.  I will not consider excusing you for an absence if you do not provide me an email documenting the reason for an absence.  Attendance will be taken at the beginning of each class meeting on a course roster that circulates through class.  If you come in late, you must ensure that you sign this roster at the end of class; at the end of the semester I will not negotiate over the days you actually attended but forgot to sign the attendance roster. I will not allow students to sign the roster if they arrive halfway through the class meeting; please email me an explanation of late arrivals that are outside your control with me (e.g., caught in traffic jam, but not an errant alarm clock).  I will be reasonably forgiving about things over which you have no control, like weather and sick children.  I will negotiate these things on a case-by-case basis and do not make any promises that any particular absence--boss requiring you to show up for work, dog needing a trip to the vet, no parking spaces-- will be excused.  Please let me know immediately via email and do not plan to barter over these absences at semester's end.

If you cannot complete an assignment on time for any reason, you must contact me. I will only extend a deadline in cases where you demonstrate sufficient reason to be granted an extension. I can always be contacted after class, you can schedule an appointment, and I check my email virtually everyday. Even if it is embarrassing to acknowledge that you simply forgot an assignment due date or your boss unexpectedly demanded a long shift when you planned to do the assignment, please come see me and I will do my very best to resolve it in some way that doesn't mean you receive no credit at all.  Do NOT wait until after a deadline to talk to me, and do NOT postpone talking to me if you are having any difficulty completing an assignment for any reason. Late assignments will be penalized significantly if you do not negotiate an extension with me beforehand. Students who do not turn in the term paper on time will receive no credit for the assignment.  To miss any of the exercises or turn in the term paper late is, at best, mathematically ill-advised. 

All work in the course is conducted in accordance with the University’s academic misconduct policy.  Cheating includes dishonesty of any kind with respect to exams or assignments. Plagiarism is the offering of someone else’s work as your own: this includes taking un-cited material from books, web pages, or other students, turning in the same or substantially similar work as other students, sneaking a peek at the neighbor's exam, or failing to properly cite other research.  If you are suspected of any form of academic misconduct you will be called in for a meeting at which you will be informed of the accusation and given adequate opportunity to respond.  A report will be submitted to the Dean of Students, who will decide on further disciplinary action.  Please consult the University Bulletin’s academic misconduct policy or me if you have any questions.

Be absolutely certain to keep a copy of any emailed assignments you send to me should the email disappear or not arrive at my end, and save every single assignment until grades have been assigned:  Don't just save it on your laptop or one thumb drive, since they can crash, get lost, or be purloined by somebody who undervalues your commitment to education, and do not delete assignments instantly after their due date.  If you email me an assignment and do not turn it in during class, you absolutely must keep the sent mail confirmation should the assignment not reach me for whatever reason. 

The Office of Adaptive Educational Services (AES) ensures that students with disabilities receive appropriate accommodations from the University and their professors.  Students must register with the AES office in order to receive such services.

Portable electronic devices such as cell phones and laptop computers must have their sound turned off before the start of class.  You can use a laptop in class for note-taking but should silence it; I know it is nearly impossible to ignore a Facebook message or email notifications popping up on your laptop or phone, but please do not plan to answer your emails, monitor Twitter, answer texts, and monitor Candy Crush during class.  Please let me know if you expect to need to respond to your phone for specific reasons (e.g., pregnancy monitoring, disabled family, or contact with kids--not to stay in touch with a significant other who just likes to hear your voice, buddies planning the evening pub crawl, and so on).  Anyone whose clever Family Guy ringtone disturbs class will be given a verbal warning on first offense and will be asked to meet with me after class if you can't remember to turn off your phone before class.

The classroom is a safe speech situation in which it is your responsibility to treat other classmates fairly and with mutual respect, even if they have the audacity to disagree with you, champion an opinion that is inconsistent with your worldview, or simply bore you.  Anyone who talks when someone else is talking, is hostile, or otherwise violates classroom etiquette will be considered to be in violation of this policy and will need to meet with me. 

The course material includes numerous advertisements and images from a variety of popular discourses over more than a century, and some of them may strike us individually as ideologically problematic or outright tasteless.  Surprisingly crass images are part of our everyday life and are commonplace in many mass media, but they often pass beneath our consciousness.  However, seeing them projected onto a screen at the front of the classroom several feet high and contemplating these graphics outside the contexts in which they are most often presented can be potentially unsettling.  I do not display images simply for "shock value," but some advertising symbolism may strike many of us as tasteless if not offensive.  It is perfectly reasonable to be offended by some advertising symbolism, but I will always do my best to use specific images to help us think reflectively about precisely what sorts of social meanings are being used to sell goods, even if we may find that symbolism unpleasant.

All work in this course is intended to fulfill the University's Principles of Undergraduate Learning.  The class focuses on critical, self-reflective thinking, integrates knowledge from a variety of disciplinary and sociocultural perspectives, examines social and cultural complexity, and probes the impact of knowledge on our everyday decision-making.  Do let me know if the course does not satisfy any of the missions included in the Principles.

A basic requirement of this course is that you will participate in class and conscientiously complete writing and reading assignments.  If you miss more than half our class meetings within the first four weeks of the semester without contacting me, you will be administratively withdrawn from this section. If you miss more than four classes in the first four weeks, you may be withdrawn. Administrative withdrawal may have academic, financial, and financial aid implications. Administrative withdrawal will take place after the full refund period, and if you are administratively withdrawn from the course you will not be eligible for a tuition refund. If you have questions about the administrative withdrawal policy at any point during the semester, please contact me.


A 93-100 (95)
A- 89-92 (90)
B+ 86-88 (87)
B 82-85 (84)
B- 79-81 (80)
C+ 76-78 (77)
C 70-75 (73)
D 60-69 (65)
F 0-60
The reading schedule for the class is in bold on the course schedule. Some of the readings come from the assigned text, but nearly all individual readings are articles available as PDFs; some are accessible to IUPUI students on ebrary including Subculture: The Meaning of Style; and others are accessible by clicking on the title in the syllabus.  Linked readings require that you first log into the IUPUI University Library page with an IUPUI Network ID (i.e., a username and password) when accessing University Library's electronic resources from off-campus. Some e-journal services are temperamental or may take you to the whole journal's contents rather than a single article.

You are responsible for completing readings prior to class.  We will discuss the readings in class, and you will be expected to integrate concepts and examples from the readings into your term paper, so you should purchase them or arrange to share with another class member. We will not discuss the additional readings, which are included here to provide you with supporting scholarship on the research that interests you most.   Hopefully many of you can use them for your term papers, though that is not required.

The course has only one assigned text, and it is available online for no charge.  All IUPUI students have access to a digital version of the book FREE OF CHARGE on ebrary


Course Outline and Schedule

January 9, 23

Introduction to course: Defining anthropology, archaeology, and material culture

What is culture? Mass culture? Popular culture?
What makes it modern?




January 30

What is material culture?  Why Collect Things?

·         Click a Donor: Viking Masculinity on the Line (Charlotte Krolokke, Journal of Consumer Culture).

·         Bottled Water: The Pure Commodity in the Age of Branding (Richard Wilk, Journal of Consumer Culture 6(3):303-325 [2006]).


Additional Readings

·         Cowboys, Outlaws and Artists: The Rhetoric of Authenticity and Contemporary Jeans and Sneaker Advertisements (Jacqueline Botterill, Journal of Consumer Culture 7(1):105-125 [2007]).

·         Not Going to Starbucks: Boycotts and the Out-Scouring of Politics in the Branded World (Bryant Simon, Journal of Consumer Culture 11(2):145-167).


February 6

Context and Capitalism: The link between Ronald McDonald and inequality

·         `It's Not Forever': The Material Culture of Hope (Fiona R. Parrott, Journal of Material Culture 10(3):245-262 [2005]).

·         Remaking Inside Places (Jane E. Dusselier, Artifacts of Loss: Crafting Survival in Japanese American Concentration Camps, Rutgers University Press: New Brunswick, NJ 2008, pp.14-50).   Available to IUPUI students who log into ebrary.


Additional Readings

·         Consumption in East Germany: The Seduction and Betrayal of Things (Milena Veenis, Journal of Material Culture 4(1):79-112 [1999]).




February 13

Ideology and Material Culture

·        Vehicle of the Self: The Social and Cultural Work of the H2 Hummer (Jeremy Schulz, Journal of Consumer Culture 6(1):57-86 [2006]).

·        The Cult of Macintosh (Russell W. Belk and Gulnur Tumbat, Consumption, Markets and Culture 8(3):205-217 [2005]).


Additional readings

·         Expertise and Inability: Cultured Materials and the Reason for Some Retreating Lawns in London (Russell Hitchings, Journal of Material Culture 11(3):364-381 [2006]).




February 20

Puritans and Romantics: the Roots of Modern Consumer Society

·         Memorial Culture: The Material Response to Loss, and The Cross-cultural Roadside Cross (Holly J. Everett, Roadside Crosses in Contemporary Memorial Culture, University of North Texas, College Station [2002], pp.1-37).  Available to IUPUI students who log into ebrary.

·         Tourism and "Sacred Ground": The Space of Ground Zero (from Marita Sturken, Tourists of History: Memory, Kitsch, and Consumerism from Oklahoma City to Ground Zero [2007], pp.165-218). 


Additional readings

·         "Just Normal and Homely": The Presence, Absence and Othering of Consumer Culture in Everyday Imagining (Rebecca Jenkins, Elizabeth Nixon and Mike Molesworth, Journal of Consumer Culture 11(2):261-281).

·         Important Places and their Public Faces: Understanding Fenway Park as a Public Symbol (Michael Ian Borer, The Journal of Popular Culture 39(2):205-224 [2006]).


February 27

Sell Them Their Dreams:  Advertising and Consumer Desire

·         Prisoners in Paradise: Subcultural Resistance to the Marketization of Tattooing (Anders Bengtsson, Jacob Osterberg, and Dannie Kjedlgaard, Consumption, Markets and Culture 8(3):261-274 [2005]).

·         An Ironic Fad: The Commodification and Consumption of Tattoos (Mary Kosut, Journal of Popular Culture 39(6):1035-1048 [2006]).


Additional readings

·         Discount Dreams: Factory Outlet Malls, Consumption, and the Performance of Middle-Class Identity (Marianne Conroy Social Text 16(1):63-83 [1998]).




March 6

Constructing the Material World: Space and Surveillance

·         Words in Stone?: Agency and Identity in a Nazi Landscape (Sharon Macdonald, Journal of Material Culture 11(1/2):105-126 [2006]).

·         Bring Home the Dead: Purity and Filth in Contemporary Funeral Homes (Kyro Selket, in Dirt : New Geographies of Cleanliness and Contamination, eds. Ben Campkin and Rosie Cox, pp.49-59.  I.B. Tauris, London [2008]).  Available to IUPUI students who log into ebrary.


Additional readings

·         Bloodless Battles: The Civil War Reenacted (Rory Turner, The Drama Review 34(4):123-136 [1990]). 

·         Domesticating the French Fry: McDonald's and Consumerism in Moscow (Melissa L. Caldwell, Journal of Consumer Culture 4(1):5-26 [2004]).




March 20

Post Modern Identity: Pastiche and Material Consumption

·         Introduction and Chapter 1, Subculture

·         Chapters 5-6, Subculture

·         Chapters 7-8, Subculture


Additional readings

·         Disentangling the Paradoxical Alliances Between Art Market and Art World (Joy Annamma and John F. Sherry, Jr., Consumption, Markets and Culture 6(3):155-181 [2003]).

·         Dismantling Mantlepieces:  Narrating Identities and Materializing Culture in the Home (Rachel Hurdley, Sociology 40[4]:717-733 [2006]).

·         Technology Becomes the Object: The Use of Electronic Media at the National Museum of the American Indian (Gwyneira Isaac, Journal of Material Culture 13(3):287-310 [2008]).




March 27

The Materiality of Memory and Experience

·         The Contemporary Uses of Industrial Ruins (Tim Edensor, Industrial Ruins: Space, Aesthetics and Materiality Berg Publishers, Oxford, pp.21-51).  Available to IUPUI students who log into ebrary.

·         Dr. Strangelove’s Cabinet of Wonder: Sifting through the Atomic Ruins at the Nevada Test Site (Jonathan Veitch, in Ruins of Modernity, eds Julia Hell and Andreas Schonle, pp.321-338. Duke University Press, Durham, NC [2010]).  Available to IUPUI students who log into ebrary.


April 3

·         Haggling Spoken Here: Gender, Class, and Style in US Garage Sale Bargaining (Gretchen M. Hermann, Journal of Popular Culture 38(1):55-81 [2004]).

·         A Hard Rain: Children's Shrapnel Collections in the Second World War (Gabriel Moshenska, Journal of Material Culture 13(1):107-125 [2008]).


Additional readings

·         The Cultural Landscape of Interplanetary Space (Alice Gorman, Journal of Social Archaeology 5:85-107 [2005]).

·         Flushing in the Future: The Supermodern Japanese Toilet in a Changing Domestic Culture (Allen Chun, Postcolonial Studies 5(2):153-170 [2002]). 

·         The Meaning of Holiday Consumption: Construction of Self among Mature Couples (Anette Therkelsen and Malene Gram, Journal of Consumer Culture 8(2):269-292 [2008]).


April 10

Constructing the Body in the Material World

·         Dark tourism and the cadaveric carnival: mediating life and death narratives at Gunther von Hagens' Body Worlds  (Philip R. Stone, Current Issues in Tourism 14 (7):685-701 [2011]).

·         Biopower, Bodies... the Exhibition, and the Spectacle of Public Health (Hsuan L. Hsu and Martha Lincoln, Discourse 29(1):15-34 [2007]).


Additional readings

·         Experiencing Body Worlds: Voyeurism, Education, or Enlightenment?  (Charleen M. Moore and C. Mackenzie Brown, Journal of Medical Humanities 28(4): 231-254 [2007]).




April 17

Consuming Gender

·         Productive Spaces: Girls' Bedrooms as Sites of Cultural Production (Mary Celeste Kearny, Journal of Children and Media 1(2):126-141 [2007]).

·         Will You Marry Me?:  Spectacle and Consumption in the Ritual of Marriage Proposals (Phillip Vannini, Journal of Popular Culture 38(1):169-185 [2004]).


Additional readings

·         Stardom/Fandom: Celebrity and Fan Tribute Performance (Scott Duchesne, Canadian Theatre Review 141: 21-27 [2010]).

·         Televised Consumption: Women, Advertisers and the Early Daytime Television Industry (Inger Stole, Consumption, Markets & Culture 6(1):65-80 [2003]). 

·         A Soldier's Body: GI Joe, Hasbro's Great American Hero, and the Symptoms of Empire (Karen J. Hall, Journal of Popular Culture 38(1):34-54 [2004]).

·         He's Gotta Have It: Shopping Dependence and the Homosexual Male Clothing Consumer (Christopher A. Dodd, Amanda Linaker, and Nigel Grigg, Journal of Consumer Behavior 4(5):374-389 [2005]).

·         "The Unbearable Lightness of Cleaning": Representations of Domestic Practice and Products in Good Housekeeping Magazine (UK): 1951-2001  (Lydian Martens and Sue Scott,Consumption, Markets and Culture 8(4):379-401 [2005]).

·         Good Girls Gone Bad: The Consumption of Fetish Fashion and the Sexual Empowerment of Women (Kathleen A. O'Donnell, Advances in Consumer Research 26:184-189 [1999]).


April 24

Consuming Ideologies

·         Domesticating Barbie: An Archaeology of Barbie Material Culture and Domestic Ideology  (Pearson, Marlys J and Paul R. Mullins,  International Journal of Historical Archaeology 3(4):225-259 [1999]).

·         Hummel Figurines: Molding a Collectable Germany (John Chaimov, Journal of Material Culture 6(1):49-66.


May 1

Course Wrap-Up and Review


Last updated November 30, 2016