The term material culture refers both to the psychological role, the meaning, that all physical objects in the environment have to mean something to people in a particular culture and to the range of manufactured objects (techno-complex) that are typical within a socioculture and form an essential part of cultural identity. Human beings perceive and understand the material things around them as they have learned to from their culture. Manufactured items are especially meaningful and the relationship between object and meaning is usually what scholars of material culture study. Material culture as learned behaviour can be compared to cultural linguistics, (verbal culture). Archaeologists try to understand the general articulation of past human societies by inferring what the less permanent aspects of cultures may have been like from the material record they have left behind.
Material culture is the study of things. In general, it requires “connecting a characterization of inanimate artifacts – attributes, frequency, associations, distribution – with the human activities associated with material selection, processing, design, and realization on the one hand and use, function, and performance effectiveness on the other. (…)
Things have been the accountrements of human culture and society throughout history and prehistory. No one denies the importance of things, but learning form them requires more attention than reading texts. The grammar of things is related to, but more complex and difficult to decipher than, the grammar of words. Artifacts are tools as well as signals, signs, and symbols. THeir use and functions are multiple and interwined. Much of their meaning is subliminal and unconscious. Some authors have talked about reading objects as texts, but objects must also be read as myths and as poetry.”
ref. Kingery, D. (1996) Learning from things: Method and Theory of Material Culture Studies. Smithsonian Institution Pressedited 5 October, 2015 by Admin