Week 2: Culture, Context, Materiality

Photo by Pat Armstrong

Photo by Pat Armstrong

This week’s tutorial was so lively and covered so much ground that it is hard to summarise in this space. I thought, instead, I would meditate on these three terms – culture, context and materiality. Please add some thoughts!

Culture: Culture is a set of practices, “the process of cultivation” (fermentation of yoghurt, a social engagement, togetherness, shared knowledge). It is the cultivation and tending of fertile soil. The lively collision of bacterium in a petri dish. Culture is a process of encounter. Culture is a “set of flows and relations” (Bennett), culture is the movements of self-and-world, self-and-self, self-and-other, other-and-world. Culture is the “site of the production of meanings” (Thwaites). When there is engagement there is meaning-making. Culture is a casual agent: by ‘causing’ things to occur, culture keeps things on-the-move. Think of the milk, in a certain environment, becoming yoghurt.

Context: Context refers to a set of circumstances. Context is the specific site of a meaningful encounter. The occasion and particularity of sociality. Everything happens ‘in context’ and everything is encountered ‘in context’. Yet context is not absolute, nor singular. Contexts can be effaced, altered. The context is the here-and-now: in what way is this happening and in what way am I engaging? How does my experience change if the context of my experience changes? Context is the variable. Context is the local details. The contextual environment affects the way something is understood. Context makes a text many things. Just as culture is always more-than-one, context is one-of-many. Attention to context can help us understand the basic conditions of a textual experience: what does it mean to read, to watch, to listen, to consume? What is happening around us?

Materiality: Materiality is thing-ness. Thingitude. Quiddity. It refers to the touchable, countable, tangible, sensual, textural. Materiality refers to matter, and ‘materialism’ suggests that everything is matter. What is matter? Matter is atoms. Matter is mass. Matter is energy. Materialism concerns the composition of things. Materiality can be the aesthetic conditions of a text – the way it feels in the hands, the way the ink looks against paper. Materiality is the atomic connection of letters in words in sentences. Materialism is things in a system of signification. Things with meanings. To consider materiality is to consider the ‘bodily functions’ of objecthood. The sensual nature of all matter, jostling together a felt, experienced world. Note that ‘materialism’, as a philosophy, has a strong history pre its consumer-capitalism meaning as having excess emphasis on the possession of commodities. Material, materiality, materialism.


One Response to “Week 2: Culture, Context, Materiality”

  1. Maru Maru! Says:

    I’ll comment on this entry since I particularly enjoyed the culture and morality discussion etc

    I do understand the more complex associations to do with culture, but my own basic understanding is built upon a simple and very human premise… the classification system. I’m not sure that many people really understood where I was coming from, and if they did, they probs thought I was slightly retarded, but I can’t let go of this idea of culture as a fancy englishy term for society’s anti flood system. Sorta like it’s a neccesary system that was naturally put in place to break down life, the universe and everything into small manageable pieces. A way to make life sustainable and more efficient.

    I don’t have much else to say, other than I was really excited by the idea of culture as a coping mechanism for humanity, also the slippery slope of morality as it was a bright and shiny new concept for me.

    And also reading this entry, it sounds so pretty in my head and that makes me a little happy inside.


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