In Stuff by Daniel Miller, Miller argues that stuff is not superficial and does not separate people from “true” humanity, but instead is an integral fixture of humanity. Because of this view of objects, Miller does not feel the need to elevate certain objects over others like many writers we have read have done. Rather than focus on art or other objects inscribed with high cultural value, he focuses on the vernacular. Miller theoretically engages with clothing, houses, and media writ large to express how linked objects are to the human experience. While the entire book was engaging, I most connected with the section focused on clothing. Miller focuses on clothing in Trinidad, India, and London. While Miller’s focus on other cultures is important, his argument would have been strengthened if he spent more time focusing on the “everyday” clothing of Londers. However,the analysis of clothes in both Trinidad and India reveal much about the gendered nature of clothing and the ways in which women can use clothes to gain power as much as they can be oppressed and restricted by clothing. Miller observes that because London lacks that the explicit rules or commentary about clothing that exist and Trinidad and India, British women feel increased pressure to express both their style and originality through their clothing. Miller makes clear that while clothing is often coded as superficial and a waste of time and money, it instead is a powerful form of expression in many cultures. In fact, Miller observes that clothing is often intimately tied up with identity and “who we think we are.” (Miller 40). While the section on clothing could have been strengthened by a clearer gendered analysis, because often the reason clothing is seen as superficial is because it is heavily associated with women, Miller very clearly shows that fashion and identity are linked and that clothing is the opposite of superficial. While the chapters on theory, housing, and media were also engaging, the section on clothing struck me both because of my own interest in fashion in constructing my identity and my focus on a shirt for my material culture project. Miller shows that across cultures clothing is meaningful, and reading Miller in the context of my project on the D.A.R.E Shirt raises questions about the meaning of clothing in the United States. Is there a particular function of the T-shirt in the United States? Why was an anti-drug message disseminated via a T-Shirt in particular? And why do people choose to wear it? While the original goal of the shirt was to spread ant-drug messages and promote pride in the program, adults who choose to wear the shirt now are generally doing so consciously and for very specific purposes. As Miller argues, even the choice of T Shirt is not superficial, but instead communicates something about the individuality and the identity of the wearer.
- Should Miller have invoked gender more when discussing clothing in particular?
- Could Miller’s ideas about meaning and vernacular objects have been applied to objects we discussed earlier in the semester?
- Do any of Miller’s assessments run counter to some of the object methods we have studied?