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The meaning of things is a study of the significance of material possessions in contemporary urban life, and of the ways people carve meaning out of their domestic environment. Drawing on a survey of eighty families in Chicago who were interviewed on the subject of their feelings about common household objects, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Eugene Rochberg-Halton provide a u The meaning of things is a study of the significance of material possessions in contemporary urban life, and of the ways people carve meaning out of their domestic environment. Drawing on a survey of eighty families in Chicago who were interviewed on the subject of their feelings about common household objects, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Eugene Rochberg-Halton provide a unique perspective on materialism, American culture, and the self. They begin by reviewing what social scientists and philosophers have said about the transactions between people and things. In the model of 'personhood' that the authors develop, goal-directed action and the cultivation of meaning through signs assume central importance. They then relate theoretical issues to the results of their survey. An important finding is the distinction between objects valued for action and those valued for contemplation. The authors compare families who have warm emotional attachments to their homes with those in which a common set of positive meanings is lacking, and interpret the different patterns of involvement. They then trace the cultivation of meaning in case studies of four families. Finally, the authors address what they describe as the current crisis of environmental and material exploitation, and suggest that human capacities for the creation and redirection of meaning offer the only hope for survival. A wide range of scholars - urban and family sociologists, clinical, developmental and environmental psychologists, cultural anthropologists and philosophers, and many general readers - will find this book stimulating and compelling.


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The meaning of things is a study of the significance of material possessions in contemporary urban life, and of the ways people carve meaning out of their domestic environment. Drawing on a survey of eighty families in Chicago who were interviewed on the subject of their feelings about common household objects, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Eugene Rochberg-Halton provide a u The meaning of things is a study of the significance of material possessions in contemporary urban life, and of the ways people carve meaning out of their domestic environment. Drawing on a survey of eighty families in Chicago who were interviewed on the subject of their feelings about common household objects, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Eugene Rochberg-Halton provide a unique perspective on materialism, American culture, and the self. They begin by reviewing what social scientists and philosophers have said about the transactions between people and things. In the model of 'personhood' that the authors develop, goal-directed action and the cultivation of meaning through signs assume central importance. They then relate theoretical issues to the results of their survey. An important finding is the distinction between objects valued for action and those valued for contemplation. The authors compare families who have warm emotional attachments to their homes with those in which a common set of positive meanings is lacking, and interpret the different patterns of involvement. They then trace the cultivation of meaning in case studies of four families. Finally, the authors address what they describe as the current crisis of environmental and material exploitation, and suggest that human capacities for the creation and redirection of meaning offer the only hope for survival. A wide range of scholars - urban and family sociologists, clinical, developmental and environmental psychologists, cultural anthropologists and philosophers, and many general readers - will find this book stimulating and compelling.

30 review for The Meaning of Things: Domestic Symbols and the Self

  1. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    This book was remarkable for a few reasons. First, I admire the political conviction of its authors. It's so rare to see academic books espouse a clear point of view (in this case: materialism is bad). I guess academics were able to do as much in the 1970s. Maybe someday we'll be back there. Second, the book does a remarkable job looking at an understudied subject and treating it fully (312 in-depth interviews!) and with the care and concern it deserves. It doesn't strive toward broad generaliza This book was remarkable for a few reasons. First, I admire the political conviction of its authors. It's so rare to see academic books espouse a clear point of view (in this case: materialism is bad). I guess academics were able to do as much in the 1970s. Maybe someday we'll be back there. Second, the book does a remarkable job looking at an understudied subject and treating it fully (312 in-depth interviews!) and with the care and concern it deserves. It doesn't strive toward broad generalizations, but attempts to draw conclusions based on a huge amount of data in a way that both seems fair to the research subjects and not overambitious in terms of its actual results. And it does this while also clearly showing how the data is distributed, coded, and aggregated. I joked with Jason a bit that perhaps the reason this book isn't cited more often is due to the craziness of the first author's last name, but then I looked him up and found out he's remained famous and well-regarded (he's the "flow" guy). So, perhaps the real reason this book is so little cited is because people recognize the need to update the scholarship (to contemporary times) and can't bear the thought of embarking on such a study. It wouldn't be easy, but I imagine the results could be incredibly fruitful. In the meantime, I'll probably be able to use some of the actual data they cite regarding the importance of books as well as some of their more theoretical offerings regarding the motivations for assigning meaning to objects, particularly those in the home (the latter includes discussions of cultivation and symbolic worth).

  2. 5 out of 5

    Brad Needham

    This book is a good example of ethnography in a broad sense: the authors begin with reviewing existing notions on the meaning of things, then dive into their own field study, comment/extrapolate on the results of the study, both qualitatively and quantitatively, then summarize with a sweeping chapter about the implications of the study. It's clear at several points that the Chicago of 1977 is not the world of today, but that's ok: the study is in some ways an analysis of a distant, vanished tribe This book is a good example of ethnography in a broad sense: the authors begin with reviewing existing notions on the meaning of things, then dive into their own field study, comment/extrapolate on the results of the study, both qualitatively and quantitatively, then summarize with a sweeping chapter about the implications of the study. It's clear at several points that the Chicago of 1977 is not the world of today, but that's ok: the study is in some ways an analysis of a distant, vanished tribe that can tell us some enduring things about various societies today. Best of all, I found the book provocative in its analysis of what objects and transactions with objects mean, and how they gain those meanings. It also showed me a glimpse of the vast gulf between the world view of an engineer (a materialist in a formal sense) and that of an anthropologist.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Elia Nelson

    Beautiful exposition of how people use, learn from, attach to, and create relationships with the objects in their homes. Eminently readable, even when they get into the nitty gritty of ethnographic data.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Catie Carlson

    Read it for a book club. I felt like the conclusions that Csikszentmihalyi pulled from the study had a sexist nature to them, but that could have been the nature of the study being located in an upper class Chicago neighborhood.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rita Halfscatch

    fdafdsafs

  6. 5 out of 5

    Caroll Chidori

    comment

  7. 4 out of 5

    Christiane Alsop

    Social research at its best.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jesus

    Within a sample size of three hundred individuals from the Chicago area a couple decades ago, furniture is said to be the most meaningful part of domestic environments.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Barbara Mader

    --some interesting stuff; just not what I expected, and somewhat dated by now.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ines

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kris

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sam Palcko

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Zigelbaum

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sophia

  15. 4 out of 5

    Gaurav Anand

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jason Hammersley

  17. 4 out of 5

    David Kirschner

  18. 4 out of 5

    Katya

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  20. 4 out of 5

    Amber

  21. 4 out of 5

    Susan Fleming

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rohan Sachidanand

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jovany Agathe

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jon

  25. 5 out of 5

    Eleniv

  26. 5 out of 5

    Brian

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dee

  28. 4 out of 5

    Svetlin Petrov

  29. 4 out of 5

    Narf2916 maciel

  30. 4 out of 5

    Michele PĀIVÄ

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