Term Paper Example on Material Culture

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University of California, Santa Barbara
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Term paper
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How have anthropologists defined material culture and developed it into an approach to the study of popular culture?

Video game software and computer technologies have permeated into basically all aspects of life and society hence material culture has been highly commercialized for its profit. Capitalism is largely responsible for this as it has basically commoditized almost every aspect of material taking people(game enthusiasts in this case) in the direction of spending money on experiences, services, in the enrichment of the self-culture thanks to the extension of the production, reception and function of their artistic capacities. Nardi presents an accurate account of the scope to which this has taken place in our material culture, mainly with regards to the contribution and effects of video game software and computer technologies which has aided in the commoditization of things. Non-players are able to go into the world of players as Nardi has been able to bring World of Warcraft down to earth tying it to social and cultural theory for scholars making it easier to understand the connection between material culture and video game software and computer technologies and she has produced arguably the best ethnography of a single virtual world.

As is being seen upon her analysis which takes this into account. Therefore one can say that one of the main purpose of video game software and computer technologies apart from being a form of expression as an art in our material culture is to is to commodity things and feeding the consumer society we live in. This is especially seen in first world countries such as China, Japan and the U.S.A which have the highest number of gaming culture. Growth of material culture has been influenced and shaped by the development and advancements in technology feeding the consumer driven popular culture being driven by the profit industry that is comprised of passive consumers (gamers) paying for their entertainment and which is turning out to be more than just mere entertainment as we shall see in the subsequent chapters of this topic. Through the advent of video game software and computer technologies, material culture has been made all the more important with the passing of time. Entertainment, animations, fashion and the like as explored by Nardi in her book My Life as a Night Time Elf' have been shifting from the margins of our cultural consciousness to the center as a major component of our personal lives. Being an anthropologist by training and a professor in the Department of Informatics one cannot argue with her insight in material culture and video game software and computer technologies in her book My Life as a Night Time Elf.' The focus of her research being the social implications of digital technologies blends in very well with her knowledge and observation of material culture.

Anthropology refers to the study of the relation between humans across time and space and the here and now of people. By material culture, it implies that things are comprised of concrete and the existence of real material, however, the word thing in this context refers to an inanimate or inert quality which requiring actors to animate things through imagination or physical activity. As explored by Nardi this has been done exceptionally well through video game software and computer technologies. In her book My Life as a Night Elf Priest, we see how she has explored the way objects are discrete components of material culture perceptible by touch or sight. In Chapter 2 (An Ethnographic Investigation of the world of warcraft) Nardi has had no hypothesis as her investigations does not proceed in accordance with scientific procedure. There is no generation of hypothesis and testing. Ethnography is seen to be moving in a "go with the flow kind of pattern in an attempt to follow the interesting as well as the unexpected as they are encountered.

Artifacts being physical products of human activity have been recreated by video game software and computer technologies and one cannot fail to notice their importance because of their materiality or concreteness. This has made it to become the subject of retrospective interpretation as well as ordering. In material culture, artifacts are generally a form of the symbolism of some prior aspect of the social activity.

An obvious question about WoW is why people like it so much. This is because it delves deeply into the material culture (Woodward 2007) In exulting material culture here, goods have been viewed as objects being produced under specific market relations being assigned value within the gaming fraternity.

This is the nature of human activity which has captivated many people. Video game software and computer technologies has made it possible for objects easily enter into and out of spheres of commoditization by its incorporation into private or ritual worlds of individuals, families, etc. In observing Nardi on Play as Aesthetic Experience pp.39-51actants are entities having the ability to act' socially which is one of the reason it has managed to captivate so many people. Video game software and computer technologies has successfully managed to dissolve the boundary between actors' and objects viewed as inanimate as they are designed to overcome any a prior distinction that may exist between the social, technological and natural worlds. This is the reason why you see WoW's hold on players which is the outcome of a Skinner box that has been designed elaborately hence the reason it has managed to effectively emphasizes the inextricable links between us humans and the material things. Nardi has observed this in Play as Aesthetic Experience pp.39-51

A New Medium pp.52-93here we see how objects are being used as social markers. A tenant of the material culture here is when objects are taken not as mere social markers but more than that where they have agency not just being passive a mere reflecting of meaning. Players are so intimate with their WoW characters adding in on the consumption exulting material culture. Consumption being a form of functional utilization has come to see as being characteristically constructive. People find the characters stimulating hence the formation of identity in a reflexive and highly expressive way. One game enthusiast has strongly identified with a druid which she plays. The shape-shifting element captivates her hence she buys anything that is reflective of her character role of the druid in the game hence the material culture. Pp52-93

In Kilroy-Marac, further looks at this phenomenon by looking at chronic disorganization and/or hoarding how it affects individuals in this material culture. They observe that with material culture, relationships to objects have a major effect on personality. This is when we see as with the young female player in Beijing as Nardi mentions demonstrating Kilroy-Marac observation on how peoples personhood involving over-identification with/co-constitution with their objects. The players just as the one from Beijing become individuals because things have become part of them. The interrelation between the individual and dividual fuels the material culture.

Thanks to video game software and computer technologies a shift from the agency in objects to the notion that personhood and human agency is possible to be dispersed into or extended through things. Video game software and computer technologies have made it easy for people to identify with objects and these objects disclose something about history, society, nature, or cultureabove allabout us; there are codes by which our interpretive attention makes them meaningful These objects are no longer seen as objects as they have exceeded this: they have exceeded their material nature as objects or utilization as objects. (453) Nardi is able to point out how material goods have been contrasted with a turn in the direction of spending money on experiences, services, as well as enrichment of the self(447)

Nardis World of Warcraft is arguably the best representative of a significant new technology, the form of the art form, as well as sector of our society: the theme-oriented virtual world.Nardi's pioneering transnational ethnography has been able to explore the material culture through the eyes of this game both sensitively and systematically through the incorporation of the methods of cultural anthropology as well as aesthetics utilizing her intensive personal experience as a guild member, media teacher, and magical quest Elf.

She has skillfully managed to cover all of the hot issues which come to mind when people think of video games looking into the material culture that is comprised of game addiction where characters are no longer individuals but dividuals identifying themselves strongly with their characters. The impacts of video game software and computer technologies on our material culture has been beautifully researched and detailed going to WoW player community in China showing the extent to which video game software and computer technologies and material culture merge. Material culture has seen the increased spending of money on experiences, services, as well as enrichment of the self-blurring line between play and work as we are able to see the rich and fascinating lives of players and their cultures.



Kilroy-Marac, (2014) Artifacts of Order and Disorder Medicine Anthropology Theory 1(!):1-3

Nardi, B. (2010). My life as a night elf priest: An anthropological account of World of Warcraft. University of Michigan Press.


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