ASA2016: Footprints and futures: the time of anthropology

Living with and through profusion: narrating selves and shaping futures
Location Science Site/Chemistry CG60
Date and Start Time 06 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Jennie Morgan (University of York) email
  • Zemirah Moffat (Insightful Moves) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Profusion - or an abundance of material and digital things - is a phenomenon of contemporary patterns of consumption. This panel looks at how strategies for dealing with profusion express, (re)configure, and/or provide alternatives to late-modern temporal, social, moral, and political formations.

Long Abstract

There is growing consensus that contemporary life is characterised by an abundance of material and digital things. Geographically and temporally nuanced, this is accompanied by 'overflow' and 'excess' of other entities - e.g. information, commodities, tasks, technologies, and resulting choices (Czarniawska and Löfgren 2012, 2013). Coping with profusion is a key challenge for all; concerns issues of sustainability, stewardship, and legacy; and confronts individuals, communities, organisations, and households alike. Yet, while challenging, dealing with profusion also provides a plethora of opportunities for creativity, agency, self-narration, and the shaping of anticipated futures. Responding to the conference themes (temporalities of economic exchange in particular) we invite researchers to consider profusion as a phenomenon of contemporary patterns of consumption. How do strategies and approaches for dealing with profusion express, (re)configure, and/or provide alternatives to temporal, social, moral, and political formations associated with late-modernity; or, as our title implies, how do ways of living with and through profusion shape selves and futures? When addressing these questions, specific topics might include (but should not be limited too):

* ethnographic accounts of keeping and discarding

* (in)equalities and power relations of profusion

* sensory, material, affective, and/or experiential qualities of profusion

* anthropological theories of excess

* impacts of material and digital excess on health and well-being

* prolific pasts, sentimentality, and abundant heritage

We welcome papers from all anthropological disciplines, as well as papers that include non-textual media such as video, sound, photography, and illustration.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Regimes of value, temporality and truth in hoarding

Authors: David Orr (University of Sussex)  email

Short Abstract

Hoarding has come to increasing clinical and public prominence. This paper reports on research with 'hoarders' in England with whom social services intervened. Through what ontologies do they perceive ‘hoarding’ and what subject positions do they occupy?

Long Abstract

In contemporary clinical and media portrayals, the figure of the 'hoarder' encapsulates uncontrolled profusion of possessions and the disproportionate, or inappropriate, dominance of material things over personal experience and interpersonal relationships. From these perspectives, in late modern society where material abundance has become more prevalent among the population than ever before in history, hoarders are those who indulge in an 'excess of excess.' Hoarding television series, self-help books and internet resources draw on diagnostic modalities of truth which are overwhelmingly characterised by discourses of risk, misplaced priorities, pathology and deviant temporalities. Against the backdrop of growing clinical and public attention, limited attention has been paid to how 'hoarders' themselves articulate their experience. Through what ontologies do they perceive 'hoarding' and where do they draw boundaries of agency between individuals, relationships and objects?

This paper reports on research with carried out with individuals in England who received social services input as a result of their accumulation of objects in their home environment. As they reflected on their experiences of intervention, they challenged subject positions articulated for them in the language of neuropsychological deficits, genetic inheritance or cognitive distortions. Instead they proposed alternative regimes of value that refracted or challenged normative judgements of human-object relations. We ask how clutter, clearance and safety might be negotiated differently by all involved.


Author: Martin Hampton  email

Short Abstract

'POSSESSED' enters the complicated worlds of four hoarders. It questions whether hoarding is a symptom of mental illness or a revolt against the material recklessness of consumerism. When does collecting become hoarding and why do possessions exert such an influence on our lives?

Long Abstract

'POSSESSED' enters the complicated worlds of four hoarders; people whose lives are dominated by their relationship to possessions. The film's structure follows four separate monologues, starting with a collector of books who is losing control of his hobby, followed by a compulsive ebay shopper who spent £15,000 of credit on mobile phones. Thirdly we encounter a woman who can't throw anything away and whose house is a time capsule of everything that's ever entered the door. The final chapter features a gentleman whose small apartment has fallen into a state of total abandon, piled high with mounds of torn paper and records, while he mourns the death of his beloved mother. The film asks indirectly whether hoarding is a symptom of mental illness or a revolt against the material recklessness of consumerism. It looks for the moment when 'collecting' become 'hoarding', and ultimately asks why possessions exert such an influence on our lives.

Keeping, disposing, valuing: exploring "hoarders'" object worlds

Author: Alex Miller (University of Leeds)  email

Short Abstract

People who hoard live at the limits of normative practices of material culture. This paper discusses how hoarding as profusion problematizes everyday approaches to the keeping and disposing of objects, exploring alternative regimes of value, use and usefulness that inform “hoarders’” practices.

Long Abstract

Hoarding, as a practice of profusion, exposes the limits of normative material culture. Socially agreed-upon definitions of what constitutes 'matter out of place' (Douglas, 1966) in the home, what should be disposed of, and the appropriate ways to manage this (Gregson, 2007), are unsettled through "hoarders'" practices of keeping and disposing. Presented as out of control excess in media representations, recently officially pathologised as mental illness, responses to hoarding as profusion exemplify the limits of socially acceptable practices of material culture. This paper reports on ongoing fieldwork with a number of self-identified "hoarders" who, by participating in interviews, object solicitation research and recording video tours of their homes, help to unsettle everyday approaches to valuing and relating to objects.

"Hoarders'" words and deeds conform to, critique and exceed normative practices of keeping and disposing. I outline how "hoarders'" practices are based on alternative regimes of value in which ideas of use and usefulness operate. Possessions are kept 'just in case', with the distressing, anxiety-provoking idea of lack embodied in their disposal. Objects are conceptualised as having manifold future potential uses, uses that others may not see. Consequentially, these use-full, needed objects are hoarded, stored in often chaotic homes causing significant problems with daily life. Individually use-full objects come to make the home use-less, depriving the space of its functionality, sometimes making cooking and washing impossible. In exploring alternative regimes of value for thinking through use and usefulness this paper discusses non-normative domestic profusion and the material culture associated with it.

Excessive cultures: choice, control and reproduction in multinational corporations

Author: Mitchell W Sedgwick (London School of Economics)  email

Short Abstract

This paper addresses excesses of cross-cultural complexity as they are narrated across foreign subsidiaries of Japanese multinational corporations. It examines the collapsing together of non-Japanese persons in these spaces as a process generating control and closure.

Long Abstract

Complexities of modernity are concentrated in formal organizations. At 'foreign' subsidiaries of multinational corporations, meanwhile, competitions common to day-to-day organizational life are exaggerated: differences between members' basic understandings of social life are in high tension. While panoplies of cultures suggest opportunities for knowledge and learning, excesses of choice require containment.

This paper addresses problems of cross-cultural complexity as they unfold at Japanese multinational corporations, based in extensive ethnographic research in foreign subsidiaries, and their affected local communities, across the globe. While the mass production taking place in these spaces creates abundant materiality, here I discuss excesses of cultures and, specifically, how Japanese managers and engineers parse and compartmentalize the overflows surrounding their work with others. The paper queries their binding of individual and community agency through its narrations across time and space, and the moral formations engaged in denying, through collapsing together, different sorts of persons. It is argued that while reproducing sought-after original forms in such complex organizational spaces is impossible, processes of (over)simplification nonetheless generate order, control and, so, closure.

Disconnect to reconnect: shaping the present to fix the future

Author: Theodora Sutton (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

Digital Detoxing is a new way for individuals living in digitally saturated cultures to control and limit what they digitally consume. Based on an ethnography with the Camp Grounded community in Oakland, CA, this research investigates one example of the more widespread phenomenon of techno-anxiety.

Long Abstract

Today our lives are inextricably bound up with digital technology. The Bay Area, home of both Silicon Valley and Counterculture, continues to experience a clash of techno-utopianism and determinism. The resulting anxiety surrounding what constitutes appropriate quality and quantity of digital usage has led to Digital Detoxing, where protection strategies against over-use or 'digital diets' understand technology using a food parallel. Part of what I call 'Digital Healthism', Detoxing removes or limits what individuals feel is harming them, decisions which are informed by medical, moral and emotional experiences, emphasizing instead specific virtuous offline activities. By creating a community in response to their dissatisfaction with digitally mediated life, they construct norms surrounding digital behaviour which adhere to their values, especially where they feel digital practices have begun to stray. Meaning, connection and authenticity are positioned as virtues eroded by capitalist, addictive or lesser forms of digital communication. While the brief connection or 'snack' of a text message might temporarily satisfy, Detoxers feel that waiting for a more nutritious face-to-face meeting will ultimately be more nourishing. These attitudes tie into digital dualism, culturally constructed ideas of nature and technology, Governmentality and Healthism. How can individuals hope to reconcile their interwoven reliance on, and anxiety about their digital devices? Which protection strategies or 'diets' tend to recur and how can we use these manifestations of techno-anxiety to chart digital experiences? Does Detoxing point towards a future of users shaping and engaging with wider technological narratives?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.