Accepted paper:

The materiality of life crises: of people, things and extreme situations


Margrit Wettstein (Nobel Museum)

Paper short abstract:

The aim of this paper is to discuss the importance of objects in the life of people who endured extreme life situations like surviving the Holocaust or lost loved ones in the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York 2001.

Paper long abstract:

Material culture has several meanings and has played a significant role in ethnological research. Humans are surrounded by objects and many of these are so commonplace that they are barely noticeable but nevertheless are charged with emotions and stories that account for something important. In this paper the focus is on the relation between humans and objects. It is an examination of objects that help people to adjust to life again after flight and survival. With inspiration from the classical theory of rites of passage, the perspective is expanded to include positional changes and movements in a more general sense. In a catastrophe people are wrenched from life as they know it and in the next phase find themselves on a journey, in transit or in transition between what they have left behind and a security as yet to be created. It is in this in-between or liminal phase that the individual is most vulnerable - nothing is as it was and what is to come is shrouded in mystery. The latter phase, integration, means that the search or journey is complete and that the individual has found balance in life and, with that, their place in the world. The aim is to show how simple things can be vital for people trying to find coherence and meaning in life. The focus is on what objects meant for those forced to flee from Nazism and for those who lost relatives in the attack on the World Trade Center September 2001.

panel P118
Objects, domestic routines and the making of everyday life