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SIEF2013 11th Congress: Tartu, Estonia.
30 June - 4 July, 2013

SIEF2013: Circulation

Tartu, Estonia; 30th June - 4th July


Second-hand and vintage as the circulation of material culture: ownership, power, morality

Location Ülikooli 18, 228
Date and Start Time 03 July, 2013 at 10:30


Mikela Lundahl (Social Sciences) email
Anna Bohlin (University of Gothenburg) email
Staffan Appelgren (University of Gothenburg) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel focuses on how everyday objects assume new lives in new consumption contexts through rebranding of "stuff" to retro or vintage, and explores theoretical conditions for circulation of material culture in relation to issues of ownership, morality, power and the formation of subjectivities.

Long Abstract

The current recycling trend - reusing of clothes, furniture, household goods or building material - captures several contemporary social dynamics. It can be read as linked to the interest in cultural heritage in late modernity: home- and lifestyle magazines feature advice about how to create authenticity and a connection with the past through decorating with memorabilia, unique finds from flea markets, or furniture with a history. It can also be understood as a critique against the current rate of consumption, seen as unsustainable, both in terms of how goods are produced, and their impact on the environment. However, the rebranding of old stuff into vintage enables a continuous consumption, but now under a banner of sustainability, uniqueness and quality. The circulation of goods can thus be read both as an effort to resist consumption, and simultaneously as an expansion of capitalism.

Parallel to these changing contexts for used materiality, the idea of owning is undergoing a transformation. Rather than accumulating and collecting, many actors seek to minimize their ownership, not through downsizing but through securing access to goods in new ways: donating before buying, borrowing, renting, or co-owning. From having been a cornerstone of modern liberal democratic society, ownership has become problematic: costly and limiting; related to sedentarianism and unwieldy for late modern subjects engaging in rapidly shifting identity projects.

This panel welcomes papers that explore theoretical or empirical dimensions of the circulation of material culture in relation to issues of ownership, morality, power and the formation of subjectivities.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Flea markets as drivers of urban culture, commerce and sustainable cities

Authors: Helene Brembeck (University of Gothenburg)  email
Niklas Sörum (University of Gothenburg)  email

Short Abstract

Recently there has been a growing interest in flea markets as sites of consumption, innovation, sociality and culture. This paper highlights these sentiments as dimensions of sustainable cultural densification in possible future work with sustainable cities.

Long Abstract

Recently there has been a growing interest in street/flea markets and Sophie Watson has argued for the centrality of such markets as sites of trade, social innovation, urban regeneration, healthy eating, environmental sustainability and social interaction. As such flea markets could have a role to play in new sustainable cultures through forms of densification: bringing people together, acting as 'community builders' that initiates civic activity and values, somewhere to meet and learn about new cultures. Flea markets are also centers of commerce and economic exchange and can support the local economy and offer access to cheap and recycled commodities; they can act as significant cultural and tourist attractions; and they can support action that benefits the environment. This paper highlights these sentiments as dimensions of sustainable cultural densification in possible future work with sustainable cities. The object of study is a large recycled storage building now housing an in-door flea market in Gothenburg. The building is also decorated with graffiti art. Through ethnographic fieldwork including interviews, hearings, workshops, archive studies, video and photo we aimed at the objective to understand the functions and meanings through: local accounts to analyze what and how people talked about it; some minor geographic data collection in order to study the spatial distribution of sellers and visitors of the market; and responses to outside forces, in particular local city redevelopment plans and a demolition threat. Results tell of a non-segregated space where cultural expressions lived in the heart of an institution's (public) space without restrictions.

Montreal modern: the accents of retro

Author: Kristian Handberg (University of Copenhagen )  email

Short Abstract

Through the case of Montreal, Canada the role of retro as a cultural memory is analyzed. I will suggest that retro can be a productive counter memory aware of the exchange between the local and global and of the specificity of modern culture.

Long Abstract

The paper discusses the way retro culture responds to and even creates a regional identity through the distribution of modern culture. From being about general references to the recent past, retro culture has developed a demand for the site specific past and local specificity. This awareness of the local context and the vernacular history that I will call "retro with accent" ties retro closer to the perspective of cultural memory and heritage culture where the past is used to create a modern identity as well as a common past.

I will present this through the case of retro in Montreal, Canada. Montreal is a complicated cultural context as a bilingual, multicultural city in Quebec with a history of colonial and central Canadian political influence and American cultural dominance, but also with a history as a vibrant center for modern culture creating a present modern heritage. Through the interest in clothing, design and pop culture with a distinct local flavor previously deemed as inferior, the retro culture is an important part of this creating the cultural memory of the modern past.

The retro culture in Montreal refers to two sides of modernity in the city's history. The seedy, red light vice city era of the 1940s and 1950s as a night side of the modern, and the confident 1960s culminating in the Expo 67 World Exhibition with its popular modernism as a bright, daylight side of the modern. These myths show important sides of the attraction of the modern past and retro's use of it.

Reusing textiles: on material and cultural wear and tear

Author: Anneli Palmsköld (University of Gothenburg)  email

Short Abstract

Why do many people find it hard to throw away their used textiles and what do they actually do with their worn clothes or home textiles? The paper deals with morally and ethically aspects connected to recycling processes when it comes to textiles.

Long Abstract

Why do many people find it hard to throw away their used textiles and what do they actually do with their worn clothes or home textiles? This is the main question in a research project titled "Reusing Textiles: on Material and Cultural Wear and Tear". Within the project a fieldwork covering a local flea market has been done. More than 70 informants has been asked to write and describe how they handle their used textiles focusing on how they reuse them, save them, give them away or use them to create new textiles. The results points to a desire to preserve the textiles and finding ways to make them useful in every day life or in the local or global community. Many of the elderly informants who experienced World War II talks about textiles in terms of quality referring to material and execution that makes it possible to repair patch or reuse. The younger informants on the other hand talk about textiles in terms of consuming them.

In this contribution morally and ethically aspects of sorting out worn clothes and home textiles are discussed. How people connect to textiles as a material category and how this affects the recycling process is another question asked.

Stuff in motion: acquisition and disposal of furniture as collaborative consumption

Authors: Anna Bohlin (University of Gothenburg)  email
Staffan Appelgren (University of Gothenburg)  email

Short Abstract

In the second hand furniture trade, objects are transformed as they shift owners and contexts and move along biographical trajectories. Increasingly aware of objects having a 'before' and an 'after', consumers acquire and dispose of furniture as a form of collaborative consumption.

Long Abstract

This paper is based on an anthropological pilot study involving consumers and retailers within the secondhand furniture sector, a market which has seen a rapid growth in the last decade along with the popular interest in 'retro' and 'vintage' goods and continued questioning of ownership. Based on interviews and participant observation, the paper explores how different stakeholders view and engage with the objects in circulation. It outlines how objects are transformed when they are transferred from one context to another and how categories of 'old' and 'new' assume different meanings as objects move along biographical trajectories. Through these phases of use and reinterpretation, different things are imagined as accompanying the objects: positive values such as patina, authenticity and uniqueness, but also negative ones, such as dirt, physical damage or harmful insects. The paper argues that consumers are increasingly aware that objects have a 'before' and an 'after' when they make their choices of acquisition and disposal, and that motivation for buying second hand furniture as well as donating used goods entails aspects of 'collaborative consumption' (Botsman & Rogers 2010). At the same time, the increasing circulation of used items undermines the distinction between consumers and producers, with private individuals disposing of unwanted furniture through modern forms of web-based bartering and sale, and entrepreneurs exploiting new niches in the various stages of the circulation process.

Yard sales: from selling off objects to redeeming memory

Author: Octave Debary (Paris Descartes University)  email

Short Abstract

This conference will focus on the social operations surrounding the moments when second-hand objects in yard sales and flea markets are requalified as objects of memory.

Long Abstract

The fate of everyday objects, when they reach the end of their lives — worn out, and sometimes even broken — varies a great deal. In some instances, their remains are exhibited in museums as instances of our heritage; in others, they end up in garages and attics, or are simply disposed of. This conference will focus on the social operations surrounding the redefinition of their status as second-hand objects — the moments when these relics are passed on, pass away. We will pay special attention to what happens when second-hand objects are bought and sold in flea markets or yard sales. Over the past thirty years, such markets — where personal stories change hands — have become favoured destinations for Sunday outings in France. They are open-air museums, where new memories are cobbled together from old objects. We will attempt to show what is at stake in these transactions through a presentation of the book (2011) and exhibition (2012) we have devoted to French yard sales.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.