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Bringing the collection to life: a study in object relations Open Access


Other title
material culture
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Morrison, Rebecca
Supervisor and department
Tinic, Serra (Sociology)
Examining committee member and department
Riggins, Steven Harold (External)
Fletcher, Chris (Anthropology)
Thompson, Guy (History and Classics)
Haggerty, Kevin (Sociology)
Whitelaw, Anne (Art and Design)
Department of Sociology

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
This dissertation investigates how collectibles are made meaningful within collecting communities in order to better understand the intricate processes by which lead soldiers, toy trains, dolls, Dinkie cars, Star Wars figurines, and teddy bears come to be so enchanting for their collectors. An ethnography of toy collecting, including interviews with toy collectors, and observations at toy fairs and gatherings, this project contributes to debates on the use and role of material goods in practices of meaning making and social reproduction. In contrast to theories of material culture, this project aligns itself with consumer theories of the cultural constitution of objects. Emphasizing that object-centered analyses provide little insight on the value of collectibles, it advocates, instead, the centrality of perception and imaginative practice in the hold collectibles come to have over collectors. Drawing from consumer culturalists’ work on processes of identification; Bourdieu’s theory of consumption; Foucault on the archive; as well as Marxist inspired theories of the fetish, this project engages with nostalgic practice, the collectible market, judgments of authenticity, practices of ordering, as well as the complicated rules governing collecting. Working from collectors’ own stories, debates, contradictions, discussions and imaginative engagements this study uncovers that the mutability of the meanings assigned to collectibles is at the heart of collectors’ enchantment with their collectibles, and a central factor in how collecting becomes an eminently political activity. Collectors are not free to construct meanings for their collectibles at will but subject to community constraints, markets and battles of legitimacy. The various mystifications and social maneuverings present in their collecting practices imply that an object’s value is the outcome of a careful mediation of both personal and wider cultural meanings. Mobilized to particular ends however tenuously held their meanings may be, material goods become powerful components to the wider cultural, social and economic fields in which they circulate.
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