This course focuses on how consumers negotiate desire, difference and power in seemingly commonplace material consumption:  We will examine the concrete politics and imagination invested in things ranging from Barbies to subcultural fashion to household garbage.  The course revolves around how a broadly defined archaeology of the modern material world can contextualize everyday goods as symbolically contested vehicles for desire.  Rather than see commodities as flat reflections of pre-existing identities or dominant economic organizations, the course examines how objects provide insight into who we wish to be and who we are.  We will trace the historical development of the relationship between goods and identity from the eighteenth century and identify the systems of inequality that have been reproduced (as well as subverted) through material consumption. The class champions a critical, self-reflective perspective on cultural and subcultural difference, and we will stress how archaeology's systematic analytical techniques provide a mechanism to probe the technological, social, and ideological meaning in the apparently meaningless minutia that surrounds us everyday.

Course links

There is a separate web page with directions for each exercise and another page with the term paper guidelines.  Those pages include the details of each assignment, so please review them closely when completing the assignments.  This syllabus includes deadlines for all assignments and test dates, and it is your responsibility to know when assignments are due and tests are scheduled.  If any errors are made on this syllabus, they will be corrected and those changes will be placed on Oncourse announcements.  

You will complete two exercises analyzing contemporary material culture. These will be worth 50% of the course grade (25% each).  The major project for the semester will be a term paper worth 30% of the course grade.  Each student will lead the class discussion on one course reading worth 10% of the course grade.  Attendance will be worth 10% of the course grade.

The first exercise will be an "archaeological" analysis of a genuine contemporary garbage deposit. You will make a detailed record of your own garbage for seven consecutive days and turn that in on February 15th.  These records will be distributed anonymously to other students in the class, and you will then analyze a classmates' refuse sample (25% final grade).  The final analysis of another student's refuse sample is due on March 7.

The second exercise (25%) will be an analysis of a contemporary collection.  Collecting creates the illusion of adequate representation of the world, but that representation can come in the form of matchbook covers, snowglobes, banana magnets, and any number of serialized assemblages.  You will prepare a paper that analyzes a single collection, outlines how it conforms to or departs from our working definition of a "good" collection (e.g., public, pedagogical, etc.), and examines the ways in which it is a reflection of the world or an indication of how the collector wishes the world could be.  The analysis is due on March 28.

At some point in the semester, each student will present a selection of the readings assigned in the same night (10% of your final grade).  The readings page will include all readings and indicates the class members who will present those readings.  You must prepare a Powerpoint on the reading to present in class.  You should expect to direct the class' discussion of the reading:  your review should minimally be about 10-15 minutes.  You absolutely must pose at least three questions for the class at the end of the presentation.  Anybody whose presentation is too short, fails to include questions for discussion, or is otherwise disorganized or unprepared will not receive the full credit for the assignment.  You can volunteer to present any reading of your choosing on a first-come, first-serve basis; any students who do not sign up by the second class will be assigned a reading.  Anybody who does not attend on the night of their reading will receive no credit unless they have a substantial excuse.

During the semester you will produce a term paper that interprets some object, material space, or class of modern material objects using the concepts and examples examined in class (30%). You will be required to provide a proposal for your term paper subject by February 22.  Students who do not turn in a paper proposal by February 22nd will automatically lose a letter grade from their paper's final grade.  I reserve the right to reject any unapproved topic:  please do not skip the proposal.

Graduate students' term papers must be a minimum of 20 pages in length.  Graduate student papers will be expected to include a rigorous range of resources including peer-reviewed literature and in many cases some original research.  You are encouraged to develop a project that fits your own research interests or preparation for your thesis or another project.  You are required to meet with me to discuss your topic and structure an appropriate paper.  Graduate students are expect to complete all remaining course assignments as they outlined in the syllabus.

Participation in class discussion and attendance at lecture are key to comprehension, especially since we cover so much material in each weekly class meeting and we meet just 14 times.  Students who miss no class meetings will receive 10% of the course grade.  After that absence the grade will fall by two points for each subsequent absence.  For instance, if you missed one class you will receive 8 points; if you miss two you receive 6 points; if you miss three you receive 4 points; if you miss four you receive two points; and if you miss five or more classes you receive no points.  Please do not plan to leave at the break or I reserve the right to record you as absent.   

Excused absences do not count toward your attendance grade if they are documented illnesses (i.e., a physician's note, not simply sniffles in the next class or sounding really crappy on the phone). I am sympathetic to the things in life that you cannot control--work schedules, sick family, a broken-down car, everyday malaise--but I reserve the right to excuse absences on a case-by-case basis.  I will not consider excusing you for an absence if you do not provide me an email documenting the reason for an absence Attendance will be taken at the beginning of each class meeting on a course roster that circulates through class.  If you come in late, you must ensure that you sign this roster at the end of class; at the end of the semester I will not negotiate over the days you actually attended but forgot to sign the attendance roster. I will not allow students to sign the roster if they arrive halfway through the class meeting; please email me an explanation of late arrivals that are outside your control with me (e.g., caught in traffic jam, but not an errant alarm clock).  I will be reasonably forgiving about things over which you have no control, like weather and sick children.  I will negotiate these things on a case-by-case basis and do not make any promises that any particular absence--boss requiring you to show up for work, dog needing a trip to the vet, no parking spaces-- will be excused.  Please let me know immediately via email and do not plan to barter over these absences at semester's end.

If you cannot complete an assignment on time for any reason, you must contact me. I will only extend a deadline in cases where you demonstrate sufficient reason to be granted an extension. I can always be contacted after class, you can schedule an appointment, and I check my email virtually everyday. Even if it is embarrassing to acknowledge that you simply forgot an assignment due date or your boss unexpectedly demanded a long shift when you planned to do the assignment, please come see me and I will do my very best to resolve it in some way that doesn't mean you receive no credit at all.  Do NOT wait until after a deadline to talk to me, and do NOT postpone talking to me if you are having any difficulty completing an assignment for any reason. Late assignments will be penalized significantly if you do not negotiate an extension with me beforehand. Students who do not turn in the term paper on time will receive no credit for the assignment.  To miss any of the exercises or turn in the term paper late is, at best, mathematically ill-advised. 

All course Powerpoint lectures and most PDF readings are on Oncourse under the Resources tab.  Class grades will be recorded on the Oncourse gradebook.

All work in the course is conducted in accordance with the University’s academic misconduct policy.  Cheating includes dishonesty of any kind with respect to exams or assignments. Plagiarism is the offering of someone else’s work as your own: this includes taking un-cited material from books, web pages, or other students, turning in the same or substantially similar work as other students, sneaking a peek at the neighbor's exam, or failing to properly cite other research.  If you are suspected of any form of academic misconduct you will be called in for a meeting at which you will be informed of the accusation and given adequate opportunity to respond.  A report will be submitted to the Dean of Students, who will decide on further disciplinary action.  Please consult the University Bulletin’s academic misconduct policy or me if you have any questions.

Be absolutely certain to keep a copy of any emailed assignments you send to me should the email disappear or not arrive at my end, and save every single assignment until grades have been assigned:  Don't just save it on your laptop or one thumb drive, since they can crash, get lost, or be purloined by somebody who undervalues your commitment to education, and do not delete assignments instantly after their due date until their grades have been posted to Oncourse.  If you email me an assignment and do not turn it in during class, you absolutely must keep the sent mail confirmation should the assignment not reach me for whatever reason. 

The Office of Adaptive Educational Services (AES) ensures that students with disabilities receive appropriate accommodations from the University and their professors.  Students must register with the AES office in order to receive such services.

Portable electronic devices such as cell phones and laptop computers must have their sound turned off before the start of class.  You can use a laptop in class for note-taking but should silence it; I know it is nearly impossible to ignore a Facebook message or email notifications popping up on your laptop or phone, but please do not plan to answer your emails, monitor Twitter, answer texts, and monitor Candy Crush during class.  Please let me know if you expect to need to respond to your phone for specific reasons (e.g., pregnancy monitoring, disabled family, or contact with kids--not to stay in touch with a significant other who just likes to hear your voice, buddies planning the evening pub crawl, and so on).  Anyone whose clever Family Guy ringtone disturbs class will be given a verbal warning on first offense and will be asked to meet with me after class if you can't remember to turn off your phone before class.

The classroom is a safe speech situation in which it is your responsibility to treat other classmates fairly and with mutual respect, even if they have the audacity to disagree with you, champion an opinion that is inconsistent with your worldview, or simply bore you.  Anyone who talks when someone else is talking, is hostile, or otherwise violates classroom etiquette will be considered to be in violation of this policy and will need to meet with me. 

The course material includes numerous advertisements and images from a variety of popular discourses over more than a century, and some of them may strike us individually as ideologically problematic or outright tasteless.  Surprisingly crass images are part of our everyday life and are commonplace in many mass media, but they often pass beneath our consciousness.  However, seeing them projected onto a screen at the front of the classroom several feet high and contemplating these graphics outside the contexts in which they are most often presented can be potentially unsettling.  I do not display images simply for "shock value," but some advertising symbolism may strike many of us as tasteless if not offensive.  It is perfectly reasonable to be offended by some advertising symbolism, but I will always do my best to use specific images to help us think reflectively about precisely what sorts of social meanings are being used to sell goods, even if we may find that symbolism unpleasant.

All work in this course is intended to fulfill the University's Principles of Undergraduate Learning.  The class focuses on critical, self-reflective thinking, integrates knowledge from a variety of disciplinary and sociocultural perspectives, examines social and cultural complexity, and probes the impact of knowledge on our everyday decision-making.  Do let me know if the course does not satisfy any of the missions included in the Principles.

A basic requirement of this course is that you will participate in class and conscientiously complete writing and reading assignments.  If you miss more than half our class meetings within the first four weeks of the semester without contacting me, you will be administratively withdrawn from this section. If you miss more than four classes in the first four weeks, you may be withdrawn. Administrative withdrawal may have academic, financial, and financial aid implications. Administrative withdrawal will take place after the full refund period, and if you are administratively withdrawn from the course you will not be eligible for a tuition refund. If you have questions about the administrative withdrawal policy at any point during the semester, please contact me.

A 93-100 (95)
A- 89-92 (90)
B+ 86-88 (87)
B 82-85 (84)
B- 79-81 (80)
C+ 76-78 (77)
C 70-75 (73)
D 60-69 (65)
F 0-60
The reading schedule for the class is in bold on the course schedule. Some of the readings come from the assigned text, but nearly all individual readings are articles saved as PDFs on Oncourse under the Resources tab; some are accessible to IUPUI students on ebrary including Subculture: The Meaning of Style; and others are accessible by clicking on the title in the syllabus.  Linked readings require that you first log into the IUPUI University Library page with an IUPUI Network ID (i.e., a username and password) when accessing University Library's electronic resources from off-campus. Some e-journal services are temperamental or may take you to the whole journal's contents rather than a single article, so backup versions of many readings also can be accessed through Oncourse.

You are responsible for completing readings prior to class.  We will discuss the readings in class, and you will be expected to integrate concepts and examples from the readings into your term paper, so you should purchase them or arrange to share with another class member. We will not discuss the additional readings, which are included here to provide you with supporting scholarship on the research that interests you most.   Hopefully many of you can use them for your term papers, though that is not required.

The course has only one assigned text, and it is available online for no charge.  All IUPUI students have access to a digital version of the book FREE OF CHARGE on ebrary.


Course Outline and Schedule

January 11, 25

Introduction to course: Defining anthropology, archaeology, and material culture

What is culture? Mass culture? Popular culture?
What makes it modern?


February 1

What is material culture?  Why Collect Things?

Additional Readings

February 8

Context and Capitalism: The link between Ronald McDonald and inequality

Additional Readings


February 15

Ideology and Material Culture

Additional readings


February 22

Puritans and Romantics: the Roots of Modern Consumer Society

Additional readings

February 29

Sell Them Their Dreams:  Advertising and Consumer Desire

Additional readings


March 7

Constructing the Material World: Space and Surveillance

Additional readings


March 21

Post Modern Identity: Pastiche and Material Consumption

Additional readings


March 28

The Materiality of Memory and Experience

April 4

Additional readings

April 11

Constructing the Body in the Material World

Additional readings


April 18

Consuming Gender

Additional readings

April 25

Consuming Ideologies

May 2

Course Wrap-Up and Review

Last updated January 22, 2016