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Home > Research > Publications & Outputs > Fruitbox/toolbox : biography and objects.
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Fruitbox/toolbox : biography and objects.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date2001
Issue1 & 2
Number of pages10
Original languageEnglish


This paper explores some issues to do with the biography of objects, beginning with the idea of the 'cultural biography of things' discussed by Kopytoff (1986) and more recent discussions of the idea within archaeology and anthropology. The limitations with these approaches are identified in terms of treating objects as commodities or gifts that have a cultural presence primarily through the value accorded to them in markets and rituals of exchange. The contradictions of writing a biography of material objects that assumes them to have a 'life' are explored in terms of the literary task of 'writing a life'. It is argued that objects do not have to be identified as 'singular' in terms of their exchange or ritual value for them to be worth writing about but the task of a biography of objects involves taking a particular object and making it singular through the process of writing. The biography of objects is recovered as a useful way of studying the cultural changes through which ordinary objects survive using the example of a toolbox made out of a fruitbox. The paper argues that rather than focussing on the process of exchange as the prime way in which cultural value is assigned to objects, it is the location of the ordinary object in the context of mundane social lives that gives it specificity and singularity.