Week 1: What Objects Mean and How They Mean It

I found the S. Shankar and Z. Turan readings very interesting this week. Both readings argued for a renewed vision of objects as things that are not solely ‘affected’ by social relations, but also have the ability to affect social relations. We find this in the example of Turan’s research into the Palestinian diaspora in New York, where objects such as a grandfather’s couch, a scarf, a teapot and tatoo are not only symbols of social displacement for a dispossessed people, but also a means of redefining social relations in varying contexts by the displaced people themselves. For example, Bassam’s tattoo  can be seen as a product of his yearning for a Palestinian heritage, but the positionality of the tatoo on his back enables him to redefine the public and private spheres of him enacting his identity in his current context. It is also interesting in the case of Bassam, that the teapot passed down from his grandmother, evokes a sense of Palestine heritage which has been  passed down through generations, but also allows Bassam to  draw out the borders of his masculinity (ex. the teapot takes a backseat in the hierarchy of objects which have meaning for him, as opposed to his tatoo for example).

I also found the image in Shankar’s article of the 19-year-old female from a middle-class desi family in California holding up an image of her potential suitor and matching it against her desi ‘bling’ outfit very interesting. In this scenario, Shankar describes how objects (the photo of the suitor, her outfit) to speak to the 19-year-old’s past and the social mobility of her community and also her hopes for the future. According to Shankar’s analysis, the objects do much of the speaking in the world of this 19 year old, where the desi ‘bling’ outfit symbolizes a middle class realization of social mobility, and the photo of the suitor represents anxieties and prospects for the future. I think Shankar successfully uses images in this article to illustrate how objects acquire a language of their own, and an agency of their own.

I think both authors did an excellent job of positioning objects at the center of the socio-political analysis of diasporic lives.  In the past, I often thought of the relationship between objects and the meaning they hold for  people as functioning in the opposite direction (i.e. socio-political analysis positions objects in a certain way). The images and stories of these objects that these readings provided, allowed me to re-think the role of the object and what the object can say or mean independently of what can be said about it.


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