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LEGACY OF MATERIALS CULTURE: THE STORY OF OUR STUFF

Megan Jacobs, mejacobs@unm.edu
Core: Humanities

COURSE DESCRIPTION

How much stuff do you need to be happy? The material goods we purchase fill our homes, impact our bank accounts, and have vast environmental ramifications on the planet. The average American has more than 300,000 possessions and current homes in the U.S. are three times as large as in the 1950’s all the while the personal storage is a 22 billion dollar a year industry.
We aren't the first to wonder what part “things” play in the good life. As early as 340 BC Aristotle argues that one must have the “furniture of the good life” in order to truly flourish. He believed that material goods play a role in happiness. We cannot live up to our potential as humans if we have nothing. But how much and what kinds of things do we need to be happy?

We will explore the role of possessions in detail, asking questions such as: Why do we buy things and what role does media take in shaping our material desires? What does the consumption and inevitable disposal of these goods do to the planet? How do material goods express our identities, informing others of our gender, socioeconomic, and ethnic backgrounds? How do our possessions serve as markers of personal or collective memory?

We will read a range of historic and contemporary thinkers, Aristotle, Marx, Ruskin, de Botton, and Humes who explore the effect of stuff in our lives as we try to answer the fundamental question: what role does material culture play in the good life?

READINGS AND TEXTS

Selected readings will be available in a course reader and/or the course website. Selections will be drawn from, among others:

Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle


Unto This Last, John Ruskin
Capital, vol. 1

The fetishism of commodities and the secret thereof, Karl Marx

Consumption and Its Consequences, Daniel Miller


Status Anxiety, Alain de Botton

Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash, Edward Humes

 

FILMS AND OTHER COURSE MATERIALS

Story of Stuff

People Like Us

The True Cost 

 

COURSE FEE

$20

 

STUDENT REQUIREMENTS

Students will present an oral presentation exploring how artists explore ideas associated with consumption throughout the semester will write a summative (2 page) paper, an argumentative paper (3-5 pages) and a final paper. Regular participation, consisting of reading observation, class discussion, and a legacy lecture reflection, are key component of the class.

 

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR

Megan Jacobs is an Associate Professor of Art in the Honors College. She holds an M.F.A. in Photography from the University of New Mexico. Jacobs’ work has been exhibited internationally and explores the delicate relationship between our existence as material and concept. Jacobs' teaching interests include fine art, aesthetics, and cultural preservation through new media.