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LEGACY OF MATERIAL CULTURE: 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. A​s early as 340 BC A​ristotle argues that one must have the “furniture of the good life” in order to truly flourish. H​e believed that ma​terial goods play a role in happiness. W​e 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?​

W​e will exp​lore 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 d​o t​o 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, Marx, Ruskin, Tanazaki, Miller, and Humes who explore the e​ffect 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: Available online:

Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle
Unto This Last, J​ohn Ruskin
Capital, vol. 1, The fetishism of commodities and the secret thereof, ​Karl Marx
Stuff,​ Daniel Miller
Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash,​ Edward Humes

 

FILMS AND OTHER COURSE MATERIALS

Story of Stuff
People Like Us

COURSE FEE (if applicable) & BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF HOW FEES WILL BE USED

$20

STUDENT REQUIREMENTS

Attendance and participation
Two legacy lecture reflections
Written observations from readings
An oral presentation on global perspectives of consumption
A summary paper (2-3 pages)
An argumentative paper (5-7 pages)
Common Legacy Assignment
Research Paper Proposal
8-10-page Research Paper and Presentation

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR

Megan Jacobs' work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and has been part of exhibitions at Saatchi Gallery (online), the Museum of New Art (MONA), the Pingyao International Photography Festival, Pingyao, China, GoEun Museum of Photography, Busan, Korea, Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand, the International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA). She earned an MFA in photography from the University of New Mexico and a BA from Smith College. She is an Associate Professor in the Honors College at the University of New Mexico where she teaches interdisciplinary courses in fine art.