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Journal of American Folklore 116.460 (2003) 240-244
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Beyond Kinship: Social and Material Reproduction in House Societies. Ed. Rosemary A. Joyce and Susan D. Gillespie. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000. Pp. xii + 269, 21 figures, 2 tables, references cited, index.)
Material Culture. By Henry Glassie. (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1999. Pp. 416, 170 black-and-white photographs, 16 illustrations, bibliography, index.)
Vernacular Architecture. By Henrie Glassie. (Philadelphia: Material Culture; Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2000. Pp. 200, 93 black-and-white and 32 color photographs, 7 illustrations, bibliography, index.)
The study of material culture, a major focus of research in the formative years of folklore as well as anthropology, went into decline during the 1950s. Only a few folklorists and archaeologists continued to be interested in "objects." Tangible cultural products, those fundamental elements created by members of a society (see Elizabeth S. Chilton, "Material Meanings and Meaningful Materials: An Introduction," in Material Meanings: Critical Approaches to the Interpretation of Material Culture, ed. Chilton, University of Utah Press, 1999:1-6), were seen by many scholars as a minimally productive area of research. Now, however, the early data-collecting phase of material-culture studies has blossomed into very sophisticated, problem-oriented research programs using new modes of interpretation (see Amy Gazin-Schwartz and Cornelius J. Holtorf, eds., Archaeology and Folklore, Theoretical Archaeology Group Series, [End Page 240] Routledge, 1999). Material-culture studies have matured to the point where they provide a tremendous complement to studies of every aspect of culture.
Beyond Kinship is a collection of papers principally selected from presentations at a 1996 symposium organized by the editors. The subtitle of the book, "Social and Material Reproduction in House Societies," emphasizes a concept explained by Clark Cunningham in his foreword. Cunningham's important work in Timor explored "the relationship between the house as a physical, symbolic, and social model of order and the system of kinship and marriage in that society" ("Order and Change in an Atoni Diarchy," Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 21:359-82). To some scholars this may seem a serious stretching of predictive abilities, but the results generated by each of these contributions are impressive. Cunningham's fieldwork opened a path to serious interdisciplinary research, and that path is cleanly swept by the contributors to this volume.
Susan Gillespie's important introductory chapter, "Beyond Kinship," restates the theme of the volume with a discussion of the "growing interdisciplinary interests in material culture" (p. 2). She also reviews a related concern with the "house" as a physical as well as a social unit. The impressive findings of scholars working with all aspects of culture relating to the material "house" demonstrate the validity of the basic theory indicating that each culture is a complex and integrated system. This line of research also suggests that cross-cultural rules pertaining to the "house" may exist on some level.
Gillespie sets the stage for the contributed papers with chapter 2, "Lévi-Strauss: Maison and Société à Maisons." Gillespie offers an impressive review and analysis of Lévi-Strauss's sometimes opaque writings on this subject, and she brilliantly applies these early fundamental studies on the "house" in a modern, state-of-the-art analysis. Gillespie points out that the organizing factor of the kin group "may not be a building at all but a different object . . . [or] an abstraction . . . as a named place of origin" (p. 48). Her work relates the nature of a physical house to its associated occupants. She also points out the importance of this interaction for scholars from the various disciplines whose research strategies help us to decode this meaning. Studies of objects can contribute in extraordinary ways to our understanding of social organization from a historical-processual perspective. George Peter Murdock (Social Structure, Macmillan, 1949) would be proud of these developments.
Alan Sandstrom's "Toponymic Groups and House Organization" uses an example from Veracruz, Mexico, to suggest that members of an entire community may perceive themselves as being of one "house...