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Reviewed by:
  • Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds ed. by Jason Baird Jackson
  • Willow G. Mullins
Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds. Ed. Jason Baird Jackson. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2016. Pp. 202, introduction, index.)

The sharp technological shifts of the current era have required a rethinking of how people engage materially within their own lives and with each other. In the 2000s, a number of texts sought to refine the definition of material culture and the approaches to its study, including Henry Glassie's Material Culture (Indiana University Press, 1999) and Vernacular Architecture (Indiana University Press, 2000), Carl Knappett's Thinking Through Material Culture: An Interdisciplinary Perspective (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), and Arthur Asa Berger's What Objects Mean: An Introduction to Material Culture (Left Coast Press, 2009). These texts heralded a new era of material culture study, moving it from the data-gathering phase to more sophisticated analysis of how people make—and make meaning through—objects. More recent works in material culture, however, have deepened this discussion, looking beyond makers to users and beyond objects to materiality. Crucially, folklorists have begun situating the material within and as co-productive of the political, the social, and the technological.

This new area of material culture study is the space in which Material Vernaculars, the introductory volume for a new series, resides—offering a venue where, to use editor Jason Baird Jackson's words, "the spirit of the old and the new, and their integration, is captured" (p. 3). This spirit shines through the introduction, as Jackson lays the groundwork for both series and volume. Jackson and his editorial board intend that the Material Vernaculars series will not only encourage a continuation of older, object-centered forms of material scholarship but will also give voice to new forms of praxis and new materialities. Perhaps most importantly, they refuse to see these two subjects or approaches as binaries. Instead, they challenge authors and readers to consider how the old and new intertwine in the daily usage of objects.

Fitting the action to the word, this volume, subtitled "Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds," leads by example both in the subjects and objects of the chapters and the approaches to those subjects. Jackson identifies three main themes for this introductory volume: the interweaving of the material with oral genres, notions of public and private, and movement. The first theme recognizes the myriad ways in which people make and use objects co-productively with how they speak about those objects, or how objects become points of departure for oral genres. Through the second theme, we begin to see how individuals, families, and communities use objects to negotiate which aspects of their identities and memories will be public and which will remain private, and how this boundary shifts in response to events and audience. The third theme demonstrates how meaning shifts as objects and the people who use them move through time and space. These themes are not trajectories of thought, with chapters that progress outward from the introduction. Rather, they interlace with one another throughout the chapters, creating a sense of closely woven discussion despite the widely different materials, spaces, times, and people the authors describe—both old and new.

The first chapter, Gabrielle A. Berlinger's "Searching for Home in the Ephemeral Architecture of the Sukkah," pulls from her larger work Framing Sukkot: Tradition and Transformation in Jewish Vernacular Architecture (Indiana University Press, 2017), one of the inaugural monographs of the Material Vernaculars series. Here, Berlinger offers an ethnographic study of three sukkot (singular sukkah), the temporary ritual structures built for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot commemorating the 40 years that the ancient Israelites spent in the Sinai Desert during the exodus from Egypt (p. 13). The holiday necessarily encodes personal, cultural, and religious notions of movement and "home," exposing the symbolic merging between the physical and the spiritual. The sukkot Berlinger documents include one constructed by an actress and teacher in Bloomington, Indiana; one assembled by a man of Kurdish descent in Tel Aviv, Israel; and one Orthodox sukkah belonging to a member of the Lubavitcher Jewish sect, [End Page 332] built in Brooklyn, New York...


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pp. 332-334
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