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The Double Nature of Collecting
Materialism and Anti-Materialism
RusselI W Belk, University of Utah

RusselI W. Belk opens the issue with a discussion on 'the double nature of collecting', as collecting has both a materialistic and an anti-materialistic dimension. He argues that collecting involves many aspects that can be construed as highly materialistic. The collector is acquisitive, possessive, and likely to value the collected objects more than people. The goods collected are luxury objects that may be regarded as precious treasures and as monetary investments. And the collector may exhibit traits of envy, jealousy, and self-indulgence in pursuing collected items. While accepting that there is some truth to each of these charges, Belk argues that collecting may be seen as an anti-materialistic activity that creates a de-commoditised sphere that opposes the market processes of commodity culture. Moreover, he contends that this second interpretation of collecting represents a romantic ideal to which most collectors aspire. (back)


Nobody's Objects

Early-19th Century Ethnographical Collections and the Formation of Imperialist Attitudes and Feelings
Susan Legêne, Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam

In a detailed analyses of the 'biography' of three different objects found in the repository of Dutch ethnographical collections - female slave dolls from Suriname, a life sized Japanese family made from papier-maché, and two mill stones and guns from North Africa - Susan Lejêne reconstructs the relationship of these objects to a specific past, as well as the specific encounter between native craftsmen and the Western collector that had been lost in the setting of the ethnographical museum. The article clearly shows how ethnographic collections transform specific objects to essential images. (back)

On Collecting as Play, Creativity and Aesthetic Practice
Bjarne Rogan, University of Oslo

According to Bjarne Rogan, the urge for collecting cannot be satisfactorily explained by the collectors' own listings of their motives. Above and beyond the common explanations ­that range from a keen interest in art, history and cultural heritage to a nostalgic longing for relics and curios from consumer society - other mechanisms are at work. Drawing upon interviews with collectors, as well as on written sources and on fiction, Rogan's article focuses on the ludic, creative and aesthetic aspects of collecting. From this perspective the collection appears to be an arena for composing new entities and new contexts, new worlds apart from the real one, and new works of art - whether the constituent elements are valuable paintings or industrial relics. (back)

Collectible Amulets
The Triple Fetishes of Modern Thai Men
lrene Stengs, University of Amsterdam

In Thai society collecting amulets is a common hobby of urban middle class men. Irene Stengs demonstrates how amulet collecting is closely interwoven with Thai male identity. In this society, where status and hierarchy are key determinants in social relationships, the amulet collection is one way for a man to express his status. Furthermore Thai amulets are very special objects as they are commodities, collector's items and powerful objects at the same time, what makes them fetishes in three different ways. Widening Marx's idea of the fetish character of commodities, the author argues that the value relations on the amulet collectors' market reflect the power relationships among Thai men. (back)

Monsters in Vienna
The pathologisch-anatomisches Bundesmuseum
Mélanie van der Hoorn

In her contribution Mélanie van der Hoorn describes the genesis and the contents of the peculiar and horrific collection of deformed skeletons, foetuses, and casts in the Pathologisch-anatomisches Bundesmuseum in Vienna . The article not only discusses how collections manage to transform human beings into objects, but shows as well how society at large uses collections to produce false yet reassuring messages about the normal and the abnormal. (back)