‘Our Stuff’ Or, A Social Science of the World in 100 Objects

We’ve all got our ‘stuff’, objects we have been given, we have bought or we have made, that we use in our lives either practically or aesthetically. Its what we move when we move house or move out, or when we have a clear out, or what we leave to others in our wills when we die. Our stuff matters to us in lots of ways, including emotionally, for our sense of self, and our social status and identity. Aleksander Hemon, a Bosnian writer uses his ‘stuff’, his objects, in his book of autobiographical essays, The Book of My Lives. He writes, ‘…you can reconstruct the story of your life from the objects you have access to, but if you don’t have the objects then there are holes in your life’.

In academic disciplines, stuff is key to the work of archaeologists and historians, and if they haven’t been able to find objects, then there are holes in knowledge about societies, cultures and peoples. Even so, museums are full of ‘old stuff’ or objects used to tell us about human history. A very successful example of the use of historical stuff in this way is the BBC Radio 4 series ‘The History of the World in 100 Object’, a 2010 partnership between the BBC and the British Museum.

I had the idea that the social sciences could take a similar approach: focusing on stuff or objects to tell people a social science of the world. With the support of the University of Leicester’s College Of Social Science, my idea has now come to fruition. It came to me after I had attended the Campaign for Social Science Roadshow event at the University of Leicester. I started to think about ways to increase public understanding of the importance of social science and the contribution it has made and continues to make to our everyday lives. My hope is that through focusing on everyday familiar objects, the project will help people recognise the value of social sciences, whose contribution to our society is too often overlooked.

So, the Social Science of the World in 100 Objects project provides a social science angle to everyday objects. Using the Leicester Exchanges public engagement forum, academics from the College of Social Sciences draw on their specialist research and knowledge to deliver thought-provoking perspectives on a range of familiar objects, beginning with the mobile phone, the television, a cotton bobbin, and a mirror.

My own piece was on the rocking horse, which I used to convey the sociological perspective on childhood as a life course stage. I’m thinking of doing one on the bra next…….

What objects would you like to see included in the series? 

Further information:

You can read the press release about the Social Science of the World in 100 Objects here, and you can also listen to a podcast of me talking about the project here.