Materiality in an Interconnected World

Materiality in an Interconnected World explores the cultural dimensions of globalisation, focusing on the mobility’s of material culture, global interconnectivity, and the underlying power dynamics. It explores how the meaning of objects, styles and aesthetic forms changes over time and space.

In this research profile we are interested in globalisation’s cultural dimensions, and the impact of new technology in fashioning new modes of connectivity. We locate the ethnographic and world cultures museum and its collections at the center of these global movements and relations. Our approach to thinking globally involves studying connectivity and adopting comparative frameworks as we critically rethink the histories and contemporary meanings of the museum’s collections, and seek out new possibilities for making them accessible to our various stakeholders.

Museums of ethnography and world cultures are deeply embedded within histories of European scientific and expansionist ideals. As such they have been key players in a set of global relations and can play a central role in the study of the contemporary interconnected world. These museums were originally mobilized to serve as windows on ‘non-Western’ lifeworlds through collecting, studying and displaying objects from non-Western peoples for a European public. Today, they are important fulcrums around which we can explore questions of material powers, aesthetic and stylistic flows, and questions of colonial trade, exchange, contact and expansion, as well as the knowledge and different subjects implicated in these flows.

At the RCMC, we are interested to contribute to the rewriting of global histories of fashion or of design with ethnographic collections as focal points. Similarly, we seek to contribute to a better understanding of the global dimensions of photographic practices, traditions and aesthetics, and to ask how we can think globalisation’s flows differently, beyond easy narratives of “from the West to the rest”. In addition to these more object-oriented and historical questions, Materiality in an Interconnected World also seeks to address the contemporary global issues that these collections help raise, such as the role they play within contemporary debates on citizenship and belonging. For example, we are interested in the role that these objects can play for groups who feel a sense of place within multiple societies.