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Properties and Social Imagination Research Group

Run by Adam Drazin (, Haidy Geismar ( and Susanne Kuechler (

WHERE AND WHEN: Every second week, either room 130, Thurs 1pm, and Material Culture Room Weds 11am

FIRST MEETING: Wednesday 13 November, 11am Material Culture Room

This research group aims to explore ‘properties’ as a cultural topic, using objects from the ethnographic collection. We will use a combination of library research, artistic methods, installations, performative, and experimental methods.

Properties are often ascribed to materials, and are distinct from the kinds of qualities which apply to objects as forms. The cultural variety of properties are particularly difficult to unpack, and can appear in a scientific sense to be inevitably associated with particular materials. This group aims to probe some of the cultural dimensions of properties. For anthropology, properties, apparently fixed in materials, comprise rather of the ways of knowing and ways of experiencing of potentialities and limitations. Our exploration may include:

  • Sensory explorations of objects and materials. 
  • Indigenous and alternative categorisations of properties and materials.
  • The questioning and communication of properties independently of the experience of an object.
  • Those moments when properties come to be evident through work processes, transformations and the experience of resistance.
  • The inter-engagement of properties as inhering in objects, and sensations or experiences as residing in persons.

Planned Process:

  1. Reading week to Christmas:  develop a focus on particular properties or qualities in the collection and what they do (e.g. tensile strength, colour, light)
  2. Christmas to Reading Week:  storyboard & conceptualise ways to present properties. 
  3. Term 2, Reading Week to Summer:  plan and execute a small display or displays, with a heritage audience in mind, and possibility of online display and/or physically in the department. 

Last year, the properties group produced a self-published book documenting its work. We also collaborative with Massey University in New Zealand on the project, using online Skype half-day workshops presenting parallel projects.  In 2013-14, we will aim to develop an installation or presentation around the objects for a departmental exhibition space, and perhaps continue collaboration with appropriate department(s).  

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