UCL Anthropology


Material Worlds

The Material Worlds research platform explores the theoretical dimensions of material, visual, and design culture.  We critically examine the ways in which the material world has social and cultural significance, through examining social phenomena such as objects, images, materials, technologies, built forms, and places. 

  • What key cultural phenomena does the material world manifest, and how can we usefully think about and interpret them? How do material worlds have meaning?
  • How does society deal with the material world? What authority do key institutions, professions and organisations have in specific material and visual domains, such as museums, policymakers, industry regulators, designers, manufacturers, retailers, and artists?
  • How do material forms manifest, transact and negotiate human minds, cognition, will, designs, and intentionality?
  • How can we unpack and politically challenge key popular discourses about the material world, such as consumerism and popular ideas of materialism?
  • What cultural issues emerge from new approaches which conceive of the material world as comprised of materials, substances or essences, (as opposed to objects or forms)?
  • In what ways can the discipline of anthropology work with, as well as on, material and non-textual forms of information within its project of sociocultural

For more than 50 years, the study of artefacts, images, materials and places has occupied a critical position in anthropology and other social sciences. Questioning common assumptions about commodities, gifts, artworks, signs, bodies, sites, or appearances, anthropologists have sought to flush out of the shadows in which they were hiding the humble objects that we make and which in turn help make us. Anthropology has shed new light too on discourses and practices which surround our interaction with the material world. UCL Anthropology has been at the forefront of these material and visual critiques of anthropological conceptions, and  Material Worlds continues this critical tradition.

Our methods, originating anthropology, archaeology, museology and design history, scrutinise material things themselves as both a methodological avenue, and as a prime manifestation of cultural processes. We work individually and collectively with a range of material manifestations, including for example landscapes, gardens, photographs, food, computing, and textiles. We work with different paradigms by which the material world is commonly understood, such as art, design, technology, consumption, craft, the image, the commodity or the gift. We interpret, comparatively contrast and debate such forms and frameworks to address the broad field of material and visual culture theory. 

Materials and Society


Studio of Material Life

Adaptable Suburbs
Materials and SocietyUCL Ethnographic CollectionStudio of Material LifeAdaptable Suburbs

Fashioning Material Britain

War of Images


Fashioning Material BritainWar of ImagesJournalsMaterial World Blog