Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Food for Thought: The Contributions of 'Matière à Penser' to the Study of Material Culture

Jean-Pierre Warnier offers us a précis on the aims of the Matière à Penser working group. The French term -- 'Matière à Penser' -- translates into 'food for thought.' The group has developed a cutting edge approach to studying "bodily-and-material-culture" in motion by synthesizing a variety of theories regarding the body, subjectivity, and material culture.

MLA citation format:
Warnier, Jean-Pierre
"Food for Thought: 
The Contributions of 'Matière à Penser' to the Study of Material Culture"
Web blog post. Material Religions. 24 September 2014. Web. [date of access]

The ‘MaP’ (Matière à Penser) working group, belatedly turned into an informal network, is devoted to the study of bodily and material culture with an emphasis on empirical field research and on theoretical sophistication.

First, it brings together the study of bodily techniques and material culture, drawing on the notion of the Körperschema defined by Paul Schilder in 1935. Schilder insisted on the fact that in motion, perception and emotions, the human body does not end with its coetaneous envelope but extends beyond it. The lady’s hat and the blind man’s cane are part and parcel of their bodily schema and bodily techniques. This Schilderean concept of ‘bodily schema’ or image of the body was picked up by Merleau-Ponty as a key element in his phenomenology of perception. It is fully validated by contemporary neuro-cognitive sciences. Bodily techniques and material culture are so tightly knit together that one should not separate them. One should talk of bodily-and-material-culture hyphenated together. Motion is an essential component of the approach. In that perspective, bodily-and-material-culture is knit together on the move. Accordingly, it draws on ‘praxeology’ – a term coined at the end of the 19th c. by Espinas, and developed by Pierre Parlebas as the study of bodily conducts. Marcel Mauss with his techniques of the body and his notion of techniques as traditional and efficacious action is also a major reference. Bodies and material things are analyzed not for what they mean in a system of coded communication or connotation but for what they do to the subject or achieve in a social system of agency and efficacy.  

The second key element in the MaP approach to bodily-and-material-culture is the consideration of the subject as being and having a (material) body. Regarding the question of the subject, the theoretical input comes from Michel Foucault, Michel de Certeau, Slavoj Zizek and other philosophers who have disqualified the Cartesian and neo-Kantian subject defined by the cogito. The notion they develop takes into account the development of the social and human sciences in the 20th century. The subject takes him/herself as the object of his/her own actions and at the same time is subjected to a vast array of actions exercised by other subjects and, in the end, by a sovereignty. It is basically divided up between being and having a body, between self and others, between autonomy and heteronomy. This goes against the notion of the ‘individual’ as developed by most socio-anthropological theory.

The notion of a subject helps integrate the body as a subject/object; the material things and substances geared to the bodily schema; the seven sensory canals (or more) that gear the body to material culture; the psychic drive that keeps the subject on the move; the society to which it belongs etc. This theoretical took kit may apply to the technologies of the subject, to the technologies of power, to the production of religious subjects, city dwellers, consumers, to sports, work, armed violence, etc., always combining an interest in the technologies of the subject, its body, perception and materialities.


The MaP group was formed at University Paris-Descartes in the mid-1990s by a few staff members, students, and doctoral candidates but also “town” as opposed to “gown” people – altogether a turnover involving several dozens of persons at a turn. A number of doctoral dissertations were produced by implementing its theoretical framework by Céline Rosselin, Marie-Pierre Julien, Agnès Jeanjean, Mélanie Roustan, François Hoarau. Around 2005, the members of the group were scattered by their various assignments and the group turned into an informal network active in publishing and doing research on many different topics that justified a declension of its name as “Matière à Politique”, “Matière à Religion”, etc. In the meantime, it had established contacts and working relationships with other units working on material culture at University College London, University Aix-Marseille, University of Oslo, Musée du Quai Branly, etc. Most, but not all, publications by and on the MaP network are in French and have not been translated. Some have been published in English. 

The list of MaP publications include: 

Bayart, Jean-François & Warnier, Jean-Pierre (2004). Matière à Politique. Le Pouvoir, les Corps et les Choses. Paris ; CERI-Karthala, Coll. Recherches internationales.
Diasio, Nicoletta,  Julien, Marie-Pierre & Lacaze, Gaelle (2009).  « Déjeuner en Ville »  in  Diasio, Nicoletta, Hubert, Annie et Pardo, Véronique, Alimentations Adolescentes en France, OCHA, Paris, Les cahiers de l’Ocha n°14.
Douny, Laurence (2014a). Living in a Landscape of Scarcity : Materiality and Cosmology in West Africa. Walnut Creek, CA ; Left Coast Press.
Gowlland, Geoffrey (2016). “Materials, the Nation and the Self: Division of Labor in a Taiwanese Craft.” in Clare Wilkinson-Weber and  Alicia Ory DeNicola (eds.) Critical Craft: Technology, Globalization, and Capitalism. London: Bloomsbury.
_____ (2011). ‘The ‘Matière à Penser’ Approach to Material Culture: Objects, Subjects and the Materiality of the Self’ Journal of Material Culture Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. 337-343.
Grison, Benoit & Céline Rosselin (2006). « Schéma corporel » in Bernard Andrieu (ed.) Dictionnaire du Corps en Sciences Humaines et Sociales, Paris, Ed. du CNRS, pp. 457-458.
Hilpron, Michael (2011). « De « faire du judo » à « faire judo » Approche ethnographique d’une pratique de haut-niveau par la culture matérielle »,Thèse de Doctorat sous les directions de Bronislaw Kapitaniak et Céline Rosselin, Université d'Orléans.
Hilpron, Michael & Céline Rosselin (2015). « Culture matérielle et sport », in Vocabulaire International de Philosophie du Sport, vol 1 : Les origines, Bernard Andrieu (ed.) Paris, L’Harmattan, coll. Mouvements des Savoirs, pp. 363-367.
Jamard, Jean-Luc, (2002). « Au cœur du sujet : le corps en objets ? » Techniques & Cultures, n° 39.
Julien, Marie-Pierre & Céline Rosselin (2012). « Manger ou ne pas manger, quelle est l’émotion ? Corps, culture matérielle et émotions en situation », in Le Corps, n°10, N. Diasio et V. Vinel « Corps, matière et affects », Paris ; CNRS.
_____ (2006). « Culture matérielle incorporée et processus d’identification. Navigateurs de compétition et croisiéristes ‘bord à bord’ » in Stéphanie Tabois (ed.) Corps en Société, ICoTEM, Poitiers, de la Maison de l’homme et de la société.
_____(2005). La Culture matérielle. Paris ; La Découverte, Coll. « Repères ».
Julien, Marie-Pierre, Poirée Julie, Rosselin, Céline, Roustan, Mélanie & Warnier, Jean-Pierre (2002). « Chantier ouvert au public », Techniques & Cultures, n° 40, pp. 185-192.
Julien, Marie-Pierre, Poirée, Julie & Rosselin, Céline (2006). « Sujet », in Bernard Andrieu (ed.) Dictionnaire du Corps, Paris ; Editions du CNRS.
Julien, Marie-Pierre, Rosselin, Céline & Warnier Jean-Pierre (2006). « Le Corps : Matière à Décrire », in Corps, revue interdisciplinaire, n°1, Paris ; Dilecta.
Julien, Marie-Pierre & Warnier, Jean-Pierre (1999). Approches de la Culture Matérielle. Corps à Corps Avec L’objet. Paris ; L’Harmattan, Connaissances des hommes.
Julien, Marie-Pierre (2014). « Choisir ses Vêtements et Ouvrir la Boite Noire des Habitus » in Nicoletta Diasio et Virginie Vinel « Sortir de L’enfance. La ‘préadolescence’ : Une Nouvelle Catégorie D’âge ? », Revue des sciences sociales n°51, Strasbourg.
_____(2014). «  Techniques Corporelles, Culture Matérielle et Identifications en Situations » in Marc Durand, Denis Hauw et Germain Poizat Apprendre les Techniques Corporelles, PUF.
_____(2014). « Circulation des Objets et Pratiques de Soin de Soi Chez les Enfants de 9 à 13 ans. Au Croisement des Identifications : La Construction du Genre » in Sabrina Sinigaglia-Amado, Enfance et Genre. Modalités et effets de la socialisation sexuée, Nancy ; PUN.
_____(2013). « Des Situations Commensales Adolescentes : Entre Pluralité Normative, Conflits et Construction de Soi » in Anne Lhuissier, Aurélie Maurice & Thomas Depecker, Mesures et Réformes des Pratiques Alimentaires, PUR.
_____(2012). « Sujet, Subjectivation, Subjectivité et Sciences Sociales » in Joelle Deniot et Jacky Réault, L’odyssée du Sujet, Les cahiers du Lestamp-Habiter Pips, Nantes.
_____ (2006). « Techniques du corps » in Bernard Andrieu, Dictionnaire du Corps, Paris, Editions du CNRS.
Manzon, Agnès Kedzierska (2014a). Chasseurs Mandingues: Violence, Pouvoir et Religion en Afrique de l'Ouest. Paris: Karthala. 
_____ (2014b). "Corps et objets forts: le 'fétichisme comme ascèse", Corps (CNRS éditions), no. 12, pp. 211-220.
Mohan, Urmila (2016). “From Prayer Beads to the Mechanical Counter: The Negotiation of Chanting Practices Within a Hindu Group”, Archives de Sciences Sociales des Religions, No. 174, pp. 191-212.
Mohan, Urmila and Jean-Pierre Warnier (2016). “Editorial: Marching the Devotional Subject”, Journal of Material Culture, Special Issue on Religious Subjectivation.
Munz, Hervé (2016) [Forthcoming]. La transmission en jeu: apprendre, pratiquer, patrimonialiser l'horlogerie en Suisse. Neuchâtel: Ed. Alphil. 
_____ 2015. « La captation patrimoniale des savoir-faire horlogers au risque de leur transmission », Ethnologies, no 36/1-2, Le patrimoine culturel immatériel. Québec: Presses de l'Université Laval. 
_____ 2012. « L' "ébauche" du geste. Apprentissage horloger et (trans)formation des corps », Tsanta 17, Société Suisse d'Ethnologie, Zurich: Seismo Verlag, pp. 168-172.
Naji, Myriam and Laurence Douny (2009). ‘Editorial: Special Issue on “Making” and “Doing” the Material World’ Journal of Material Culture Vol. 14, pp 411-432.
Rosselin, Céline, Lalo, Elodie & Déborah Nourrit (2015). « Prendre, Apprendre et Comprendre. Mains et matières travaillées chez les scaphandriers », Revue La part de la Main, no. 31.,Lalo,Nourrit  
Rosselin, Céline (2015). « Scaphandriers non autonomes à l’épreuve des matières. Culture matérielle, sensations et culture motrice », in Mary Schirrer (ed.) S’immerger en apnée : cultures motrices et symboliques aquatiques, Paris, L’Harmattan, coll. Mouvements des savoirs, pp. 105-120.  
_____ (2014a). « "Etre dedans": La Question de L'immersion Chez les Scaphandriers Non Autonomes. Culture Matérielle, Sensations et Culture Motrice », in Mary Schirrer et Bernard Andrieu (eds.) S’immerger en Apnée : Cultures Motrices et Symboliques Aquatiques. Paris ; L’Harmattan, coll. Mouvements des savoirs. 
_____ (2014b). « Quand des Cultures Matérielles Construisent des cultures Motrices : L’exemple des Scaphandriers Non Autonomes » in Bernard Andrieu, Betty Lefevre et Olivier Sirost (éds.), Cultures Corporelles. Héritages et Pratiques. Nancy ; PUN. 
_____ (2006). « Incorporation d’objets », in Bernard Andrieu (ed.) Dictionnaire du Corps en Sciences Humaines et Sociales, Paris, Ed. du CNRS, pp. 259-260.          
Roustan, Mélanie (2011). « Fumer Tue et Fumer Pue : Métamorphoses Sociales et Culturelles du Tabac et de sa Combustion » in Pierre Lieutagi et Danielle Musset (dir.) Les Plantes et le Feu, C’est-à-dire Éditions, coll. « Un territoire et des hommes ».
_____ (2009). “From Embodied Ethnography to the Anthropology of Material Culture: Gaming in the Field”, in Phillip Vannini (ed.) Material Culture and Technology in Everyday Life: Ethnographic Approaches. New York; Peter Lang Publishing, pp. 89-100.
______ (2007).  Sous L’emprise des Objets ? Culture Matérielle et Autonomie. Paris ; L’Harmattan, coll. « Logiques sociales ».
_____ (2003, dir.) : La Pratique du Jeu Vidéo : Réalité ou Virtualité ?, Paris ; L’Harmattan, coll. « Dossiers Sciences Humaines et Sociales ».
Salpeteur, Matthieu & Jean-Pierre Warnier (2013). « Looking for the Effects of Bodily Organs and Substances Through Vernacular Public Autopsy in Cameroon » Critical African Studies, Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. 153-174.
Warnier Jean-Pierre & Céline Rosselin (1996). Authentifier la Marchandise, Anthropologie Critique de la Consommation de Masse. Paris ; L’Harmattan, Dossiers.
Warnier, Jean-Pierre, (2011). « Bodily/material Culture and the Fighter’s Subjectivity » Journal of Material Culture, Vol. 16, No. 4: pp. 359-375.
_____(2010). « Royal Branding and the Techniques of the Body, the Self, and Power in West Cameroon », in Andrew Bevan and David Wengrow (eds.) Cultures and Commodity Branding. Walnut Creek (CA) ; Leftcoast Press, 2010, pp. 155-166 (UCL Institute of Archaeology Publications).
_____(2009). ‘Technology as Efficacious Action on Objects . . . and Subjects’ Journal of Material Culture, Vol. 14, No. 4, pp. 459-470.
_____(2007). The Pot-king: The Body and Technologies of Power. Leiden; Brill.
_____(2005). « Inside and Outside. Surfaces and Containers ». In Chris Tilley, et al. (eds.),           Handbook of Material Culture, London, Sage, pp. 186-195.
_____(2001). ‘A Praxeological Approach to Subjectivation in a Material World’ Journal of Material Culture, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 5-24.
_____(1999). Construire la Culture Matérielle. L’homme qui Pensait Avec ses Doigts. Paris; PUF.

The following publications are fresh off the press :

Laurence Douny, Living in a Landscape of Scarcity. Materiality and Cosmology in West Africa.
In her close ethnography of a Dogon village of Mali, Laurence Douny shows how a microcosmology develops from people's embodied daily and ritual practice in a landscape of scarcity. Viewed through the lens of containment practice, she describes how they cope with the shortage of material items central to their lives—water, earth, and millet. Douny’s study is an important addition to ecological anthropology, to the study of West African cultures, to the understanding of material culture, and to anthropological theory.

Laurence Douny.
Wrapping and Unwrapping Material Culture. Archaeological and Anthropological Perspectives.
This innovative volume challenges contemporary views on material culture by exploring the relationship between wrapping materials and practices and the objects, bodies, and places that define them. Using examples as diverse as baby swaddling, Egyptian mummies, Celtic tombs, lace underwear, textile clothing, and contemporary African silk, the dozen archaeologist and anthropologist contributors show how acts of wrapping and unwrapping are embedded in beliefs and thoughts of a particular time and place. Employing methods of artifact analysis, microscopy, and participant observation, the contributors provide a new lens on material culture and its relationship to cultural meaning.


Certeau, Michel de (1986). Heterologies: Discourse on the Other. Minneapolis, MN; Minnesota University Press.

Espinas, Alfred V. (1897). Les Origines de la Technologie. Paris; Félix Alcan.

Foucault, Michel (1988). ‘Technologies of the Self’ in Luther H. Martin, Huck Gutman and Patrick Hutton (eds), Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, pp 16-49.

Foucault, Michel (1973). Ceci n'est pas une pipe. Ed. Fata Morgana. Illustrations by René Magritte.

Mauss, Marcel (1936/2006). ‘Techniques of the Body (1936)’ In Nathan Schlanger (ed) Techniques, Technology and Civilisation. New York; Berghahn Book, pp 77-95.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1945). Phénoménologie de la perception. Paris; Gallimard.

Parlebas, Pierre (1999). Jeux, Sports et Sociétés. Lexique de Praxéologie Motrice. Paris; INSEP.

Schilder, Paul (1935/1950). The Image and Appearance of the Human Body. Oxon; Routledge.

Zizek, Slavoj (2000). The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology. London, New York; Verso. 


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