What happens when objects behave unexpectedly or fail to do what they ‘should’? Who defines failure? Is failure always bad? Rather than viewing concepts such as failure, incoherence or incompetence as antithetical to social life, this innovative new book examines the unexpected and surprising ways in which failure can lead to positive and creative results. Combining both theoretical and ethnographic approaches to failure, The Material Culture of Failure explores how failure manifests itself and operates in a variety of contexts. The editors present ten ethnographic encounters of failure – from areas as diverse as design, textiles, religion, beauty, and physical failure – covering Europe, North America, Asia, Africa, and the Arabian Gulf. Identifying common themes such as interpersonal, national and religious articulations of power and identity, the book shows some of the underlying assumptions that are revealed when materials fail, designs crumble, or things develop unexpectedly.The first anthropological study dedicated to theorizing failure, this innovative collection offers fresh insights based on the latest scholarship. Destined to stimulate a new area of research, the book makes a vital contribution to material culture studies and related social science theory.
"At last, we have here a thoughtful and provocative series of essays, along with an excellent theoretical introduction, on how failures illuminate the contexts that produce and define them. Noting that failure is everywhere, both in traditional and contemporary societies, the authors reveal how failures in technology, ritual, politics and design are always productive, though usually not in the ways that we anticipate. - Arjun Appadurai, New York University, USA Material failure is disappointing, sometimes grotesque, always inevitable. But as the contributors to this diverse and engaging anthology suggest, material failure can open creative space for subjects on the ground and productive ruminations for the anthropologists who witness them, claiming fresh ground for the study of material culture. - Laurel Kendall, American Museum of Natural History, USA This inspiring book is essential reading for all researchers and students interested in material culture. What happens when we take failure seriously? What happens when things go wrong? From these simple questions the contributors to this volume open up an entrancing new world for us all to explore. - Oliver Harris, University of Leicester, UK"