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Where Stuff Comes From : How Toasters, Toilets, Cars, Computers and Many Other Things Come To Be As They Are
No toaster is an island. In fact, as Harvey Molotch demonstrates in this sparkling tour of how things are created, the everyday objects of our life are a delicate and clever intermingling of design, timing and functionality that mirrors contemporary life.
Where Stuff Comes From is about paper clips, post-its, bathtubs, cars and all the other stuff in our lives. It is about how these items were imagined into existence and made a part of the American material culture. From the designer to the manufacturer to the business owner to the consumer, Molotch guides us through the worlds of technology, design, corporate culture and popular culture, giving us a sense of how and why we want stuff. He rolls up his sleeves and goes behind the scenes at trade shows and in design studios to speak with the product-makers who gave us the world''s best-selling garlic press, the Nike swoosh and Volkswagen''s resurrected Beetle.
A witty and surprising voyage into the aesthetic unconscious of the consumer, Where Stuff Comes From probes the meaning of the objects in our lives and what our possessions say about us. Ultimately, Molotch opens a fascinating window into our economy, society and culture by unlocking the complex strategies behind simple things.
The complicated, dynamic relationships between inventor, society, corporation, regulator, shopkeeper, community, family and customer is terrifically laid out by UC Santa Barbara and New York University sociologist Molotch in this persuasive monograph. Myriad links, he argues, ultimately produce and constantly change what we want, buy, keep and throw away; thus, neither consumers nor producers are to be blamed for our numerous possessions, since these items and constituencies all "lash-up" with one another, creating and reinforcing lifestyles and needs. Molotch's paradigmatic toaster requires an electric socket, bread and butter or jam to be useful. Adherence to "type-form"-modern or retro styling, color options to match kitchens, and knobs and controls for different functions-provides opportunities for the small appliance's owner to mark his/her identity and associate feelings with it, removing the object from the realm of the mundane. Manufacturing techniques, marketing, retail display and ultimate disposal also play large roles. The importance of all these factors is well argued, but despite the subtitle, no specific products (even the vaunted toaster, mentioned throughout and depicted graphically in the header) are studied in sustained or thorough enough detail to satisfactorily explain their continued forms or popularity-perhaps to avoid accusations of product placement. Even so, Molotch's description of systemic person-product complexes could work to end blame-the-consumer guilt-mongering in the popular discourse.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Taylor & Francis
April 12, 2005
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